This is definitely not the first time we hear about Warpaint. The all-girl quartet already has behind them numerous EP's, including one from 2008, Exquisite Corpse, mixed by no less than John Frusciante, and a debut album, The Fool, which won over critics worldwide, gaining them the title of legit successors to Siouxsie And The Banshees. Now that only a couple of weeks separate us from the release of their sophomore album, Warpaint, we thought it was the right time to have a chat with Stella Mozgawa, the Australian drummer who joined the band back in 2009. We talked about the great producer Flood, the importance of reconciling the head and the heart when making music, and, somehow, even Tom Jones came up. The whole interview was constantly marked, much to my embarassment, by the screams of my cockatiel, Betty.
Alright, let's start with the questions. Where did you record the new album and which approach did you use in comparison to the last one, “The Fool”?
Well, we recorded it in LA, mostly, with Flood, when we started the recording process. We also rented out a house in Joshua Tree for a month, March 2012. And so that month, the stuff that happened there was kind of the genesis for a lot of the album. There was one song in particular that was recorded in Joshua Tree, almost entirely, then a lot of demos which we still used, that we recorded in our space; things like “Feeling alright” comes from a demo that Therese and I recorded in our rehearsing space downtown. Then when Flood came in we re-recorded some of the songs.
Speaking about Flood, how was working with him? He worked with really influential musicians, like PJ Harvey, New Order, Nine Inch Nails. What sort of impact did it have on your music?
Well, the thing about him that is so interesting is that he doesn’t really have his own style. Not in the way that he’s never found his own, or whatever. He has technical things that he’s been doing for years. But when you listen to something like the last PJ Harvey’s record, Let England Shake, I remember when I heard that, I had no idea he produced it, because he hadn’t produced the ones just prior to that. So I wondered, “did she do it, or maybe John Parish did it?” And I just always felt like when I really loved the sound of something or its approach and it almost sounded like it was not produced in a way, when it felt so natural, it always came from him. And he has the ability of making everything you do sound exactly the way you want it to sound, it’s not just with demo, even with a lot of hi-fi stuff. It’s actually a very remarkable abilty, for someone who’s so experienced to have that with a band who isn’t Depeche Mode or U2, to trust what the band wants and go with it. He’s so humble and so hard-working, he’s got so much integrity and he really believes in making the best piece of work and the best album that you can, instead of it being like “oh we need it to sound like this cause it’s what I did with U2” or whatever, or even like “we have to make it sound like this cause it’s what Pitchfork’s really loving at the moment”. He doesn’t give a shit about all that. He only wants to make sure that it’s a good album from start to finish. That’s the only thing he ever said and that’s the only thing he ever cared about.
I read that Billy Corgan said something similar. He truly listens to the bands and just goes with their style.
Yeah, that’s exactly correct, and I think that’s why he’s so successful. There actually very few producers that do that, you know.
And that way you could keep your sound.
Exactly. The only other producer that I can think of and that I’ve worked with on something else who has that kind of approach is Ethan Jones. I feel like they’re two of the coolest, most integral and most honest producers in the world.
What did you work on with Ethan Jones?
Uhm, I played drums on a Tom Jones’ record. Pretty awesome.
Ah, really? When was that?
It came out last year, but it was recorded around October of 2011. That was pretty incredible and he’s an amazing producer. I think it’s very rare, though, to find people like them who have that kind of quality, where they can be almost like a fly on the wall and totally respect the dynamic that’s occurring, instead of going, “Well, I know better, and this is how it should sound.” There was never that kind of energy, it’s basically like you’re inviting another musician into your world.
…Who respects you?
Yeah, who respects you and you respect them and if that relationship is functional and it’s working, then it brings about the best results, I think.
So you think you'll keep working with Flood in the future?
We’ll see. The thing is, it was one of those cosmic things where we wanted to work with each other at the very same time, and he’s very particular about who he works with. He wouldn’t work with a band if he felt like he couldn’t do anything with them, or for them, or if he wasn’t excited about the prospect of working with them. So, we’ll just have to see. It’s difficult to say at this point, cause we’re so much in the world of this current record.
Right, you’re obviously not thinking about the next record just yet...
Yeah, not yet. We couldn’t wait for it to come out and we want to live in its world for a little bit. But Flood’s really happy with the way the record came out, and so are we.
Let’s get back to this record, then. How did you approach the lyrics and what is the writing process like?
Uhm, in terms of lyrics, Emily and Therese write them. So I can’t really say what their routine is like in terms of making the music, but generally, just by working with them, I’ve seen the way things progress, sort of naturally. It’s not so much like, “Oh here’s a poem that I wrote. And here’s a song you guys wrote. So I’m just gonna put the poem together with the music.” It’s almost like a textural, syllabic thing, just sounds that you say in the heat of the moment.
So is it more about the sound rather than the lyrics?
No, I think it starts with sound and then manifests into something that’s meaningful, in some way. If that makes sense. It starts out with something that’s very textural and organic in some ways, and then putting it together in a way that makes sense, trying to understand why that came up in the first place, or the way our tongues was wrapping around those words. It’s almost like speaking in tongues. It always feels like there’s meaningful stuff in there.
You develop lyrics and sound at the same time, it’s like something indefinite, am I right?
Yeah, exactly. I mean, that’s not strictly how it’s done. But that’s very perceptive, it’s kinda what tends to happen, yeah.
How does the new record sound in relation to “The Fool”? Has your sound changed a lot? It felt like the sound spectrum changed quite a bit, can you tell me a little about that? Is there a conscious direction that you’ve taken?
Uhm, not so much conscious, but I think it all came from that period in Joshua Tree, where we were able to do whatever we wanted to do and it had nothing to do with anything, we just thought of what was exciting us at that moment, the ideas that we had for a while or that we just came up with. It was very much about exploring new things that we hadn’t necessarily explored before. Because we had the chance and the time to actually sit down and experiment with one another, and we’d never really had that before. I joined the band a few weeks before we recorded “The Fool”. We never really had a time to sit down and just write music together. So this was a new experience for the four of us and it was very exciting for all of us, more than anything else. I don’t think we were inhibiting ourselves in any way with this new record. We didn’t plan to, you know, try something a bit more electronic or whatever. I know it sounds weird, but we never have those kind of conversations as a band. You know, fuck that, we just make music that feels really good to us and that we’re excited about playing, because we know for a fact that when you go out and play that song, if you’re not feeling that song then the crowd isn’t gonna feel it either and you’re be fucking miserable. Because you’ll have to play that song that you never really liked for two years of your life and you have to look like you mean it. So the most important thing to us is to make sure that we mean it.
It feels like everything related to your music is instinctive, which I think is one of the best feature of your whole discography. From what you told me so far it sounds like is nothing conscious or coming from thoughts.
Good point, actually. There is a lot of talking between us in terms of like “do this or try that,” that’s really vocal. But it’s never like, “oh, let’s sit down and figure stuff out”…
That kind of kills the music, in my opinion…
Well, you know what? I can’t judge, because for some people that really works, which is awesome for them. Everyone has to find their method of doing something, and I think that’s really important. With us, it just feels really unnatural. The girls, or Ethan, years before I was even in the band, they never really worked like that. So it would be weird for us to start doing that now. We’re really particular about things, but that’s one thing that we never really talk about.
What about the last song of the record, “Son”, what’s the story behind it?
That is a song that Theresa wrote, there were a few things involved over the time we were making the album. It’s about her son and about resolving the cards that you’ve been dealt in your life. Having to go on tour and all that stuff and also being a mum…it’s pretty crazy. I love that song, I think it’s one of my favorites.
How did you meet the girls?
When I moved to LA, I came over here to make the record with Flea, from Red Hot Chili Peppers. He knows the girls, they have a lot of mutual friends, we realized we also have lots of mutual friends. And it was during that time I decided I wasn’t going to be a touring musician, they were looking for a drummer. It was this serendipitous thing, really. It was good timing.
I read that Godrich, who also worked with Radiohead, mixed two of the tracks…How was that?
Yeah, it was “Feeling Alright” and “Love Is To Die”. It was actually just him, my manager and myself…I was the only one in London at the time. He did it all by himself, it wasn’t really like an event or anything. But he kinda saved the day for us. We had been mixing with the Flood for the past month, and there still were two songs that the mixes weren’t really finished for and it was time for someone else to give it a shot. And you couldn’t get any better than that, you know, Nigel and Flood. We were incredibly lucky. To be honest, I don’t think we deserve it.
I mean, I think it’s gonna make us want to be really good and deserve it. We’ll spend the next two years playing this new album with a sense of humility and gratitude for the experience with those people.
Your tour doesn’t contemplate any stops in Italy at the moment.
Oh really?! We’re gonna get over there. I can’t really announce it just yet. But there’s no chance in hell that we’re not coming to Italy. They’re just announcing things bit by bit. But it will happen.
Do you think our country is cut off from the “indie” circuit?
I don’t think so, actually. Everytime we’ve been in Italy, especially in Milan, it was awesome. We played at a small festival [Living Room] with Dinosaur Jr. and a bunch of other cool bands, about a year and a half ago. But we played there once before, or we went there for print or something.
What about Primavera Sound 2014? Are you gonna be in the line-up?
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What kind of music inspires you?
For me, I think it’s just music that sounds like it’s made from the heart. Also, if it’s made from the head then it has a lot of heart in it. A record can be very intellectual, but very sensual and meaningful at the same time. For me, personally, it’s a combination of those two things. The marriage of the head and the heart. But bands we all agree on are like Talking Heads, Aphex Twin, a lot of electronic music and stuff like that.
Are you guys still in touch with John Frusciante?
Not so much, no. But he’s a really important part of bringing the band to life, you know, and he’s a friend.