The Los Angeles art-rock band, which is comprised of Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg, and Stella Mozgawa, have certainly proved their staying power after 18 years. “I think we’re essentially family at this point,” Jenny tells HUNGER matter of factly ahead of their third post-lockdown show in Leeds.
We’ve come together with Jenny (bass, vocals) and Stella (drums) to chat about their latest record, Radiate Like This, which was released six years after their eponymous album, Warpaint. It marks a slight departure for the trio, who have been consistently releasing music since their debut in 2010, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t working the entire time as Stella emphatically tells me.
The band are known for their atmospheric strain of indie rock, as well as their confounding lyricism, which is at turn cinematic, sprawling, and nakedly honest. It’s something that their latest record has stayed true to, but there’s a discernable sense of hope and optimism also. Don’t get me wrong, it’s moody as hell, but there seems to be more light at the end of the tunnel. It’s fitting as the band emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic and is able to perform live again. “I guess we just really wanted to change things up and let old habits die… move on and do something new,” comments Jenny, who has been with the band since its conception on Valentine’s Day of 2004. “There’s a lot about growing up mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. And I feel like it’s all really uplifting and positive.”
Here, HUNGER chats to Jenny and Stella about Radiate Like This, friendships, and managing disagreements.
Radiate Like This is your first album since 2016, and obviously, a lot happened in that time. Why do you think a break was so necessary for you guys after being so prolific?
Jenny Lee Lindberg: I feel like we didn’t really take a break. I mean, we did…
Stella Mozgawa: We did not take a break.
Jenny: Sure. We definitely had a little more time, but it wasn’t as gruelling as it was in the past. But we were touring for a lot of that time. We toured for about three years and then in 2019, we slowly started writing, making demos and the record, and then we went into the studio pretty quickly after.
Obviously, you had the pandemic between that — how did you find it? I know there were some big life changes as Emily had a baby during that time. Was it difficult to feel connected as a band?
Stella: I’ll say that I went back to Australia and spent a long time there. It was the longest stretch of being home since I was 20. It was really nice going home and spending time with family and friends, even if it was such a strange time. I managed to do a little bit of music, but it was also very disorientating as I didn’t really know where my home was.
Jenny: We were having to be in contact quite a bit because we were finishing the album. Not all of us were recording, but we were working remotely, so we often had Zoom sessions with our producer and about other bits regarding the album. So that was the majority of the contact we had during that time. But I was in Utah for the pandemic, and I really enjoyed just being stationary. I painted a tonne, took up snowboarding, went on hikes, and bike rides, and I made a solo record in that time. Utah is such a beautiful place. I kind of felt like I was on vacation in a sense because there wasn’t much to do other than to make this album. The same applies to Stella, we did the bulk of our stuff in the studio, so it was mainly Theresa and Emily who had a lot more work to do. It was a relaxing and self-reflective time.
How does Radiate Like This differ from your previous albums?
Stella: Emily and Theresa had a lot more time to focus and hone in on the vocal parts. It’s such an emotional experience, and they didn’t have to record vocals in the normal, stressful environment when they’re on the clock, in the studio, with an engineer and everyone’s just waiting for this particular performance. I think the album really benefitted from Emily and Theresa having that extra time to think about how they like to sound and also having a little more hands-on experience with the vocal production. You can hear that in how vocally rich the album is.
There also seems to be a hopeful tone and narrative too…
Jenny: I think that all the songs but one were written before the pandemic. But we were coming out of a really long cycle with the band. I mean, it had been a long nine years of lots of lots of touring, and we basically had had our life planned out for a really long time. You know you’re gonna make a record, you record it, then you tour, and then the whole thing starts again. I guess we just really wanted to change things up and let old habits die… move on and do something new. There’s also a lot about growing up mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. And yeah, I feel like it’s all really uplifting and positive.
As a band, you’ve pretty much been together for 18 years. How was your relationship as friends and band members evolved throughout the years?
Jenny: Yeah after 18 years, I think we’re essentially family at this point and it’s important for us to water those friendships to keep the business side of the band up and running. Because if the friendship element isn’t thriving then neither does the other side.
Stella: That’s a really good point. I think that’s a big realisation that we’ve had, and we’ve probably known it within ourselves for the longest time. When those relationships do fray, or they are fragile, it’s hard to see the point in doing it at all. We don’t want to be doing this just to make money, we do it because it’s fun. It’s been fun before and that’s when it has felt really connected. For all of us, it has been the longest committed relationship we’ve been in. As Jen says, you have to care for it and water it. And if that’s not happening naturally, it can feel really confusing. There are so many connected elements; it’s our creativity, our collaboration, our job, our friendship, and all these other things. You really have to keep them all balanced, and it’s so much easier said than done. It’s like a marriage with four people involved. But it’s not like a romantic relationship where there are certain boundaries. It has taught us how to better communicate with each other, as well as other people in our lives. It’s a really good basis for a lot of learning and growth.
There’s obviously going to be conflict and disagreements when you work together so closely. Have you guys gotten better at navigating conflict?
Stella: Jen and I always talk about how we’ve established a pattern of disagreement, where if we disagree, we get in there really quick. It’s almost like we rip the band-aid off and just say exactly what the other person is thinking. Every pair has their own dynamic in the band obviously. We have all these individual relationships and everyone’s got a totally different style of disagreeing, apologising, forgiving… it’s just human nature, you know?
How has it been performing live again?
Jenny: it’s been great. I was pretty nervous beforehand, because life for the last two years has been so calm, and really just the antithesis of this. The shows so far have been pretty intimate, which feels really nice. And I feel like we’re getting looser and more fluid, and the audiences are really, really sweet. Our fans are incredible.
Super hard question – but could you see another 18 years?
Jenny: 18 years is a really, really long time. I think the best way to go about things is just one foot in front of the other, and one day at a time.
Stella: It’s like, how can you assume you’re going to be in love in the next 18 years? And no one wants to be in a loveless creative relationship as well. It’s all about making sure that we stay true to ourselves and that we communicate really openly, honestly and lovingly with each other. We just want to celebrate the victories that are here in the present. Yeah, that’s where we’re at.