Warpaint's Stella Mozgawa: "Every Song Is From Its Own Universe"
Photo by Mia Kirby/Courtesy of Beggars USA
It's been a few years since Warpaint mesmerized Houstonians in a live setting -- nearly three years to the day, in fact. But the group is finally set to return to Houston.
Tomorrow night, the quartet of Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa will headline upstairs at Fitzgerald's in support of their sophomore LP, Warpaint. The album, featuring singles "Love is to Die" and "Disco//very," was written, recorded and produced over a span of four years with the help of producer Flood (Depeche Mode, PJ Harvey) and mixing on select tracks by Nigel Godrich (Beck, Radiohead). Warpaint represents the most accurate reflection of the group's talents thus far, and although they've been touring heavily since its release in January, Rocks Off was lucky enough to catch some one-on-one time with drummer Stella Mozgawa in between the group's two Coachella performances.
Rocks Off: Hi Stella, how are you? Where are you? Stella Mozgawa: I'm very good, just lying down in our rehearsal space in Downtown Los Angeles at the moment.
How was Coachella? Pretty amazing, really fun. We got so lucky with our spot. The Coachella gods really shined down on us. Julian Casablancas and his new band played before us, and we were followed by RL Grimes and Pixies.
Warpaint's 2010 debut LP, The Fool
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The last time you played Houston, it was a tiny room to a sold-out crowd. How are you guys feeling about returning? We love Houston, it's actually one of our favorite cities. It's like there's something in the water! People are so nice and always really receptive to the music.
I know you came into the band later on in the process for [2010 debut album] The Fool. How was it working with your bandmates on an album from start to finish? Yeah, I've been in the band almost five years. It feels like an eternity! I definitely feel more part of it because it's the four of us together from beginning to end. This album spans us getting off tour, to new material, to recording and mixing. All four of us are really invested in this for sure.
One thing about Warpaint is how alive it feels. The album is really sexy and sensual, but it also shows the band's goofy bits at times. It really lures the listener in in a way that doesn't seem to happen with a group of men. Did you all play on that intentionally? On a basic level, it's hard to compare four humans to another set of four humans, but it's a definitely a force. We have a dynamic and energy that can't be recreated with another four people. I think that's what keeps us together -- knowing that we have something quite unique.
Photo by Robin Laananen/Courtesy of Beggars USA
So expanding on that, I read somewhere that you all worked on these songs during jam sessions and even in sound check. How did that all come together to form this album? Every song is from its own universe, really. There was no set time, no general format or formula. Each one has a different approach. Some of the songs are actually recordings that might be built upon marginally or even on an obtuse level, but this record definitely has an archaeology.
For instance, you could listen to one song and find that this drum and bass comes from our space in mid-2012, or this structure comes from this or that. It really has a richer history, because it came from a concentrated period. And our producer, Flood, really allowed us to maintain our recordings and build upon them.
Yeah, he did an amazing job. How did that relationship come to fruition? We were keen on experimenting on new things, and once we had this sonic power, it became more apparent that someone like Flood would approach the music with care. We knew we would be in good hands if we decided to go that route. Flood was the only name that was being thrown about when we decided we were going to make another record. We were in London when we were flirting with the idea of using him, and it felt like he was on the same page even though he's worked with semi-commercial artists.
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What was it like working with him? He brought a breadth of experience. We went to Joshua Tree and started engineering, but I was doing most of the engineering so I was personally pushing for him, because I'm not an engineer in the traditional sense. So we started sending demos and it seemed like we were on the same page.
He wasn't transforming our songs so much as he was challenging them to go further. It was organized chaos vs. chaos, and that really appealed to us; we felt we really found someone who understood what we were doing. So the songs just built and built over time. He's an exceptional human being and equally exceptional artist.
I know that you all have always worked very hands-on with your albums, so how important was it for you all to remain in control of production, recording and engineering? It's massively important for us to be happy and have total creative control. We're four people with really dominant energies. It's like there are four lead singers generally. There's never really been a lot of room for another person or mind, so anyone coming in from outside has to be quite gentle and invisible -- transparent, really.
And we didn't realize what Flood was doing because it felt like he was integrated. He works it in this phantom-like way that's very gentle. He's very real and organic, so it felt like he was an extension of the band.
One thing that's been said a lot, and I've noticed myself, is that this album is heavily influenced by hip-hop and the like. How did that influence come into play? Something like that just happens naturally -- it's not something that we really discussed. I listen to a lot of Steely Dan and The Carpenters, and that just naturally comes through in my music. Everyone brings their constellation of influences, whether or not they wear it on their sleeve. There's just a dominant sound that kind of happens naturally when we all are on the same page.
I know that making music isn't something you do with the mindset that you want to climb the charts, but how does it feel seeing Warpaint being featured in the Top 50 of Billboard's Top 200, as well as making it in the Top 10 of the Alternative charts? It's a massive affirmation and a big surprise, because we don't make Billboard music by any means. We definitely run on different intentions, so it's not something that's discussed with our label. That said, it's so nice to see that it has its own momentum, and someone -- a group of people -- feel that we achieved what we feel we achieved.
So how do you feel with the album now that it's complete and out there in the world? I'm really happy with the way that it is. You can't put your entire soul into everything you do; you have to approach it for what it is. It really helps me to approach each album as a snapshot of time that we had together. But I'm really proud of all the things we said we wished we'd achieve, because we did.
Warpaint plays at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, Thursday evening with special guest James Supercave. Doors open at 8 p.m.; all ages.
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