Queen of Spain
8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19
Warpaint communicates in a language only they understand. Although guitarist Emily Kokal can reveal few specifics of her band's artistic tongue, she's certain the system exists. One feature they've established is that every song must contain a stall — "a part where it drones out or loops." Beyond that, she has difficulty relating what's become commonplace to the group. "I don't know how other bands do it," she says of the trials of songwriting. "I can imagine other people being really irritated by our process. We'll play the same thing for two hours until it changes itself."
From an outsider's perspective, it might seem tedious that contributing to their softly phosphorescent indie rock requires first having to crack a code. However, the close-knit trio at the core of Warpaint isn't simply a group of musicians working together. Instead, Kokal uses "marriage," "best friends" and "family" to describe her bond with bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg and guitarist Theresa Wayman. (Drummer Stella Mozgawa was also recently added to the group; all members share vocals.)
In fact, when the three women decided to collaborate on music, Kokal recalls a shared sense of creative discomfort. "Before we wrote, there was shyness. Nobody wanted to sing, nobody knew what to think of … nobody knew if somebody would like it."
Kokal and Wayman have been close since age 11. The two moved from Eugene, Ore., to Los Angeles, meeting Reno, Nev., transplant Lindberg soon thereafter. Warpaint was formed in 2004 with Lindberg's sister, actress Shannyn Sossamon, on drums. However, the years blew past unproductively for Warpaint. Things picked up again in 2006 when the band renewed their interest in live performances. After a residency at an L.A. club, they were sure this is what they wanted to pursue.
"Playing shows is where we started seeing a response and having a connection with people besides ourselves," says Kokal. "Instead of being in a garage with your band, a show `offers` a huge, exciting energy. There was nothing better than the idea of doing that together for our lives."
It's apparent on "Billie Holiday," a track from their October 2009 EP, Exquisite Corpse, that Warpaint's creative output and interpersonal dynamics are curiously intertwined. At the song's outset, Kokal rhythmically spells the name of the legendary jazz siren, synchronizing letters with notes to intoxicating effect. The story behind the carefully orchestrated piece begins with the band writing the music and Kokal temporarily filling the vocal gaps in with "la," leaving the lyrics to be decided at another time.
Then, during a trip to Canada to visit Sossamon, who was working on a film, the guitarist found kismet in their lodgings. "There was a picture of Billie Holiday on the wall and I started spelling it, not even realizing `the combination` was going to work," remembers Kokal. For a month, Billie's image hung around with the girls, and when it came time to leave, "we took her back home with us with the song."
Today, Warpaint's maturity has allowed them to better connect to one another, but knowing the people behind the players will always overshadow the art.
"Music is a way we can express our relationship, but we could do that if we were dancing or talking or drawing. It's a special, beautiful relationship, like a marriage where you're growing with someone and committed to them," says Kokal. "I have to play with them."with them." with them." email@example.com