Warpaint's Stella Mozgawa on Hip-Hop-Inflected Heads Up, J. Dilla, and No Limits

Warpaint's new album, Heads Up, is being rightfully praised for its seamless integration of rock instrumentation with the aesthetics of electronic music and hip-hop. Since the band's debut full-length, The Fool, in 2010, Warpaint has been making music that's difficult to pigeonhole into one genre. Whether dubbed a new kind of post-punk, dream pop, witch house or shoegaze, none of it truly encapsulates the L.A. band's sound.

“It's interesting reading reviews or interviews [where] journalists chat to you about stuff, and you know, you're dream-pop queens or witch,” says drummer Stella Mozgawa. “I'm not even saying we're wholly unique, [but none] of that makes any sense to me. It's weird to me, living in a time where there are a lot of categories I'm not aware of or connected to.”

Heads Up reflects the band's interest in hip-hop and its production techniques. For bassist Theresa Wayman, this meant taking some inspiration from Kendrick Lamar, and as a drummer and a beat producer, Mozgawa has drawn inspiration from J. Dilla. “I consider him to be one of my favorite drummers,” says Mozgawa. “In terms of what the role of a drummer is and the way that people create beats, I think he's one of the greatest beat-masters of all time. That kind of [hip-hop and electronic-music] world is maybe even more relevant to me than 'rock music' or 'alternative' or whatever. I feel like the textures are a lot more open and there's a lot more possibilities in the sounds that people choose in the music."

Over the past few years, Mozgawa has done a lot of programming and making beats for Warpaint as well as other projects. At this point for Mozgawa, the ratio of acoustic drums to electronic beats is fifty-fifty. She was reconnecting with early-'90s Janet Jackson records and the New Jack Swing production style and its roots in early house music, and looking at how modern pop borrows from versions of club culture. 

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"Conventional drumming is, for the most part, pretty stuck to certain tones," Mozgawa says. "The way you can manipulate a sample or the way you can use it another way or use a drum machine and sampling — the possibilities are endless with electronic-music production. There's a level of creativity that a lot of that music possesses. The rhythm can be so well thought out and self-sufficient that you don't need complicated arrangements or changes or key changes or chord changes.”

Perhaps what makes Warpaint difficult to categorize is that the band is a multi-vocal operation on several levels. Every member contributes to the group's songwriting and conceptualization; every member is a multi-instrumentalist, and there are two lead singers. Though the album Heads Up sounds as though Warpaint is perhaps further blurring the instrumentalist roles of its members, Mozgawa points out that it's been part of the band's practice since she joined. 

“It's not healthy for us to put a lot of rules on ourselves creatively as a band,” says Mozgawa. “Sometimes it's a big sacrifice to be in a band because you're four individually very creative people with strong opinions. And if you're in a creative situation where you're being pooh-poohed about something, then it's not really worth being involved in it. So we make rules not to limit ourselves and each other just because it's a band. Those roles that are already established — we can always break if it feels natural.”

Warpaint, with Facial, Tuesday, September 27, 8 p.m., Gothic Theatre, 303-789-9206, 16+.

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