Q&A: Warpaint’s Jenny Lee on Billie Holiday, Exquisite Corpses, and Los Angeles
The guitars of Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman interlocking in sequin-sparkle shimmer or sinuous smolder; Jenny Lee Lindburg‚Äôs bass notes pacing thoughtfully at melody‚Äôs edge; Stella Mozgawa‚Äôs keyboards adding depth and texture to the whole even as her drumming propels it. This is the intoxicating sound of Warpaint , an Los Angeles-based foursome whose Exquisite Corpse EP (Manimal Vinyl, 2009) was one of the indie-rock diaspora‚Äôs more auspicious recent debuts. Corpse shuffles ably through in-the-round drift-folk a la Beach House (‚ÄúBillie Holiday‚ÄĚ), rollicking post-Gang Gang Dance gypsy fury (‚ÄúElephants‚ÄĚ), and sublimely ethereal pop (‚ÄúBurgundy‚ÄĚ). The six songs feel equally intimate and mysterious, free-form and precise, cruising-backstreets-at-3-a.m. chilling, and fresh-silken-sheets cozy.
In an early August e-mail interview, Lindberg opened up about Warpaint‚Äôs formation, but was less inclined to spill the beans about the band‚Äôs forthcoming album, describing it as ‚Äúa surprise.‚ÄĚ
City Paper: How did Warpaint form, and what made you settle on that name? It’s so evocative–potentially it contains so many layers.
Jenny Lee Lindberg: We–Theresa, Emily, Shannyn, and myself–had all been friends and family for years. My sister called me one day while she was traveling and asked to start a band with me, and we both agreed it would be amazing to include the other ladies. (Note: Lindberg‚Äôs sister, actress Shannyn Sossamon, was originally a member of Warpaint.)
She called and asked them: pretty simple. Two weeks later, we had our first rehearsal on Saint Valentine‚Äôs Day, and nothing had ever felt more beautiful and right. We’ve been at it ever since– six years later, here we are! As for our name, Emily thought of it one day. She was working with a medley of words, and that combo came about. She liked it and shared it with the rest of us. I had an aversion to it at first, but I have to say it‚Äôs most definitely grown on me– I can’t imagine us being called anything else.
CP: What is an “exquisite corpse”?
JLL: It‚Äôs a game. Here‚Äôs one of many examples on how to play. You take a piece of paper, draw something–draw anything–then pass it along to your neighbor. They have to then draw something as well, without seeing what you have drawn. Then it‚Äôs passed along, and the next person does the same thing. Eventually, when the drawing is completed, everyone‚Äôs piece connects.
CP: Tell me a little about “Billie Holiday.” How did that song come together, and what was the inspiration for it?
JLL: We were in Canada; we had a Motown song book. Emily had written a bit of the song a few months before, the ‚ÄúB-I-L‚ÄĚ bit– that came about because she was literally staring at a poster of [Billie Holiday]. Then, in Canada, Theresa started singing “My Guy” over the guitar. They decided to combine the two, and we all decided to sing in unison, and harmonize whilst enjoying a jacuzzi before a show.
CP: You’re on tour with Javelin right now. It‚Äės an intriguing paring. How did that happen?
JLL: We saw them play at SXSW. We asked our booking agent. We thought it would be a wonderful match, sonically, and we were excited to dance. We had our first show of the tour last night. They truly are gems, and amazing at what they do! Fun, fun, fun!
CP: Sometimes when native L.A. residents talk about L.A., they make reference to its sprawling size and a resulting sense of loneliness or solitude. Is that how you see L.A.? I ask this because Warpaint songs have a similar feel: there’s a very Spaghetti Western/out-on-the-edge energy that pulses through them. They’re richly nocturnal, too; they remind me of Michael Mann’s Collateral, the one with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx.
JLL: It‚Äôs quite the opposite for me. I feel a strong sense of family and community in LA. Perhaps it’s the length of time I have been there. It’s home for me. I feel extremely comfortable there. Loneliness comes from within. You feel that wherever you are.
CP: When you’re on tour, how do you usually spend the time immediately before and after your set? Do you make a point of watching the opening band every night, or are there some nights where you’re just more inclined to walk around the neighborhood of the venue where you’re playing?
JLL: We’ve only recently started headlining certain shows, so most of the time we‚Äėre the openers. We try to be as connected as possible prior to our show, and after we celebrate, doing whatever– dance, laugh, cry, sleep!
CP: Which band member came up with the genre descriptors–“psychedelic, ghettotech, melodramatic popular song”–on the Warpaint Myspace page? The first seems legit, the third legitimately aspirational, and the second feels like a definite conversation-starter.
JLL: Theresa and Emily. Oh, aren’t they silly?
Warpaint plays the Ottobar Aug. 17.