Warp Ain’t WARPAINT: Progressive & brutal// Playful but tough

Jenny and Stella at Dickson

WARPAINT AT THE BLACK CAT, WASHINGTON DC, APRIL 3RD, 2011

We sat in the Red Room of the Black Cat DC, waiting for that moment when Robin, Warpaint’s tour manager, would come downstairs to bring us up to the main stage. At around 7:45pm, the band had finished soundchecking and she came to get us. The four ladies of Warpaint were standing to the left of the stage, Stella moving around but the other three sitting down, being together, supporting each other, trying to figure out the best way to spend the next four hours before they went on stage. Two of them were really sick – Stella had a flu and Theresa felt nauseous and feverish. Emily was tired and wanted to take a shower and lie down at the hotel. Jenny was listening, figuring out what’s best for the band. Hannah started shooting some photos of the drums; I was introduced to the rest of the band. Stella looked up at one point and said, “Hey, you’re Kiran? Writing that thesis right? Cool! Good to meet you!”

We were then directed to the dressing room to sit down with Stella to conduct an interview on behalf of Tom Tom Magazine, based in New York. There was all this healthy food awaiting the band, and Stella joked that she couldn’t figure out what the dipping sauces were. Tahini! She finally concluded. Hannah and I wanted this interview to be different. We looked into some of the many interviews Stella has done and we tried to avoid similar questions. I also positioned myself as drummer for most of the questions in the interview, and thought, as a drummer, what would I really want to know about Stella? What would all the female drummers and Tom Tom Fans want to learn from Stella? A second theme that I really wanted to cover in the interview was the changing nature of the music industry and where gender plays a role in all of that. I wanted to delve into a deeper topic but I also didn’t want to push Stella into a conversation that maybe she didn’t want on record. Luckily and awesomely, half way through the interview when I presented her with some of my own thoughts she said, “Oh yea, let’s go there!” You will be able to read the interview at tomtommag.com in coming months. It’s an amazing interview, and we hit some real topics towards the end. I also found out what the band is singing at the beginning of COMPOSURE and it’s so rad and perfect. Ask me if you want to know. For your ears only!!

Interviewing Stella for Tom Tom Magazine

Stella was candid, funny and thoughtful during the interview. She gave us her full attention and it felt like a real conversation. She would give thought to our questions and by the end we got into a really good conversation about the gendering of the music industry. She considered my thesis idea that the shift from major to independent/DIY model allows for women to be involved in the industry and she agreed. She made some interesting parallels between major/indep and masculine/feminine that I definitely recommend you reading when the Tom Tom interview comes out!! So interesting to hear it directly from  a band member who is living the life, and being the change right now. Off the record, I also chatted with her a bit about my independent study on math and drumming which she wanted me to send her some stuff on. I also told her when I interviewed Sex Hair in Austin at SXSW, they told me a story about how they had spotted her at a coffee shop in LA and gave her a tape of their newest album. They told me that if I ever did get to meet Stella, to say hi. She loved the story and took a moment to say “Hello to you too, Sex Hair!” So full circle and rad.

Robin had asked the band the night before if they wanted to go out to dinner in DC and they had agreed. Hannah and I had planned to take them to Dickson, and LouLou helped us set something up. Since two of the members were sick though, and since Robin and another manager had to stay back and deal with merch, it ended up being Stella, Jenny, Hannah, Alejandro their sound manager and myself at the dinner. It was this amazingly small and intimate dinner with Warpaint!!! Unreal. We left via the backdoor of the Black Cat and proceeded to walk to Dickson.

I was so effing nervous. It was so annoying, I wish I wasn’t. I was stumbling on my words! On the walk over there, Stella helped make conversation a bit, but Jenny didn’t really seem to be into it. It made sense, I mean we wanted to host them for dinner, so I guess she expected us to take leadership a bit on the conversation. I didn’t want to force it though, you know? I wanted it to be organic and just talk and have it be easy. And eventually it got there, but in the beginning I remember freaking out a bit.

Alejandro, Hannah and I at Dickson

They loved the food at Dickson. They didn’t drink anything, though Hannah and I had a small glass of red wine. We talked about what it’s like to push a band and a project for as long as they did, what practicing is like, believing in something. We talked about our stories a bit, what it was like to be at a university that felt very stifling at times and what it was like to also maintain a balance between being creative and being grounded. I awkwardly asked if they were going to see any of the DC sites tomorrow before they go to North Carolina. Jenny looked at me and was like, “no, I never really do any of those things when I go to cities, I usually just see friends.” What the fuck! I can’t believe I asked that! Ha! I know better! I never really do the touristy things either! So embarrassing. Anyway, Hannah probably rescued me out of that one and Stella went on to talk about music as self-indulgent vs. energy-giving (something that I really always try to flesh out for myself) and Jenny told us a bit more about the Warpaint story, how they kept trying different drummers and how they had to keep believing in the music, in the project, in the band. That really inspired me; it felt really emotional! To know that you have to put so so much effort into something, but that if you think it’s right, it probably will be. It will be because you’ve put everything you can into it, to make it work, to bring it to where you want it. I think that’s always the hardest thing. We are too afraid to give our all and put all of our effort into something because if it fails, then you might feel regretful, like a failure, not good enough, worried. I struggle with that, but try not to. I really try to just do it, to just go for it.

Post-dinner at Dickson

The end of the dinner was funny. Jenny had to go to the bathroom really badly so she just took off with Stella and Alejandro while Hannah waited for me. We caught up with them and Jenny pushed on ahead and sort of left us running back to Black Cat. As we neared Black Cat, I gave Stella and Alejandro some music from Rhythm & Culture. My friend Tabea (Georgetown ’07), whom I had just met in LA through GEMA, also gave me some jewelry to give to Warpaint. Fleet, the company she works for, makes music-inspired jewelry in this incredible loft in downtown LA. She told me that this jewelry was made while listening to Warpaint last fall. Stella loved the idea; thought the packaging was cool; wanted to have Fleet’s contact info. Full circle again.

We left them, and got our tickets and gave them to friends. We were on Rough Trade’s list to get into the show again from the front which made life easy. We caught a bit of the first band, PVT, which I really liked. Good crew shuffled in and texted me as my phone was dying. At 11:30, we positioned ourselves in front and center, and Warpaint took the stage. My phone died as if to tell me all I could do was just fucking immerse myself in the experience completely and not think about anything else like I usually do!!!

So amazing. Their level of musicianship is so high and the band is so tight. Stella is so powerful. So loud and powerful in a good, heart-thumping, energy-giving, controlled kind of way. She makes it look so easy, and so normal for a chick to be behind the set. So natural. The band communicates a lot informally just talking to each other on stage, but it felt that during the songs they rarely needed to look at each other because they just know what’s up. They also really had each other’s backs. Theresa was really sick (Robin brought her tea during the show) and it looked like the rest of the band was like, do what you can, sing when you can, play when you can, we got this. It was inspiring and so beautiful to just see four people get along and work together in this ethereal, musical space. I’m searching for that. They are so dreamy on stage. The fog-machine was maybe a bit much, but you can tell was probably not their idea. They sounded so good. They also knew how each other should sound. For example, I would notice Stella telling her sound guy that Emily’s vocals needed to be turned up. Theresa knew when she needed to be turned up or down. Jenny didn’t play bass at one point because something felt wrong, but Emily communicated the right thing and Jenny was able to pick it up and play again. The dynamics were so ideal and impressive. I want to learn that as a drummer – to be able to hold down the fort but also be so in tune to what’s going on with everyone else.

There was one thing that I struggled with. They don’t seem to care at all about the audience. I felt that the fans around me, belting out the words to Majesty or Composure were looking to them for that connection, to sing together, to exchange energy, to celebrate together…but the band didn’t really seem into that. They close their eyes, they sing to each other, they look straight forward and gaze out and above the audience. I think that was really tough. Stella was the most engaging to watch, but maybe that’s just me since I’m a drummer and also because I’m very high energy not all that chill and dreamy. The other three…chill and dreamy. I think maybe that’s their whole appeal though. The intentions and reasons for playing music (and Stella talked about this when we asked her why she was attracted to this band in particular) were very organic and not about money, fame, appeal, popularity or attention. It’s really just about believing in the sound you are producing and wanting to create something fucking huge and mystical and playful and tough and progressive and brutal with people you like. And that’s their whole thing. It’s as though their message is that we are not paying for them to entertain us in a specific, forced way. We are paying because we as the audience subscribe to their message. Take it or leave it. But they don’t feel pressured to perform a certain way because we are paying money for their show. And we as the audience have to just be ok with that.

I know that I am not the same way. I like music because it is an exchange of energy, give and take. I don’t see it necessarily as being an entertainer – because that creates a hierarchy. I am being paid to entertain. No, that’s gross. Too many parallels can be drawn between that concept and…prostitution in a way. I’m talking about using a sound, a sample, music, emotions to elicit and engage human interactions in ways that can’t be felt or experienced in other mediums or ways.

I think Warpaint achieves that though. Because whatever it was, I experienced this amazing introspection the entire time I was there looking up at them and rocking out. I felt confused, overwhelmed, sad, happy, nostalgic, scared. It was so strange. But good, because now I’m here, about to graduate, to figure out what my contribution to the world is supposed to be, where I’m supposed to be and how I’m supposed to do it. And all those reactions are motivating me to think even more about it all.

The show was over and one of the band members texted Hannah and I about where to get smokey. My phone was dead so I didn’t get it until much later. Hannah tried to hook it up but Jenny responded and said that the band was fine and that they were just going to go to sleep. She wished me good night. Good night, Warpaint! Thank you for altering my emotional state of mind for 5 hours and for giving me a chance to listen and learn from you.