It has been an immense couple of years for Los Angeles indie-rock band Warpaint. Having formed in 2004, the group, composed of Emily Kokal (vocals, guitar), Theresa Wayman (guitar, vocals), Jenny Lee Lindberg (bass, vocals) and Stella Mozgawa (drums), didn’t waste any time building a solid reputation within the then-sparse local scene, but making the move to the big leagues has taken longer than they would have hoped.
These are no flash-in-the-pan indie popsters, today’s news and tomorrow’s kitty-litter liner. Rather, they put out the excellent Heads Up album last year, which included the hit single “New Song." The public seems to be taking notice at last, at least in greater numbers. And it’s not as if the sound has dramatically changed. Warpaint’s dream pop just seems more focused and awake now.
“The album expresses a lot of our different sides, and I also think we had more of a commercial song on that album, too,” says Wayman. “I think it’s nice that the general consensus is that we’re getting better, not worse. I don’t think that we’ve plateaued as a band, which is nice. We’re the kind of band that has more of a slow growth than comes out with a huge bang and then tries to maintain that. I’m okay with that trajectory now. At first I was like, ‘Things aren’t happening fast enough.’ But it’s actually nice to have longevity.”
There are certainly noticeable differences between Heads Up and the second self-titled album, in particular the fact that the songwriting has so clearly improved. Ideas are realized, artistic visions acted upon. Wayman puts this down to the simple fact that the four women are more experienced, and as a result have become better at writing songs.
“Also, on this album we took a more separated approach to writing the songs,” she says. “So we paired off or did things on our own — created skeletons that had structure and direction, and then presented it to the group, and everyone just added on. There was less to be questioned. It was more direct, the whole process, and that saved us time and a lot of heartache, too. Originally, we would always get together, jam, write songs together off the jams, and arrange them together as a group. It would just take ages, because everybody has a different idea of how to get from point A to point B, and if we don’t listen to everyone’s ideas, then people start feeling slighted.”
As individual musicians, too, the bandmates have all markedly improved, allowing themselves to be more vivid and heard, and not as drowned in reverb and effect as they used to be (although there’s still a lot of reverb). The results and rewards have been clear: “New Song” rose to number fourteen on the U.S. singles charts, and tours with the likes of Queens of the Stones Age and Nick Cave came their way. Prestigious spots on big festival bills followed. These are good times for Warpaint. And yet Wayman says that she’s never felt more a part of the L.A. local music scene.
“I think when we were growing up as a band, there really wasn’t a scene that I was aware of,” she says. “There were a couple of bands — Phantom Planet, and Maroon 5, when they were younger. Those were the people that we knew. Now it feels like we have a community of people making music. It’s a real scene. Everybody works together, more than at least when we were starting off. There’s a lot more collaboration.”
That said, there was no way they were going to turn down a tour with British synth-pop pioneers Depeche Mode. Other bands would practically kill to get on that bill, and Wayman is well aware that they’ve been presented with an amazing opportunity.
“I wasn’t a super-super-fan,” she says. “I of course loved Violator, but Jen and Emily have been fans for a long time, so they’re super-excited. I know the weight of what it means to play with them. That’s huge, and it means a lot to a lot of people. I feel excited and honored to do this tour. It's a long one, but they do day-on-day-off touring, and I’ve never done that before. It’s a lot of downtime. I think we’re gonna try to use our time well and write and play together. See what we come up with for the next album.”
“The tour hits Denver on August 25, when Depeche Mode and Warpaint will play at the Pepsi Center. Wayman is psyched to get back here, particularly after celebrating her birthday in the Mile High during a previous visit.
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“We’ve been there quite a bit, and I love Colorado,” she says. “We were on tour and had a few days off, and it happened to be my birthday as well, so we got an AirBnB and lived in this house for a few days, and it was really nice. It’s so relaxed there, I really love that. I need that, because L.A. doesn’t feel that way.”
As for the set, Wayman says that there has been some debate within the band’s ranks about whether to mix it up for the Depeche Mode shows or go for the tried-and-tested "greatest hits” gig.
“They’re the songs that are our best songs in a certain way,” Wayman says. “They’re more immediately captivating. I certainly want to do that, because I think a lot of the crowd are going to be people who don’t really know us or who aren’t familiar with our music. I want to put our best foot forward. But we’re going to try to have fun and just bang out a short set. There are certain songs that more people tend to love. You can look at how many streams a certain song had versus another one, and it tells you something. That’s not fake news. But it is fun to keep it fresh for us, too. If we’re having more fun, we’re more fun to watch.”
Warpaint, with Depeche Mode, 7:30 p.m. Friday, August 25, Pepsi Center; 1000 Chopper Circle, 303-405-1100.