Warpaint’s Second Coming

With third album Heads Up!, the Los Angeles art rockers return from the brink.

Warpaint (Photo by Mia Kirby)

It’s difficult to imagine the Los Angeles rock scene in 2017 without Warpaint. Although co-frontwomen Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman may not be household names, the quartet’s decade-plus career at the intersection of art rock and post-punk has seen them become SoCal rock royalty. (Case in point: the band met Noisey writer Eve Barlow for an interview at Out of Order, a hyper-exclusive Silver Lake lounge that counts The Weeknd and Lady Gaga among its clientele.)

But for all her scene cred, Wayman — who’s also the band’s guitarist — admits L.A. wasn’t always her favorite.

“I used to think of L.A. as being one note, lacking variety in weather and culture,” she says. “But now that I travel so much and I get to be in so many other places, I like coming back to what L.A. has to offer. I love the Hispanic culture here in East L.A.”

Oddly enough, it was all that travel — or, rather, touring — that nearly pushed her band to break up. Following the 2014 release of its sophomore, self-titled record, Warpaint adopted a relentless schedule. If it exposed the band to new audiences, it also sapped its energy.

“In such a short time, we were pretty burnt out. None of us wanted to think about Warpaint or each other or collaborating,” Wayman recalls.

So, following the end of the tour, the members scattered. Wayman joined the electronica outfit BOSS. Bassist Jenny Lee Lindbergh released and toured her first solo album, Right On!. Kokal lent her vocal talents to folk artist Paul Bergmann’s Wishing Song EP. Drummer Stella Mozgawa occupied herself elsewhere with gusto: In the interim, her non-Warpaint projects included drumming on Kurt Vile’s critically lauded b’lieve i’m goin down…, Adam Green’s Aladdin, Jagwar Ma’s second record — which is set for an October release — and Cate Le Bon’s excellent 2016 record Crab Day.

As the solo projects piled up, fans began to fear the worst. It was hardly a secret that the band had not finished its tour on a positive note, and an increase in solo projects rarely indicates a band keen on carrying on as a unit per usual. The general consensus was that Warpaint was teetering on the verge of a breakup and in danger of going over at any moment.

You can imagine the sigh of relief, then, when the band surprised fans by dropping a buoyant new single, the cheekily titled “New Song,” in August 2016. Music publications pumped out breathless headlines about the quartet’s glorious return — by way of an uncharacteristically poppy new single from a group known best for more meandering and dimly lit rock compositions — spinning a narrative in which Warpaint came close enough to look over the edge but returned at the last moment. According to Wayman, that plotline was the god’s honest truth.

“That narrative is entirely accurate,” she says. “We all just needed some space to remember that we’re not forced to do this, we want to do it.”

And, somewhat ironically, it was pursuing personal and passion projects that brought Warpaint back from the aforementioned brink. Wayman has no regrets about how much time she (or her three bandmates) took for themselves.

“It gave us an understanding of our own personal processes and allowed us to know what we wanted. It allowed us to be stronger as a whole through being stronger individuals,” she says. “As much as I’m part of a group and need to listen to everyone’s desires and creative impulses, it’s most important to let myself explore and take chances. It’s a waste of time to not go for what you need in life.”

Eventually, what the four women of Warpaint wanted from life was to get back in the studio — together. The finished product, Heads Up!, dropped last September, providing eager fans with atonal, experimental post-punk cuts and lush, spacious, psychedelic-ish songs inspired by Björk and Outkast. Track after track, Warpaint’s renewed purpose shines through, audible each time they fearlessly jack up the tempo and stray, without hesitation, from the ambient and unhurried songwriting that made them famous.

“I’m still really proud of this album, the most I’ve been of any of ours,” Wayman says.

Now they’re moving forward as a unit, taking tour one day at a time and hitting the summer festival circuit with their dynamic live show. And, despite the band’s tumultuous recent past, Wayman remains convinced the band’s endgame has gone unchanged: “Make music forever. Enjoy life.”

Warpaint plays Saturday at 3:10 p.m. on the Lands End Stage.

Check out more coverage from our Outside Lands issue here:

Who’s They?
New York dance-pop duo Sofi Tukker are about to blow up, period.

Fleet Foxes Emerge from Hibernation
Robin Pecknold details the band’s new record and the six-year wait that preceded it.

Future Islands: Perfecting the Imperfect
Despite disparate musical backgrounds, the Baltimore trio make it work.

Solar Imperialism Conquers All
Empire of the Sun was too big for Coachella. Can Outside Lands do them justice?

Belle and Sebastian in Peacetime
Guitarist Stevie Jackson says the band’s best years are yet to come.

The Original Noname
Her album Telefone calls and leaves a message with listeners.

Real Estate Lets Good Music Speak for Itself
Avoiding all drama, the band continues to churn out great tunes.

The She’s Take Control
The local surf-rock favorites are determined to build their own future.

There Will Never Be Another You, Lee Fields
The 65-year-old owns the stage with soulful love songs.

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