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Thursday, July 21, 2011

News photo
L.A. style: The members of Warpaint (from left): Emily Kokal, Jenny Lee Lindberg, Stella Mozgawa and Theresa Wayman, have honed their style over time. Japan audiences can expect new twists on their songs when they perform at this month's Fuji Rock Festival.

Years in the making, Warpaint to hit Fuji


By SHAUN CURRAN
Special to The Japan Times

Even when enjoying some downtime in her Los Angeles home, Jenny Lee Lindberg still feels as if she is "whirlwinding around." But then, it has been that sort of year for the bassist in Warpaint: her band has spent 12 months carrying the "next big thing" tag.

"We're away for another seven weeks," she says with an air of decisiveness. "And then we can finally move on."

What Lindberg is seeking to move on from is Warpaint's full-length debut, "The Fool," released last October to a maelstrom of hype whipped up by both the mainstream press and online bloggers, making an immediate success story of a 7-year-old band.

Yet the commotion was not merely confined to Warpaint's music, a hypnotic pirouette of contrasting styles, equal parts angst and beauty, alt-country and 1980s Goth. It concentrated similarly on the fact that Warpaint are an all-female group whose back-story is intertwined with California celebrity.

Pop star Justin Timberlake and the late actor Heath Ledger are and were known fans, and Lindberg's sister, model/actress Shannyn Sossamon, was briefly drummer in the group. Principal singer and guitarist Emily Kokal dated musician John Frusciante while guitarist/vocalist Theresa Wayman worked with actor Vincent Gallo. But if that amounts to little more than gossip, the issue of four women making art-rock is of far more consequence.

Ambivalent on the matter, Lindberg nonetheless appreciates its distinctiveness.

"I guess we expected that, as there isn't much of that happening. We're a bunch of girls and we're surrounded by a massive amount of men, but it's not the incentive for us to be in a band. We do it because it makes us feel good and we're proud of what we do. But it's not easy. Maybe that's why there aren't so many. It is true women can be very competitive with each other. We don't have that nature. We communicate freely and openly, and we have a real fluid energy which is almost ... effortless. It's magic."

Lindberg could have as easily been describing Warpaint's music, which displays the seemingly intrinsic bond the girls acquired from years spent honing their sound.

"We do pull from everything," she says. "It affects the music. We can be moody and emotional, and it is all reflected. It's an indication of who we are as people and women. It all makes the sound."

I'm interested to know if Lindberg feels a more significant feminist statement is being made. She mulls it over for several seconds.

"I think we're just being ourselves," she eventually replies. "We're not shoving ourselves in people's faces. We're not like, 'Here's my point, listen to me! Hear my voice!' We're just sharing experiences with people who want to enjoy them. It's more significant for us to have longevity, that's what really matters. That is more valuable than anything."

The history of Warpaint is a slow-burning one. Formed on Valentine's Day in 2004 ("I think that's sweet"), Lindberg, Kokal and Wayman spent years playing the clubs of Los Angeles with a revolving door of drummers a "frustrating time, because it felt like we were always having to start again."

Australian Stella Mozgawa eventually made the sticks her own in 2009, at which point, five years in the making, Warpaint became fully formed. The lengthy process is of no concern to Lindberg.

"I couldn't be happier with that. The project needed patience. We didn't rush it because we didn't need to. Had it happened years ago, we probably wouldn't have been mature enough to deal with it."

A Frusciante-produced EP, "Exquisite Corpse," was released that year, a precursor to the sensual splendor of "The Fool." The lifestyle of Los Angeles infiltrates the band's sound, Lindberg says. "By default: sometimes I'll have a conversation that will put me in a good mood and I'll think, 'I'm gonna play the bass like that today.' " But music critics have resorted to playing a game of spot the influence with Warpaint, unable to definitely pin down their musical compass.

"That's not a problem as I do that too, everyone does. People feel comfortable when they can identify with something. Everyone is wary of the unknown — it's scary and it's awkward, and we all want to attach to something that we can identify with. To a certain extent everything sounds like everything. There are only so many musical instruments, so many musical notes, so many musical chords, so there is actually only so much you can do. But we're trying to do our best."

Japanese audiences will get the Warpaint experience at Fuji Rock — Lindberg is "so stoked and really excited" about the prospect — but not as they currently might know it.

"We play the songs so differently live now that when I listened to the record not so long ago it sounded new to me. We keep things fresh and we express ourselves. We've evolved as people. Emotionally, physically, mentally and musically. Next time round, we'll know exactly what to do."

Warpaint play the Red Marquee stage at Fuji Rock Festival in Naeba, Niigata Prefecture, on July 31 (1:55 p.m.; ticket prices vary). For more information, visit www.fujirockfestival.com or www.warpaintwarpaint.com.


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