Warpaint: Heads up!
Warpaint’s third album, ‘Heads Up’ finds its magic in spontaneity and the band’s trust in themselves.
Published: 9:20 am, September 23, 2016
"Cool, let’s try it,” says the vocal sample at the very start of ‘The Stall’, capturing a moment in the studio and the spirit of Warpaint’s third album, ‘Heads Up’. After the dark, delicate beauty of 2014’s self-titled album, the band has come back with a rainbow confidence.
“There’s always more to explore,” says vocalist and guitarist Emily Kokal. “We are all learning individually all the time, so that’s exciting when we come to a new album cycle. We’ve grown and we get to feed off of each other. We get to bounce off of each other’s growth. There’s always more that we can do and everyone’s so incredible to play with. I feel like in so many ways, we’re always just scratching the surface of the potential of the band.”
Sitting on the finished record since May, Emily is getting impatient for people to hear it. “At this point I’m ready to make another album,” she says, and despite the surprising direction the band have taken, there are no worries - only excitement. “I’ve been in this band since 2004 so to be able to still have so much room to try new things, for the band to have new places to go and to not be retreading the same ground, is what makes it exciting.
“There was something to this process that was really unknown, it was more spontaneous and we didn’t really fall into old patterns or old roles. It almost made it feel like a different band. It was a different approach and it ended up being a lot faster for us. It was a lot of fun to make and I know a lot of albums that I love, they weren’t fun to make for the artists necessarily, so I don’t think that’s a pre-requisite. There was this spirit of making the album that really come through in the final product.”
The plan was to hit the studio immediately after the intense touring for ‘Warpaint’ finished but at the last minute the band decided they needed a proper break. Out of that came solo albums, collaborations with the likes of Kurt Ville, SBTRKT and Jamie xx, as well as a space to let individual ideas grow. “Everyone had gotten a lot of their own music out of their system. When we came into the studio to start working, we had ‘So Good’ and a couple of demos that we had made together and then this list of songs, ideas and things that people had been doing in the break. That was a really new process for us.”
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Taking fully formed ideas and then encouraging the rest of the band to write something over the top immediately after hearing it led to a playfulness that dances across ‘Heads Up’. “You’re not fine-combing the song with four heads, picking it apart for months and months at a time, instead it’s ‘what’s your first instinct?’ That was really liberating for us because we do have a tendency to really work things out. To be able to spontaneously trust whatever comes out of you and for everyone else to trust you and not overthink it, it’s just so healthy and it ended up having a really good spirit. No one was getting on their own or anyone else’s case. Do it and let it be what it is.”
The only thing Warpaint wanted from this record was to get out of 98bpm, which was their sonic comfort zone. There were no rules about being able to recreate songs onstage or how the songs should be sped up, they just wanted to be faster. “Instead of trying to recreate how we sound live, we were just able to bring the energy and feeling of what its like to see us live.” Pushing everything forward means ‘Heads Up’ “is like a different room to where you’re used to experiencing Warpaint.”
“At first it was like, ‘what are these?’ Are all these songs going to go together and it is all over the place? You have ‘New Song’ then you have ‘Today Dear’ and they couldn’t be further from each other but it started to feel really well-rounded and that’s when we started to feel like we had an album.” The confidence and desire for new discoveries is reflected in the lyrics. For the first time the vocals weren’t competing with a big band sound during the recording so they’re more rhythmic, more hypnotic and more direct.
“It’s capturing what you’re feeling in that moment which is a really pure experience, especially if you don’t know what you’re going to say and you just riff it out. It’s a really personal moment writing lyrics, especially alone in your room. Even around the band, you’re not always letting it rip. You can get self-conscious. You can not try certain things because you might fail, especially freestyling vocals.”
Away from everything else though, “You just let it come out and I like to try and capture those moments because they’re not processed, they’re not filtered. To take a pure moment and keep it there for eternity, that’s my favourite way to do it.
“I always just want to say things that feel good to sing and feel like, if anyone can get anything out of it or it helps them through anything, than that’s a really great by product even if it’s just a good feeling. More and more, I just focus on just being a more conscious, aware, open individual and to share that journey with others. The songs ‘The Stall’ and ‘Don’t Wanna’ are personal ass-kickings. For me to say things like ‘Letting go isn’t giving in’, and knowing I’m going to tour and keep saying it like a mantra, I feel like it’ll click. It’ll click for me, and if it clicks for other people than that’s just the best possible thing I’d like to share. It’s inspiration to really move through your self with grace and try to find your strength.”
Knowing people are listening isn’t something Warpaint had much time to think about with ‘Heads Up’. They were too lost in the moments but, “The one thing I do keep in mind is that I feel like I hold myself accountable to bring something positive to the experience. To bring something real so it feels like I’m really sharing something, otherwise it’s hard to feel like you have anything worth saying that anyone needs to listen to in the first place. The more true, honest and real experience I can have when I’m writing alone in my room, that’s the best I can do. The best I can do for other people is to have a real honest experience with myself.”
Normally Warpaint have an easy time naming things. ‘Elephants’ sounded like elephants marching, ‘Bees’ sounds like bees but with ‘Heads Up’, there was a struggle. They thought about calling it ‘By Your Side’, but there’s a The Black Crows album of the same name - and they already have an album called ‘Warpaint’, so the band let them have that. Both ‘Heads Up’ and ‘By Your Side’ capture the feeling and sentiment that Warpaint cherished with this record though.
“We’ve been a band for a long time and the last tour was so intense, there was so much traveling and you go through so much with each other and this album was a lot about support, supporting and have a light tough. ‘Heads Up’ is the spirit of where we’re coming from and where we’re looking. Even the album artwork cover, we’re looking out the window into the light. We were all feeling really renewed and just keep your head up, stay positive and keep it light. That doesn’t mean an absence of depth though We’ve let ourselves swim in the mire and get really into the melancholy, dark stuff. But this was just a good feeling. It’s just a good idea to keep your head up.”
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