“Something’s come up, can you wait half an hour?” For the last couple of years, indie girl quartet Warpaint had garnered a reputation of being notoriously difficult to interview, and it’s clear from the beginning that this interview is going to go on their terms. However, since the 2014 Beyonce/Rihanna debacle, where the band faced backlash for comments regarding the sexualisation of the music industry, you can hardly blame them for being a little on edge when it comes to talking to press.
Half an hour passes and I call again, this time greeted with an apologetic Theresa Wayman (guitar/vocals), who thanks me for my patience. “This week we’ve just been trying to get back into work,” she tells me. “There’s all these things we want to do, it’s just finding the time to get things done.” Having toured non-stop at the end of 2016 to promote their third album, Heads Up, it’s been a busy few months for the band. Add Christmas, motherhood and side projects to the mix and suddenly it all becomes clear just how crazy their schedules are.
Despite taking time out to focus on other projects in 2015, Heads Up (spearheaded by anthemic single, New Song) is faster, groovier and more succinct than previous efforts, and was produced by the band quicker than its predecessors. Does this make third time the charm? “We’re definitely getting better at selecting the best bits of each song and honing our skills. It was different to record, but we’re getting closer to getting a faster flow and being able to be more hands off in certain moments, and allowing things to happen that maybe don’t include all of us.”
As part of supergroup BOSS with Guro Gikling of All We Are and Hot Chip bassist Sarah Jones, Wayman explains that it was the time taken by each member to pursue other projects that helped the band to develop their sound for the new album. “I think it was important for all of us to realise our strengths and loosen the reins and not have as much control over the project. We have a four-way collaboration, not one person can have control. We each have to bring 100%, not 25% each. I feel like it’s good to constantly be working on other things. Honing our individual voices makes us stronger.”
And it’s certainly worked, Heads Up being praised by critics and making multiple Best Albums of 2016 lists. However, it seems the band are no closer to being regularly recognised at home in LA – not that they’re complaining. “Sometimes people look at me funny [in person] but I never think they’ve recognised me, I’ll always think maybe I have something on my face or my hair’s funny or something. I got recognised once in San Bernardino, but that was weird. I was like, ‘wait, does this happen?’ But we’ve never made it a point to make it about our image, or link our music to our image.”
Considering they’ve been at this for quite some time (Warpaint formed on Valentine’s Day 2004), Wayman is astonishingly grounded. Friendly, polite and incredibly talkative throughout our interview, it’s easy to see why she would get defensive when her views are misconstrued for the sake of a good headline. But while Warpaint are happy to have never pandered to the materialistic expectations and celebrity culture within the music industry – and likewise aren’t afraid to speak out about the issue – could that have hindered their success?
“I think we could have gotten to where we are now quicker if we had chosen to have been a little more provocative, or exploited our looks or feminine qualities. I think a lot of women use their looks and image to further their music career. I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with that, but we always wanted to be respected more for the music we’re making. There are definitely patterns you have to follow to make it into this upper echelon and, honestly, we don’t want that if that’s what it takes.”
There’s by no means bitterness in the way that Wayman speaks, it’s merely an observation and a disdain for the way the industry has been going in recent years; seemingly gone are the days whereby sheer talent is enough to make it big. However, she admits it’s not all bad – even sharing some hope for the future. “There are a lot of people making music nowadays, so there are different meanings when it comes to success, popularity and ‘making it’. It’s great that exists, as people are going out to see live music perhaps more than they ever did, so more artists are able to have the freedom to live and make music because of that. I hope it could lead to a positive movement where the more underground sounds start to infiltrate the pop realm.
While the band manages to stay out of the mainstream for their latest album, to brand them unsuccessful would be grossly inaccurate. While they’re certainly no Little Mix or Fifth Harmony (perish the thought!) there’s no denying that lead single New Song is probably their poppiest, most radio-friendly track to date – something Wayman dismisses as an accident, as the track was bred from a live set. Regardless, she hopes it paves the way for future tracks that don’t fit the cookie cutter structure that’s become so in-demand. “The way that it’s just accepted that [radio] music has become homogenous and sounds the same is so confusing to me because I come from a mind frame that really loves innovation, uniqueness and people breaking the mould – hopefully Heads Up achieves that.”