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Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 20th January, 2014 1:03PM

Echo Park-based band Warpaint have just released their self-titled sophomore album; a follow-up from their critically acclaimed debut, The Fool. The writing and recording process was an exploration of new territory; of playing something other than the twelve songs they played for two years and the result reflects that freedom – as well as the hip hop and ambient music they were listening to on tour – and a freedom that has been entrenched in the group since they began. UnderTheRadar caught up with frontwoman Emily Kokal to discuss the writing and recording process for the new album, as well as the trip they've been on sine The Fool was released a couple of years ago.

Hey Emily, what are you up to at the moment?

I'm doing my laundry at the laundromat. I was like: "I could stay in my bed or I could do something at the same time", and it actually makes doing interviews go faster which is nice.

Yeah it’s like a 'two-birds-one-stone' situation...

Yeah, except that there’s actually this weird thing happening where there’s static on my clothes and it’s sticking to my headset.

Haha, that's not ideal...what are you guys up to as a band right now?

Well we just got off of a tour and we’ve been working on learning our new songs a lot for the live option. And, basically just doing a lot of press and a lot of press events. We’re off for Christmas on Monday and then we get back into it and then go on tour!

I wanted to start by talking about the forthcoming, self-titled album. Tell me a little bit about writing the songs for it: what was the process and where were your heads at?

Well, we had been on tour for a long time - like, we did 230 or 240 shows for The Fool. So we took a little break and then we decided to go away and start writing the album pretty quickly - instead of staying at home and doing it. In hindsight that was a really good idea because there were no distractions. We’d been on tour just playing those same songs, so it was like a re-set button and it was a really nice vacation at the same time. And then we worked with Nigel (Godrich) about nine months later, which initially wasn’t our plan (we didn’t want to wait that long), but he was making the Foals album.

Coming off of that tour and going into the writing process: was there anything that you particularly wanted to do on this album after playing the songs from The Fool for so long?

Before The Fool we’d never even really toured as a band so there has been a lot of maturing for us, from all of the education you get from being on the road and playing live. We wanted to make sure we weren't over-complicating things and let everything breathe, and make sure that nobody was stepping on each other’s toes. We didn’t necessarily have a conversation about all of this but it was a kind of natural progression based on where we were at. Also it might have been a result of having played The Fool every night and wanting to do something differently.

Where was your head and what were you thinking about when you wrote the lyrics?

I was playing around on keyboards and piano and I had just gone to Egypt and that trip was really amazing in that it helped me to evaluate where I was at. It allowed me to take stock of where I was at with the music and the band and stuff, so that I could have a plan of how I wanted to approach working in the band. The main thing that I wanted to come to the table with was a new, fresh perspective towards our ban. I think it was just about trying to play music and have fun and see what came out. The Joshua Tree was a fun and a relaxed environment to make music in, and I think that was really beneficial for the demos because I think music and relaxation are a good recipe for a good album.

You mention needing to get a fresh perspective: I actually interviewed you guys a few years ago at SxSW and it really felt like you guys were in the eye of a storm that was about to blow up. How has it all affected you guys? The past couple of years must feel pretty surreal right?

Yeah it's been a whirlwind ... “hey, do you want to take my machine"…sorry my sister’s doing her laundry too ... it’s the kind of thing where you don’t really want to look too far ahead at your schedule, and I think that came really naturally to all of us; being in the moment and taking it as it comes. I think we were ready when it came though: we had been a band in L.A for a long time and had done everything that we could do before getting on the road. So by the time everything was happening it was fun and exciting, and I think we really enjoyed the ride and went with the storm a bit. It was more gradual than it perhaps seems from the outside too…it’s not like we were becoming Lorde or something.

You mention that you’ve been a band in L.A for a long time. Is there a community or music scene in L.A which you come from?

It’s funny because we get asked that question a lot because L.A seems to have, for people who don’t live here, all of this music and all of this energy coming out of it - it seems like we’re all bumping into each other at the coffee shop or something. It’s changed a lot too – when we were an L.A band all all of the bands who were coming up with us at the same time were home a lot, playing shows a lot and it was like this little world. But now it’s really different; when I come home I don’t know a lot of people and I don’t know the scene or the bands who are playing. It's funny though because the other night I was at a bar and I saw members of all sorts of different bands at this bar and I was like “oh my god this is actually the total cliché and this is pretty awesome", so it does happen sometimes. It’s a small little seaside town over here and Echo Park is really tiny, so you definitely run into people. A lot of bands that I hang out with have been from touring and playing at festivals and things like that.

Are there any artists at the moment who you are particularly digging?

Yeah let me think…I’m sure there are. I saw My Bloody Valentine at Fuck Yeah Fest this, shit, there are so many people...

Going into writing and starting to play around with sounds, was there anything in particular that you were listening to or riffing off or particularly inspired by?

We’ve never really talked about like “hey here’s something I’m liking let’s try to do this” – that’s never really been us. We all listen to a lot of music and we listen to a lot more rap and electronic music and we share a lot of that stuff with each other. There are all sorts of musical interests in the band though. I love ambient music. I love Brian Eno because he uses space. I love that in electronic music atmosphere is almost an instrument, and it was that kind of thing that was inspiring us a bit, as well as creating a world within the feeling of the song that was almost like a palpable visual experience, and I think that happened. Just the fact that we’d matured as a band and that we got a producer who knew how to make us feel really warm and really present all of those things influenced the way the album sounds. We also all have a bunch of interesting toys and instruments and so when we went down to Joshua Tree we just brought everything with us and it was a free for all of whatever we felt like playing; there were synthesizers, drum machines, guitars. I think that was all a reaction to playing the same songs for so long; there were a bunch of things that we have been wanting to try for a long time but we’ve been touring, so this was an opportunity to use the album and songwriting for experimenting with other instruments and sounds we've wanted to try out.

You've collaborated with Chris Cunningham on all of the visual accompaniments to the album. Tell me about that collaboration...

Well he’s married to Jenny (Lee Lindberg), so he’s around us a lot and as we've been working on this album he’s been documenting us, but not in the sense that it’s a documentary. It’s more that he’s a creative guy and it has a lot to do with the music and his re-imagining of what we’re doing through the ideas that he's having while being around us. It’s more of a film than a documentary.

It must have been quite interesting to view this emotional experience that you guys have had through the lens of someone else?

It’s interesting because we haven’t really seen much. I feel like it’s becoming a musical video in the sense that he’s taking stems from our recordings and he’s remixing them and it’s almost like his interpretation of the album. He shot a lot of stuff on iPhones and stuff like that when we were at the Joshua Tree so there are lots of different things going on in there.

It’s really cool that he took stems and is remixing songs; having a secondary interpretation of your songs is an interesting concept...

He’s such an amazing artist. not only is he amazing visually but he’s an amazing musician and that’s really exciting because there’s a part of us that wishes we could take each song in a million different directions. When you're making a song all the tracks will be muted and you’ll just hear the bass and we’ll be like “woah we should make a song from that” and we’re always interested in re-imagining our songs anyway and he’s a lover of like, Boards of Canada and that kind of stuff; he likes really good electronic music, as well as everything else. I can't wait to see what he does with the songs.