Throughout adulthood, Theresa Wayman has been torn between two forces that rely on her: her band Warpaint, with whom she’s been the guitarist and vocalist for 14 years; and her son, who is now 12. Eve Barlow meets Wayman to hear how she’s broken free to g
Therapy, physics and motherhood are just some of the ingredients that have gone to make up the solo debut album by the Warpaint guitarist and singer.
uring happy hour at a wine bar in LA’s Silver Lake neighbourhood, Theresa BeckerWayman puts down her glass of Cabernet, crosses herself, and looks to the heavens in memory of Stephen Hawking. The English physicist died just before Q’s interview, and for the curiously-minded Wayman it’s a big loss. Wayman, 37, may be renowned as a guitarist and vocalist in the alternative rock band Warpaint but she’s far more verbose talking about physics than music. A keen explorer of the universe, she seeks answers to life’s mysteries. Aliens? They exist. The water crisis? It’s fixable. Love? Working on it. The last dinner Wayman went on that blew her mind was with Swiss physicist Nassim Haramein. “It was amazing,” she says, still star-struck. Wayman paints Haramein as a New Age Messiah. “He takes off where Einstein left off,” she says. “He’s the next wave of understanding the natural universe.” Haramein claims to be able to reacquire intelligence from past civilisations to solve our energy deficit. He started a school – the Resonance Science Foundation – which Wayman studies religiously. The organisation has fewer than 12,000 Twitter followers (the most notable fan is Alicia Keys), but Wayman considers it her mission to bring more awareness to it. It has her permanently theorising… “The amount of galaxies that have suns like ours and planets orbiting them is something like eight hundred million trillion. No wait, I’m spacing right now on how to explain this,” she pauses, contemplating extraterrestrial life over a plate of scallops. “Hawking said it himself: the probability that we’re not alone] is the biggest number he’s ever come across.” She shrugs. “So there you go.” After her second glass of red, talk meanders from ionising atoms to manipulating gravity to Ancient Egypt. “You should see this shit. It’s insane,” she marvels, her intense brown eyes deepening. As a mother to son Sirius B, her concerns for his future underscore this fascination. “If none of this stuff is true I don’t care,” she says. “I’d much rather be thinking about it. At least we’re expanding the box, you know?” Wayman’s concerns with scientific discoveries are linked to her forthcoming first solo LP – LoveLaws. She too has timetravelled backwards in order to move forwards, artistically speaking. LoveLaws is a brooding, woozy listen, for which she played most of the instruments and co-produced with her brother Ivan. It took all the tools in her armour to delve into the biggest unknown of all: herself. While
Wayman mined her past and traced her emotions back to her youth, she got the best therapy money can’t buy. The album – she says – was 20 years in the making. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Throughout Wayman’s creative peak, she’s been pulled in two different directions: 14- yearold Warpaint and 12- year-old Sirius. Earlier this afternoon, Wayman was posing for pictures above the freeway next to the Griffith Park football fields. She points at an entrance where she and Sirius sneak in after-hours for kickabouts with Sirius’s dad. Wayman and he remain amicable but are not together. She’s releasing LoveLaws under the moniker TT – a nickname he gave to her. Over the course of three albums, Warpaint’s recording and touring commitments have been never-ending. Wayman has relied upon her parents to help raise Sirius. Balancing her double life meant no time for her own self-discovery. She’s a “soccer mom” by day and a rock star by night. Making room for Q in her white Honda, she removes a guitar stand from the backseat. Wayman drives this car an hour outside of LA every week to get Sirius to his football training. “I have to find people to drive him to practice right now,” she says, guiltily. The solo project is Wayman’s biggest test of self-worth. As she talks – with a delicate defiance – her iPhone constantly pings. LoveLaws’ completion required diligence. “Especially with Warpaint and being a mom and needing to live,” she says. “It’s hard. Adding another thing is crazy, but people do crazier. They wake up at 4am so they can go on the treadmill. Then they go save the world and Steve Jobs it up. Wait, Steve Jobs didn’t save the world, did he?” She looks at her iPhone again, perplexed. For the first time, Wayman is in charge of everything: releases, photo shoots, social media. “There’s a million things to juggle.” Tonight she’s orchestrating a meeting for a music video. She lost time last week due to Warpaint shows in Mexico City and Texas. With Warpaint resuming writing for their fourth album next week, Wayman is up against it. Taking the reins, however, has been invaluable. “It’s empowering, I guess?” she says, unsure if it’s OK to say so. “I don’t have to think about anybody else. It gives me this sense of self. I’ve had moments where I’ve lost my identity [ in Warpaint]. I’ll be onstage or in an airport or writing an album thinking, ‘I don’t even know what I think any more, I just know what the group thinks.’” Wayman is not the first Warpaint-er to scratch this itch. Bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg released her solo LP Right On! in 2015 between their second and third LPs. Drummer Stella Mozgawa seems incapable of putting her sticks down, appearing on albums by Kurt Vile, Jamie xx, Jagwar Ma, Cate Le Bon and many more. Guitarist Emily Kokal hasn’t stepped out yet, but Wayman says it’s inevitable. “Emily has so much music. The minute she decides to do it, it’s not gonna be an issue.” Her friendship with Kokal is particularly complex. They met when they were 11 years old in their hometown of Eugene, Oregon, travelled Europe together and relocated to LA in their early 20s on a wing and a prayer. In interviews, Kokal and Wayman throw you off-guard with in-jokes. Sometimes they get into tense jousts with one another. That’s part of the mystique of Warpaint: all four members hide within its shadow-y psychedelic veil. Even onstage it’s never clear who is alpha. “We’ve had a codependency for a long time,” she says of Kokal. “When we tap in we have this psychic connection but it’s been a difficult relationship to figure out. There’s
I’ve had moments where I’ve lost my identity in Warpaint. I’ll be onstage or in an airport or writing an album thinking, ‘I don’t even know what I think any more, I just know what the group thinks.’
some sort of unwritten law between us: we can’t move forward without each other. We have to go together. It’s weird but it’s also beautiful.” If Wayman has displayed surliness in past interviews, it’s because she’s been muscling through these “difficult” relationships. “It’s hard to get along with people,” she laughs. “That’s Warpaint. No kidding. We could have thrown the towel in but we’ve gotten closer.” The band’s process has often been painful and fractious. Personal fulfilment has been a struggle. “I’m so happy to be doing this,” she says of LoveLaws. “If I didn’t I would hate myself. I’d be depressed for the rest of my life.”
Wayman’s music is gloomy because gloom has followed her about like a cloud. “That’s the hardest part of being in a relationship with me,” she says. She was raised the eldest of three by two artist parents. Money was tight. Musical from the age of nine, Wayman had ambitions to make an album while sitting in her bedroom, but her rebellion and a sense of nihilism about succeeding in the arts got in the way. “I rocked the boat intensely when I was a teenager,” she says. “I was such a good kid, my mom and I were close. I was nerdy. I loved school. Then I got interested in boys and I fucked it all off. Which was stupid.” Last year, between on-the-road stints, she sat down to listen to some ideas she’d collected while “messing about” on her laptop. Her brother, an engineer for The War On Drugs, agreed that there was an album’s worth of material. Wayman has always been more of a fan of hip-hop and electronica than rock, and was working on beats and loops while travelling. They needed to be arranged and produced back home in LA. Similar to Warpaint’s output, the 10 tracks are rhythmically driven and contain a gothic-meets-exotic sensibility. Wayman likens herself to a painter – or “weaver” – of sounds. Opening track Mykki drags you into a dark underbelly reminiscent of late-’ 90s Massive Attack; lead single Love Leaks is a waltzing folk-y number; Safe contains the sounds of distressed guitar licks and opens with a recreation of a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Wayman wanted to use the original sample, but the costs were too high. Love, unsurprisingly, is the album’s major through-line. “There’s a love fantasy song, a brief one-night-stand song, a breakup song, a self-love song,” she explains. “Romantic love never gets old for me.” Since her hormones exploded, Wayman has had a tendency to get swallowed up in men. Most notably, she once dated electronic nice boy James Blake. “I didn’t wanna fall into that pattern any more,” she says, of losing herself. “So I took a long break from relationships. I hadn’t given myself enough time to know who I am. Through the process of making this I went through so many ups and downs. There were times where I absolutely hated the way everything sounded. I was so judgmental of my choices. I can be so mean.” Wayman’s relationship with herself wasn’t just untapped, but unhealthy. Therapists will tell you: everything stems from childhood. Children are a huge source of influence for Wayman. One track, titled Sassafras Interlude, is a short acoustic song featuring her manager’s 10- year-old stepdaughter. It’s the child’s composition. “Happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself,” she sings. Wayman related. “She and I have become friends,” she says of the girl. “I talk to her like you and I are talking. What the hell?” Sirius, too, is Wayman’s muse. “My son is so weird and funny and he doesn’t stop himself,” she says. Wayman was not like that as a kid. Via meditation and “shadow work” she’s returned to her past to exorcise certain demons. Shadow work is a type of self-therapy that breaks your learned behaviour. “Ask yourself, ‘When was the first time I felt this?’ Let yourself sit with the feeling and expand it outward as opposed to keeping it stuffed inside. That’s what allows you to reverse things. I did it a few times. It really works.” It sounds almost shamanic. Wayman grins. “I’ve never been a big psychedelics person. Right now there’s so many ways to tap into this otherworldly stuff without any drugs – meditation, out-of-body experiences. There’s so much behind the veil, so much we don’t know.” Would she do ayahuasca? She pauses. “Hmm. I don’t know. I’m still figuring it out.” It makes sense that next to children, Björk’s thirst for seeing the world with consistently fresh eyes is Wayman’s biggest inspiration. In that teenage bedroom she obsessed over Debut ( 1993), Post ( 1995) and Homogenic ( 1997). “I listened to her non-stop. Björk wove this tapestry of a song and I would think, ‘I’d love to do that.’ I don’t see myself as a guitar player, or a bass player, or even a vocalist. You create this picture of a song. Whatever that takes to put together – that’s the kind of artist you are.” When asked about the time she met Björk, Wayman hangs her head in shame. “Oh God,” she says. “My stories of meeting Björk are horrendous. I can’t. I’m never going to try again.” The first time it was Wayman who went to say “hi”. She tripped up and fell onto Björk’s arms, pulling her down with her. Wayman tries to adopt Björk’s high-pitched speaking voice. “She said, ‘Something’s
happening!’ She was so confused and weirded out.” The second time, Wayman was stoned before a Warpaint show and Lindberg’s ex-husband – Chris Cunningham – brought Björk backstage to meet them. “Everything that came out of my mouth was just…” Again she despairs. “But Emily made Björk laugh. She rubs that in my face. She has pictures, too. She shows them to me. I’m like, ‘You want me to be happy right now?’”
The good news is that Wayman is happy right now. “Lately I’ve had this feeling where I’ll look around at the world and I don’t hate everyone. Usually I’d say, ‘What’s the point? Why do we go to work every day and not really do what we wanna be doing?’” It seems the balance of Warpaint, Sirius, quantum physics lectures and her own solo outlet is an alternative life balance she can get by with. “I want to live more of an artist life,” she says. “I’ve let go of this young, debauched side of myself. At least for the time being.” With her plate overflowing with her own solo tour and an upcoming Warpaint run supporting Harry Styles, Wayman frankly doesn’t have room for partying. “I can’t imagine staying up all night drinking. There was always a part of me that thought it might be boring to be the person who leaves early. I’m usually the last one standing. My friends who win Oscars; they’re the ones who go home early.” Q wonders who Wayman knows with an Oscar? She grows embarrassed. “That sounds so dumb.” She backtracks. “I live in Hollywood. I know people who have won Oscars and Grammys. They are married to their work.” For Wayman, perhaps the art will be her greatest love of all.
There’s a love fantasy song, a brief one-nightstand song, a break-up song, a selflove song. Romantic love never gets old for me.
Freeway spirit: Theresa Wayman, Los Angeles, 14 March, 2018.
Soccer mom by day, rock star by night...: Wayman at John Ferraro Athletic Fields, Griffith Park, Los Angeles, 14 March, 2018.
With Warpaint (from left, Stella Mozgawa, Jenny Lee Lindberg, Wayman, Emily Kokal), Philadelphia, 2014.
“I’ve let go of this debauched side of myself. At least for the time being.” Wayman enjoys the scenery, Sonnynook River Park, Los Angeles.