The fierce girl band with the mel­low sound

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - Front Page -

“‘Oh, we like it, but one of you guys is re­ally fat,’” says Stella Moz­gawa. “Or, ‘ We re­ally like it that your songs go on for seven min­utes, but that’ll never get played on the ra­dio.’”

Moz­gawa is the drum­mer and oc­ca­sional key­boardist for an LA all-fe­male quar­tet called Warpaint. And, as you may have al­ready gath­ered, she’s pos­sessed of a cer­tain cyn­i­cism about the mu­sic busi­ness. A few years ago, when it was fash­ion­able for in­die bands to re­fer to ma­jor la­bels as pub­lic en­emy num­ber one, this might not have raised an eye­brow, but in 2011 – when the en­tire recorded-mu­sic in­dus­try is cling­ing to any­thing seem­ingly buoy­ant lest it drown – the sen­ti­ment seems pos­i­tively toxic.

That might be be­cause Moz­gawa speaks with the thick, take-no-pris­on­ers ac­cent of a na­tive Syd­neysider, but is more likely borne of bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence, of hav­ing played in a num­ber of frus­trat­ing bands be­fore find­ing one that fit.

Warpaint formed in 2004, and from the be­gin­ning had cer­tain strate­gic ad­van­tages over its peers. Warpaint’s orig­i­nal drum­mer, ac­tress Shan­nyn Sos­sa­mon, had starred op­po­site Heath Ledger and Josh Hart­nett in Hollywood block­busters (she’s the one with the ini­tially en­dear­ing but ul­ti­mately supremely ir­ri­tat­ing habit of bit­ing her lower lip in 40 Days and 40 Nights), and the scent of the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers hung heavy around them. Both of that band’s gui­tarists have worked with Warpaint – Josh Klinghof­fer is an oc­ca­sional col­lab­o­ra­tor, and John Fr­us­ciante pro­duced their first EP.

A num­ber of Cal­i­for­nian bands have strad­dled the Venn-di­a­gram sets of both fa­mous-mu­si­cian- as­so­ci­a­tion and celebrity-mem­ber­ship, and have proved to be un­speak­ably aw­ful – Johnny Depp’s band P springs to mind. But Warpaint ac­tu­ally seemed to go out of its way to an­tag­o­nise any Ledger or Kiedis fans by ig­nor­ing the ob­vi­ous in­flu­ences and look­ing to more ad­ven­tur­ous sounds for in­spi­ra­tion.

“That was one of the ini­tial things that at­tracted me to the band – there was no pre­ten­sion, there wasn’t any­thing con­trived in the way they per­formed or how the mu­sic sounded,” says Moz­gawa of the sprawl­ing, ethe­real songs that re­main the band’s core strength. That odd jux­ta­po­si­tion is Warpaint’s most be­guil­ing fea­ture – while much of its ear­lier au­di­ence might have ar­rived with stars in their eyes, they couldn’t help but leave with hazily psy­che­delic rock mu­sic ring­ing in their ears.

Warpaint’s line-up so­lid­i­fied only months be­fore its mem­bers recorded their de­but al­bum, re­leased in Oc­to­ber. But The Fool has re­ceived very favourable press, with English mu­sic weekly NME declar­ing, in typ­i­cally overblown style, “This rings true and thick as dark blood seep­ing from a wound,” while US web­site Pitch­fork.com – an im­por­tant ar­biter of cool in the world of in­die mu­sic – praised “a nine-song séance of an al­bum that’s as sub­tle as it is dis­qui­et­ing”. The band’s swirling, nu­anced sound got them on a tour with last year’s dar­lings The xx (“In­spir­ing,” says Moz­gawa. “You see them live and you re­alise how gen­uine they are”). Warpaint’s tak­ing The xx’s slot at this year’s Laneway Fes­ti­val and was signed to le­gendary UK la­bel Rough Trade on the strength of their EP alone. “You get re­verse sex­ism some­times. Some­one will come up and say, ‘I can’t be­lieve how good you guys are for women’”

De­spite its con­tin­u­ing prox­im­ity to Hollywood (Sos­samyn re­turned to di­rect a video, and singer Theresa Way­man stars along­side Steve Buscemi and Rosie Perez in the forth­com­ing film Pete

Smalls is Dead), the band re­mains a tightly knit group – though one that wel­comed its Aussie im­port Moz­gawa with open arms when she of­fi­cially joined last year.

“At first I was a lit­tle bit un­sure of the dy­namic within the band – I’d seen them live and hung out with them on a very piece­meal ba­sis, so­cially,” says Moz­gawa. “So you never know if there’s one dom­i­nant mind, or whether ev­ery­one con­trib­utes to­gether and makes it a very demo­cratic process. It’s def­i­nitely the lat­ter.”

A band as a democ­racy? While it might seem the nat­u­ral or­der, it’s ac­tu­ally so rare as to make Warpaint an ex­treme out­lier. Most are, to greater or lesser ex­tent, dic­ta­tor­ships, with one or two dom­i­nant mu­si­cal per­son­al­i­ties chart­ing the course. Moz­gawa was pleas­antly sur­prised to dis­cover the un­ex­pected po­lit­i­cal cli­mate when they be­gan writ­ing for The Fool.

“I couldn’t be­lieve it,” she marvels. “And there was no dis­cus­sion of it be­fore I joined the band. It was just, ‘Okay, we’re get­ting in, we’re go­ing to do

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