It seemed like psychedelic-tinged rockers Warpaint came out of nowhere when they first arrived on our shores at the start of 2011 - a visit which included a universally acclaimed Laneway Festival run, along with more than a few sell-out headline sideshows. While the band rode a wave of hype often reserved for barely-weeks-old (often Brooklyn-based) buzz bands, Warpaint have in fact been kicking it for over half a decade, though with somewhat of a revolving-door lineup. The group settled late last year for the release of their debut album The Fool , and have since been a fixture on every major festival around the world. Lead singer Emily Kokal looks back on the long build-up to the band receiving its deserved recognition.
"I don't think we really thought about it at all, so when it did happen it was just nice and surprising. And also very flattering," she ponders. "We've been a band for a long time, so it felt like we came out of our shell as a band, people embraced it and responded and it made us feel more comfortable, which was cool," Emily explains. That long build-up to the release of The Fool has no doubt helped galvanise the band's musical chops, to the point where their buzz-worthy status helped contrast with a sense of a fully-realised musical disposition. "I think that helped us become better musicians, but it wasn't until we started playing last year with Stella that I think we actually became comfortable doing a real show like that. I think we have the parts down, our friendships down and the incubation down. We didn't really have the performance down, but we got there after 160 shows in the past year. Stella's energy really drove us, she pushed us to really push the music out, because she's a really hard-hitting, loud, funky motherfucker," Emily laughs, heaping praise upon the newest addition to the group, Aussie drummer Stella Mozgawa.
The addition of Stella has shifted the dynamic of the group's sound away from the more restrained pop elements and exacerbated the more psychedelic aspects of their output. In turn, tracks from the 2009 EP Exquisite Corpse are given a new life in the live setting. "I think one of the reasons is that we bring a lot more energy to the songs. And I think a big part of that is that we'd never played the songs live when we recorded the album, not with Stella. We'd played some of the songs live in our old set before; there's a demo of Set Your Arms Down on the internet that has a really mellow, totally different vibe," Emily muses. "But with Stella, and with us making the LP, we were just basically making something that was new. So once we started playing it live, the songs just evolved. They found themselves, you know? They evolved into a different context, mainly through being played for a large audience. I think if we had been happy just playing them in the studio for a long time they may have evolved in a different way, more mellow maybe, more jammy, more noodle-y. I don't know. But I think because of the 'rock show' element we wanted to have fun, we wanted to dance on stage. We wanted the audience to feel the energy. That's just naturally what happened," she recalls.
The fact that the group visited Australia less than six months ago has by no means diminished any of the demand to catch them live, with their sideshows rapidly selling out once again. It's a phenomenon the band have had no troubles acclimatising to as their reputation spreads faster than their globetrotting ways can keep up with. "We'd just gotten off a US tour where we were playing basically the same size venues as we were playing in Australia at the start of the year, but when we got to the UK some of the shows were 2500 seaters and 1500 seaters, and they were sold out. That was the first time, you know, where we were thought, 'Whoa, okay, we weren't expecting this.' I mean, we don't live in the UK so we don't know our own popularity there. So that was interesting," Emily ponders. "But I think that when people know your music and are coming to your shows and it's a bigger audience and a bigger place, first of all you kind of have to think that you own the house. It's exciting, and you've got a lot of support there because people are singing along, so it brings the energy and the confidence up for us. I think our band translates well to larger venues, with our songs there's a lot of room to soar. I mean, they can be played in small places and they can have a definite vibe, but I think that we get a little bit more powerful when we feel like we have this space to put it in."
The band's sets at the world's biggest festivals (which include prime slots at Coachella and Glastonbury this year) have accommodated a jettison of inhibitions, infusing their songs with a greater sense of expansiveness. "Yeah, I feel that with singing, I've had to learn how to be more extroverted and far-reaching, so that I can reach the back of the house. And it's exciting, because there aren't many places in the universe where you can go scream," she laughs. "And one of those places is at a concert, even as an audience member. At a festival, you can scream as loud as you want and probably no one can hear you if it's a loud show playing. But if you're in your house and you start screaming, someone's probably going to call the cops on you. So, it's really actually pretty cool," Emily smiles. "I used to really only sing quietly, like on the song Baby, that was more the kind of tone that I sing in naturally. I thought that I sucked at singing loudly." She pauses. "Well, I still think that I suck singing loud, but I think I'm getting better with the realisation that it's a real opportunity for me to get all that energy out."
The band's run of shows has been pretty much non-stop since the release of The Fool, with barely any downtime to be enjoyed amongst the intensive touring schedule. But as Emily explains, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. "Well basically after this whole festival run, which wraps up at the end of August, we have a few shows in South America, which is really exciting, then a show in Hawaii. Basically September is the end of The Fool's run. And once that's finished our plan is to get an office space, or a practice space, or studio space, where we set up all of our gear and then we basically just go to work every day and just start writing. I mean, that's time off - but it's not really time off," she ponders. "I don't think anybody feels like just resting. I mean it's like we want to make another record. And we've wanted to make another record since Stella joined the band, because we've played like 160 shows together. Whereas, we'd only done two shows together as a band before we made the last record. I think we're all really excited to see what we can create together, I guess, because we've really only had tastes of it from the shows and sound checks where we jam out."
Though the past year has seen the rise and rise of Warpaint, Emily keeps a levelled perspective on things. "I mean, we're a new band and it's really exciting. We haven't even really played a lot of festivals yet so it's pretty much like winning the lottery. It's also really incredible because we're playing with all these bands that have inspired us our whole lives. I mean, playing with Modest Mouse? That's like my high school dream right there. So those kinds of things, they make it the best job in the world and it really is just so much fun. You know, I think that all of us are really built for touring, and we're built for the road, but the festivals are a real treat. Just to be able to see these bands in a festival setting, most people remember those experiences for a lifetime."
Warpaint are in the country for Splendour In The Grass (July 29-31). After their sold out sideshow at The Corner on Tuesday July 26 drummer Stella Mozgawa also plays a DJ set at New Guernica. Tickets for the second show - Wednesday July 27 - are still available through cornerhotel.com.