The girls and one guy who comprise electronic rock foursome Warpaint look, sound, and sing like they were born and bred in the wilds of Los Angeles. Their beautifully orchestrated tunes may be spreading through the global rock atmosphere, but don’t expect them to lose even an ounce of that West Coast glimmer. Now, with a new album out, The Last Magazine looks back at the band’s early battles.
Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lindberg, and Josh Klinghoffer of psychedelic rock quartet Warpaint are cooler than anyone you know. It might have something to do with sun exposure or the scarce desert water supply, or just a simple governing truth of the universe: if “a” equals “b” and “b” equals “c” (a=b=c), then unless you live in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake or Echo Park neighborhoods, you will never attain the same insouciant, to-the-bones hipness that seeps from the very pores of local residents.
Kokal and Wayman, who provide the howling vocals for Warpaint, met as kids in their Eugene, Oregon, choir class. “I think what differentiates us from other L.A. bands is that we’re all totally in love with each other,” says Kokal, whose soft voice speaks in wistful, sing-song tones. “We’re three girls who admire each other deeply, and sharing that energy and spotlight with one another couldn’t be better. It’s the most awesome thing ever to play music and be with your best friends.” Backup vocalist Lindberg has been cooing with the band through its many permutations over the last three years, and current drummer Klinghoffer (Warpaint has a long, difficult history with getting drummers to stick) doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere.
Self-described as “Libran Cancerian lionesses with a bit of Geminiacal insanity and a Scorpionic fire,” the three ladies of Warpaint offer up a unique blend of wailing vocals and undulating electronic melodies that manages to be catchy even though the listener has full-body goose bumps. “I think we all have an addiction to minor chords. I don’t know much about theory; we just love the way that minor notes resonate in a room,” laughs Kokal, whose ex-boyfriend, John Frusciante, the beloved shaggy champion of both mainstream and independent rock scenes, mixed Warpaint’s debut album, Exquisite Corpse. “John’s always been a huge supporter and fan of ours, and as he’s started getting more into electronics, this was really the perfect time to catch him.” In fact, Kokal came up with the name Warpaint walking into an L.A. movie theater on a date with John. “It just feels intense,” says the singer. “We wanted the band to have a provocative kind of name, but really it could mean different things to different people. The idea of putting on war paint to prepare for battle…it’s very seductive.”
As with any rising band, the first battle was the speciously simple task of pulling together a debut album that did justice to their distinct, ghost-dance vision. The first attempt at recording an EP took “about five million years,” sighs Kokal, before it was scrapped all together and re-recorded last February. “A lot of our songs begin as jams where we just start playing and anything we end up playing for the longest we keep. We agree on a part because we never want to stop playing it before we add vocals or guitar. We all write these songs together because we like to be equally involved in the process, and the whole vision of the song has to be complete. Nobody has to sit back and play something they don’t feel.”
Warpaint’s second effort with Frusciante yielded brilliant results and a flurry of ardent MySpace fans, and caught the attention of local Echo Park label Manimal Vinyl, which will re-release the EP internationally this September. “There’s something really romantic about vinyl, about the tangibility of it. I’m not surprised that there’s been such a major resurgence of interest—it just makes sense. People get bored with high technology.” Their recent west coast tour undoubtedly introduced thousands of new fans to the Warpaint fold, but Kokal wants to take Warpaint a bit further from their mega-hip Angeleno home turf. “I really want to try New York or London, just for a change of scenery.”
Originally published in the Fall 2009 issue of The Last Magazine.