The airplane is levitating in a sea of pink and blue clouds. The sky is dipped into a gentle fade of pastel colors in the weightless space between the day and the night. And it does not really matter if it is a sunrise or a sunset, it is the surreal airy mood of the melting lights that the cover of the new Warpaint record captures. Spaced across the image, the words Radiate Like This. On their fourth studio album, the four-piece give that image a musical equivalent of mellow synth-y indie pop.
“The photo was taken by Emily’s partner when we were flying over Mexico”, Theresa tells me. Core member of the band, Theresa Wayman also known as TT, has been on the road with Emily Kokal, Jenny Lee Lindberg, and Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint for almost two decades now. I catch the vocalist and songwriter on Zoom Call ahead of the quartet’s tour.
The Musical Foundations
Theresa seems composed and answers my questions with the confidence of an artist who is not just fully behind her latest work but also had the time to dissect it from various angles. The recording process of Radiate Like This started out in the usual Warpaint jam-session manner but was interrupted by the pandemic. “We started with what had become our regular songwriting routine, recording demos, meeting at the studio. But Emily got pregnant and that gave us a more structured timeline. We wanted to get the basic structure for all the songs done before she had the child.”
Pre-pandemic, the band spent a lot of time working on laying the groundwork for their studio record. Theresa tells me that they recorded the elements that would be harder to record remotely, the drum and bass, the backbone of each song. The band thought they would just take a break when Emily had her child and reunite at the studio, when the pandemic interfered with those plans.
“I am so happy that we created the foundation of the record being together.”
The global pandemic forced the four-piece to record the rest of the album remotely from their individual home bases. For a band that grew out of an intense relationship amongst the four members, basically living together and spending their time in the studio together constantly bouncing ideas off each other, the shift in process came with new struggles. But also new opportunities.
“We developed a different relationship to the record – collectively and individually. Especially Emily and I because we are the vocalists and lyricists. The postponed deadline meant that we had much more time to get to know the songs inside in out in a way we never had the luxury to do before.” For Theresa, spending more time with the songs meant that she learned a lot more about the nuanced effects certain tweaks in mixing and mastering have on the music. “I took it as an opportunity to understand and examine every single detail of the songs,” she tells me.
This in-depth attention to detail can be heard on the perfectly arranged layers of songs like Proof. Playing with the dynamic of restrained and fully fleshed out arrangements, the musicians find a steady hand to steer emotions to exactly where they want them to be. The result is a vast piece of music. It clocks in at only four and a half minutes, but its multiple characters and layers make it feel like a much longer song that unveils new facets with each listen.
Covering Their Own Music
Even though the remote recording process allowed the artists to hone their individual craft with more time and attention to detail, it was not always easy. “It sometimes put me in a weird limbo. I wanted to go off explore things but that might have taken the music into a direction that the rest of the bad would not follow. When we are in a room together and we try things, we get immediate feedback. I don’t have them to cheer me on when something is good or nudge me into a different direction if it does not work.”
It is about finding the balance between the myopic and the communal creative process. Radiate Like This was woven along the lines of that tension intensified by the pandemic. So, when the band first came together to play the sounds they bred remotely, through sending ideas and demos back and forth and tweaking the pre-recordings they had already made, it felt strange in the beginning.
“It kind of felt like we were covering our own music.”
And Other Changes
Theresa describes the album having been “built in a box”. But back together, the band quickly made the record that initially felt a little foreign their own again. While Warpaint have a reputation for giving their music a special energy on stage, Radiate Like This will most likely grow to a whole other dimension in the band’s live shows.
When the singer talks about the first gig of the tour, she grins. This time around, there is another member on tour with them – the two-year-old daughter of bandmate Emily. “She is loving it,” Theresa tells me about having the kid on tour. “She is so ready to go. I think she is happier than all of us. Especially as a pandemic-baby, closed off for the first years of her life, she is now really coming out of it.”
Connection in Motherhood
The album takes the warmth of creative and personal connection that the band has always had to a next level. Theresa and Emily, the lead vocalists and lyricist of the group are now both mothers. That creates a deeper understanding amongst them. “Being a mother and working in the music industry is hard. I had to leave my son when we were on tour. On the road you meet a lot of amazing people, but they are usually on their own and don’t have the responsibility of having a child. My bandmates did not understand the struggle of being a mother working in the industry. Emily now gets how demanding it is. We are closer than ever.”
Having a four-way situation always amplifies everything. Theresa tells me about times where it has been difficult to stay together but then again times when it has been vital to keep the group together. “We all take turns at being like ‘I can’t do this anymore, I quit’ and talking each other of that ledge.” In another interview, the artist fittingly described it as maintaining a marriage with three other women.
“Warpaint is like any relationship. There are places where we rub, and those things need to get figured out otherwise it does not work.”
Strength in Sensitivity
Warpaint is the fruit of that relationship maintenance. To keep a band going over the course of such a long career takes work, dedication, and love. Theresa, Emily, Jenny, and Stella keep growing individually and collectively and their music is a document of that growth. “I think right now we are learning about how sensitive we are to each other.”
“Our sensitivity is our strength. It is where we connect. If you can connect and hear each other, the relationship becomes stronger. We are learning how to be more vulnerable with each other and getting closer as a band through that. It is challenging but nice.”
Coming from this newly found place of sensitivity combined with individual perspective that each of the members gained in their remote working process, the record is proof of a reenergized quartet. Warpaint keeps evolving and growing with each album, but it sounds like they are just growing into a more authentic and sensitive version of themselves with each release.
Radiate Like This is out now via Virgin Music.