When American Songwriter got to see Warpaint play at The Bonnaroo Music Festival this summer, we were blown away by their brand of hard beating psychedelic rock. The all-female quartet recently released their first full-length album, The Fool. Read on to hear the band’s guitarist and vocalist, Theresa Wayman, talk about the differences between European rock fans and American ones, and give some advice on thinking outside the box when it comes to songwriting.
Is there a difference between the European audience and the American audience?
For sure. There are certain places in America where people get really into it the way it feels in Europe. In continental Europe, the audiences are so much more obviously passionate about the music. People tell us they feel the same way in the States and in the UK, but while the show is actually happening, and when we’re feeling what the audience is feeling, people in Europe are generally way more responsive. There are places in the States that are also really rocking. Texas is my favorite place to play. The crowds there are really cool.
What was it like bringing in a new drummer, Stella Mozgawa, for the album and for the tour?
Well, she doesn’t really feel like a new drummer anymore, because she started playing with us at the end of November last year. We played two shows with her right before we were recording our album, and then we had three weeks to write with her. Basically, we had to show her the songs we wanted to record and show her some of the beats that other people had played on those songs and some other ideas that we’d had and how we wanted them to go. She given complete freedom to write whatever she felt as well, and put it all together.
A couple songs changed a little bit because of her, but for the most part, these songs are the songs we’ve been writing for a long time. I think she’s added something incredible to our band. I couldn’t imagine doing it without her now. She’s definitely a part of the band, 100%. Warpaint, as most people know it, is with her.
What’s your songwriting process? Is one person bringing a song to the group, or do you usually write together?
It’s a mix of both. We have some songs that start by that process that you’re talking about, and then there are other songs that have come about just from us jamming and saying, “I like that change, we should keep it in the song.” Or someone might be jamming vocally with a guitar or keyboard, and then we decide to restructure it into something that can become an actual song.
For instance, I wrote “Shadows” from start to finish, but everybody else pretty much writes their part. I don’t write Jen’s basslines, I don’t write Stella’s drum parts. But if we have ideas, we definitely will tell each other. Like for “Shadows,” I definitely had an idea of how I wanted the drums to sound and when they kick in, and Stella executed it far better than I ever could with her own spice.
With two vocalists in your group, how do you decide who sings what songs?
If I wrote a song, and it’s the sort of song that I sing, then I just sing it. And if it’s something Emily [Kokal] wrote, then she’ll sing it. If we’re just jamming, then maybe I might just happen to be singing at that moment and not playing guitar, so the song ends up having all the parts in place, and I happen to be on the vocals instead of the guitar at that time.
Who are some artists who influenced your writing style?
Talking Heads. David Byrne is one huge influence. I really like the sheer trippiness of it. “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” is the perfect song.
What song on your album do you think changed the most from the beginning of the recording process to the end?
“Majesty” changed a lot. We played it a few different times before we actually started recording it, and when we recorded it, we added all these synth sounds and other beats and kind of slowed it down and took the live drums in and out. “Bees” used to be played faster and only with live drums, and now it’s a bit slower on the album. We still play it faster live.
Do you change up the arrangements of other songs when you play them live?
Sometimes. It’s usually not really arrangements but sometimes the feel. Like with the song, “Warpaint”, it’s really hard because there is so much instrumentation happening. It’s difficult to get it to not sound too busy live. Emily and I will not play something that we play on the album guitar-wise; instead, we allow the vocals to come through more. Our live show is really different form the recorded album.
Any advice for songwriters out there trying to figure out their own personal style and personal voice?
I think it would be to not be afraid of your own personal sound and personal voice. I see a lot of great bands all the time, but a lot of them allow themselves to go down this tried and true path where people are going to automatically understand the tricks that the bands are using. At first for a songwriter if you go into what is uniquely you, it can be really scary and you may want to shy away from that and do something that you know is going to work.
But if you spend more time doing something that is uncomfortable, you’ll actually get to a place that is more valuable in the long run. Just go with whatever oddness may come to you. I think that’s probably the most important thing I could say because I think more people should be doing their own thing. The more it happens, the more interesting music will be. It is a difficult road to be doing things that people don’t always necessarily understand. A lot of people love songs like “Billie Holiday” [off their 2009 EP Exquisite Corpse], which is an A minor song and totally standard. I love standard things, but I like to question people and try to scan their minds a little more. I think people should try to understand those things and appreciate them as well.