Warpaint's Stella Mozgawa Talks Gaga, Van Smells, Hip-Hop and the Band's New Album

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LA's Warpaint play tonight at the Luminary Center for the Arts. From left, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg, Stella Mogzawa, Emily Kokal(front).
  • LA's Warpaint play tonight at the Luminary Center for the Arts. From left, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg, Stella Mogzawa, Emily Kokal(front).

The Los Angeles four-piece Warpaint crafts haunting dreampsych with iridescent harmonies and filmy reverb, but don't label them as an all-girl band: The quartet comes from the Thurston Moore school of rocking out. Warpaint's hypnotic post-whatever sound has drawn a legion of celebrity devotees, from the band's collective idol, RZA -- they're all big, big Wu-Tang fans -- to the late Heath Ledger (may he rest), and Shannyn Sossamon, vocalist/bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg's sister (and Warpaint's drummer before Stella Mozgawa). We caught up with the charming, hilarious Mozgawa earlier this week as she was relaxing at a friend's house. Our conversation topics ranged from dating musicians, her intense fascination with Lady Gaga and an undying love for sake bombs and hip-hop. Warpaint's at the Luminary Center for the Arts Tonight with Javelin. Tickets are $10 and the show starts at 8 p.m.

Diana Benanti: What do you do to relax in your down time, besides hanging out at friend's houses? Stella Mozgawa: That's an important ingredient in relaxation. I took some time off and went to Joshua Tree and the Sequoia National Forest, that was my way of relaxing. But usually I get really nervous about downtime. I think everyone that tours can relate to post-tour depression, or PTD. Basically being inactive after being active for a long time is nerve wracking. When I'm back in town, I make music with the girls or rehearse or write with other people and play. You know, just keep playing music.

How did you guys get hooked up with The xx for the fall tour? That actually happened through our booking agent. We just got an email saying, "Here's the routing for the tour -- do you guys want to do it? We got an offer." And we said of course. I'd heard a lot about them, and we listened to their album when we were on tour in Europe. Seeing them live was really very important, it demystified all the ideas I had about them as a band. Just seeing them physically and the way they interact on stage; it's very endearing and very earnest. There's not a lot of music like that right now. Heart on your sleeve, you know?"

What can you tell me about the full length album coming out on Rough Trade? We started working on it January, few of the songs were written prior to that. We did it with a fellow called Tom Biller. We recorded twelve or thirteen tracks, and we're whittling it down now. I guess it's hopefully an evolution from what the EP was. I don't know how it differs in the production because I just joined the band last year. But as anyone will tell you in a band, it's multidimensional or multifaceted, hopefully. There's a few different styles and aesthetics that are presented on it, I suppose that's a pretentious response [laughs]. We finished it a while ago, but now we've been in the post production process for what seems like an eternity, and it will be out in October."

How many tracks on the new album were you involved in writing? I guess all of them in some respects. Even if there was an origin of an idea, we all expand on that and try and make it a collaborative, democratic process where everyone feels comfortable with what they're doing, and feels that they've expressed themselves if they have an idea about the way that a song should be arranged or any changes or moods. We're all open to listening to each others points of view.

Do you have a favorite track off the new album? Hmm, yeah, I probably have two. One of them is called "Bees," which is a song we've been doing live a fair bit since the beginning of the year. And there's another song hopefully people will like as well called "Shadow."

Do you think you've been pigeonholed as a band after that brilliant EP? Perhaps, I think initially when a new band comes into your consciousness, you want to categorize them as a listener and a consumer -- "Oh, this would go really well with this half of my record collection, or I could listen to this on a mix with these other bands..." I supposed in some way every band gets pigeonholed, even if they're eclectic they're going to be pigeonholed as an eclectic band. I think there's definitely a film of frequency on the EP that people relate to. It's very reverb-y and submerged. I think to have control of you environment as a music lover, you have a natural tendency to say, "Oh this sounds a lot like this band or that band." I feel like every band naturally goes through that, you shouldn't be irate about that in any way. Once you put something out in the world it's going to be critiqued and minimized into something people can understand.

What did you learn from playing with your fellow Austrailians The Temper Trap? "We only had one show with them, one got rained out and the other one we played in St. Louis. And that was great, we have a few mutual friends. I guess we just learned that Australians share a common sense of humor, a darkness to their comedy. They're a really hard-working band. They've received all that they deserve and I hear they're doing very well in the U.K. It's nice to see them branch out.

Did you have a chance to check out St. Louis when you were in town with Temper Trap? We did actually. We went to a bar on top of a hotel after the show, and there was a really nice view of the Arch and someone told us lots of stories about the Arch and how people perished in the building of it, and little factoids about it. I guess we didn't really venture out too much, but we met a few locals who were very kind, everyone seems very generous and lovely and attractive in St. Louis. I hope we'll have a repeat of that, if not an evolution of that in a few days. That's actually where we start our tour, on the fifth. Do you have any especially horrific tour vices? Ooh, a vice? I guess drinking is a big common vice for most bands. Your performance is very dependent on how many beverages you consumed that evening, or the prior evening. That's one thing you learn pretty quick -- if you want to have a good show, don't get wasted. Things like smells in the vans, you know, different foods and different chemical reactions of scents in the van. People like to eat kim chee, which I think is delicious, but it does produce a particular mood in the van. That's something we have to be really aware of. So I would say food and drink would be a major vice -- or the control of those two elements. For the most part we're pretty responsible, and we care about each other's comfort. That all just comes with experience. You go out on the town and you have a drink with your friends, and you have a day to recover. On tour, there's no time to regenerate your brain juices.

What is your drink of choice? That's a difficult one. This is going to sound really hedonistic, but I really like sake bombs. I found out that they're illegal in many places. If they sell the two of them, they wont allow you to order them at the same time because it will get you really drunk really quick and people don't want rowdy customers in their establishments. I just really like the act of exploding the sake shot in a pint of beer--I find it really satisfying. As a taste thing, I'm going to have to say for Theresa and I, we're big fans of the White Russians.

What's your policy with dating musicians? There are no rules. Obviously if you're a musician, the majority of people you hang out with are musicians. That's where you find a lot of your inspiration. You have common interests and you find that attractive and you can learn from each other. Personally, for me, there's no rules about that. There's no prohibition from the dating or the loving of a musician or an accountant, or, you know, a baker. That's an interesting question, I've never been asked that before!

Is there a question you wish more journalists would ask? That's a really nice, reflective question. I guess my only request would be less of the same. People always seems to ask questions like 'What's it like to be in a van with four women?' Or 'Whats it like to play music with four women?' There's always a gender thing that goes into it, which is natural. But, I guess maybe just more, "How do you feel about certain songs?" because that's really the crux of what we're doing. And I like funny questions. Your ones were very good, thank you.

What have you been listening to lately? Right now I'm at a friends house and we're listening to the Ariel Pink record. That's been a bit of a staple for the band for a while. I just got the Julian Lynch record, my roommate gave me that, that's cool. I've been listening to a lot of pretty bad, but very well-produced late '90s early '00s R&B and hip-hop. So a lot of, like, new Snoop Dogg and Neptunes and Timbaland stuff. I don't know why, but I feel like that's the only thing that's making me happy at the moment. Not even cheap thrills, but just things that sometimes if it's done really well and there's an art to it, there's a real beauty to really amazing modern hip hop production.

Where everything else seems like it's following the same rules, that kind of music is pushing the boundary in some way--I'm trying to legitimize my love for this, which is pathetic--but it feels like there's a lot more innovation in that kind of production than people tend to realize. Not saying that it's the only place people are doing anything new, but it feels like a lot of people tend to ignore how many novel ideas and techniques are going on in that kind of music. It's a pleasure to hear new frequencies, you know? I also really love Flying Lotus. That album Los Angeles is what I've been listening to a lot. I'm just starting on that journey, any of that kind of electronic, J Dilla-esque hip-hop feels and beats is kind of back."

Who is your favorite rapper? I love Q-Tip he's my favorite emcee of all time. I started listening to Janet Jackson at like seven or eight and he did a song with her and he did tracks with Beastie Boys when I got into them, then I started listening to A Tribe Called Quest and that led to me to Pharcyde. I like his solo stuff as well. Wu-Tang is always a nice staple and anyone involved in that. I love it all really. After a long period of listening to music that's a little more challenging -- or you feel like you have to find a beauty in something that's on the surface a little but ugly, things like Captain Beefheart, or even some early Frank Zappa stuff that I really enjoy listening to -- I like going back to hip-hop. It's one beat that's really good and you can listen to it for three-and-a-half minutes and you don't feel ripped off. It's so visceral and satisfying and it's not cheap, you're not being fooled in anyway. It's not like accidentally listening to Katy Perry's "California Gurls," which is not a bad thing, objectively. It's not like, "Oh, I just want to listen to really shitty music after listening to the brilliance and innovation of something else." It just feels good, and there's a reason why it feels good. So from the California girl-transplant perspective, what do you think of the Katy Perry song? A friend of mine and I are actually doing a remix of it right now, so there's a soft spot for that song. And I shouldn't say this because the girls might disagree with me, but I really like shitty music. It's totally whatever, you can brand it as guilty, but I really liked "Party in the USA" as well. I hate to use this analogy, but it's kind of just like casual sex. There's no real emotional interference. This is really pulpy and it was created for me to like it, and sometimes I just get fooled and I like it. So "California Gurls" is awesome, and the fact that Snoop is on it is hilarious. What do you think of it?

It's definitely an earworm, I've sung along to it in my car more times than I'd like to admit. [laughs] You're not alone there.

Do you have a fave song to play live? I've got a few, I like "Bees," I think that's a favorite to do because it's new and it sounds a little different from the other stuff. Anything that's new and we can kind of craft to our liking. I really like playing "Elephants" because I think that's a brilliant song, and I can say that objectively because I wasn't involved in the making of that song or the composition of that song an inch, but I'm a big fan of that song.

What are your thoughts on Lady Gaga? Yay or nay? That's a really good question, and I could actually spend many many hours talking about this, because I have wasted a lot of time thinking about the culture that surrounds her, or the culture she's trying to create around her artistry or whatever you want to call it. I think my biggest fascination with her is the video for "Telephone," I've watched that a few times now and it makes me feel really uncomfortable, and maybe one day I would like to write an essay about it. I'm just going to answer that I'm fascinated. It'll happen when I'm really bored on the road, I'm just going to watch that video on a loop and write it.

There's something very strange about someone who has a very particular idea of who they are and yet it seems like there's a mismatch with who she's actually appealing to with her music. It's like two camps, you know? She's kind of stealing that Andy Warhol thing, she'll admit to plagiarism in some way in the creative path that she's taken. Or the intention that she has as an artist, and yet the music that she's marketing is completely pulpy and mass and how those two things relate. I'm going to get really blabbery about it so I'm going to stop, but I'm totally and completely fascinated by her and it's taking up a lot of brain space, that should be filled with other things admittedly.

Have you had a chance to catch her show? She's playing at Lolla, so maybe, if the girls let me, I can just sneak away. Just on a mass culture level, I think it's something that has to be experienced, or, it doesn't have to, but if you want to, you're allowed.

Three words to describe your sound? Um. Oh Jesus. That's not one. I don't know, shit, I'm going to say whimsical, in that the way we create it, there is not always a great deal of cerebral qualities to it, like "Oh we want to sound like this," it's just this is what's coming out. This is what we're pooping out. Pooping out would be another one. Whimsical, pooping out and maybe submerged.

I might have to steal that last one for the review. Oh are you doing a review of the show? I'm so nervous!

Do you have a favorite mythical creature? Oooh, this is a really good question actually. I'm going to say Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson post-1993.

I may never use that question again, a more perfect answer could not be given. Good, I'm glad. I was going to say a unicorn, but then I thought of Michael Jackson.

Is there anything else we should know about Warpaint or about Stella? I really have to pee!

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