Emily Kokal (right) shares a happy vibe with Warpaint bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg at the Roxy in West Hollywood
during a gig on February 8, 2015. Photo by Debi Del Grande
Do you still do that? Is that how you come up with your parts in the band now?
Wayman: Yeah, though I’m starting to learn more. I’m trying to put myself through a bit of schooling—learning songs and collecting knowledge like, “This song is in this key. This is the progression they’re using and it’s these chords.” I am starting to familiarize myself in that way, where I intellectually know what’s going on. I don’t necessarily think it is important for knowing how to write a good song, but I am curious and I want to know. I want to be able to speak that language better. It’s fascinating to me. But I don’t want to be limited by my knowledge either. At this point, I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for a long time—so it can only make me better. There are a lot of people who learn that way originally and it kind of limits them, thinking, “I have to do this. I have to do that.” It trains the ear to be within a box and a standard. I think it’s important to not know the standards. Even if I see a band I think is incredible, if I hear them writing songs that sound derivative of something it puts me off immediately. I don’t understand that. I can’t understand going, “I love this type of music. I want to play that type of music. What is that person that I love that invented that type of music doing? I’m going to do that and make a song like that.” That doesn’t make sense to me. That’s not inventive enough.
You don’t want to learn a particular style or how to play within that style?
Wayman: Not really. Of course, taking bits and pieces is important. It’s a fine line. I don’t want to say that it doesn’t have any value, but I think it’s easy to take it too far, where all of a sudden you sound like something that’s already happened. To me, that’s slightly missing the point. But that being said, I would love to be in a cover band and play exactly like my heroes [laughs]. But that’s because I want to play their music, not because I want to write my own music that is exactly like that type of music.
What kind of cover band do you want to be in?
Wayman: My latest one is Steely Dan. I want to be in a Steely Dan cover band. Stella wants to as well—it’s her dream—so it might happen [laughs].
You flirt a lot with dissonance. You use a lot of minor seconds in your vocal lines, too. Would trip hop be the influence for that as well?
Kokal: Probably. I think trip hop was the reason I identified with it. Some people find that music to be dark, but I found it to be beautiful, especially when I was a teenager. I was going from being a teenager who liked dorky music or whatever was on the radio to finding the music that seemed dangerous, moody, kind of sexy—but mostly just English. Discovering English music. Rainy. Dark music and violence. I think that was it. I don’t think I was always attracted to that necessarily, but once I found it—I love Erik Satie, the classical composer, too—I guess it is sad music. But that kind of music makes me feel good. I sound so emo [laughs]. I like uplifting, too, but I find a lot of that stuff uplifting.
You juxtapose rhythms against each other as well. For example, you will set up threes against fours and have them line up, go off,
and then come back, and do similar things to that.
Wayman: Definitely. I find that really exciting. It’s nice to take people in and out of alignment, creating tension and then bringing them back into something that feels satisfying. I like doing that
with rhythmic changes and dissonance, too. I like any way possible really.
It creates a nice tension and then a release. Do you sometimes not resolve it and just leave it hanging?
Wayman: I usually try to resolve it, but sometimes I don’t even know if I’m doing that. Maybe the
other girls know more, but I’ve realized my ear lends me to thinking that something works when it maybe doesn’t to most people. It’s not always so intentional, but more and more, as I’ve grown, I’ve started realizing what I’m doing more as opposed to just acting on instinct. I’ve been trying to
harness the power of that ability, like finding perfect dissonances. But I’m generally bringing it back; I don’t like to leave it uncomfortable.
Talk about not playing. What is the musical aspect of sitting out, leaving space— and how much of not playing is playing?
Kokal: Somebody I respect taught me something I really love: You have to respect the space between the notes as much as the notes themselves. That was good advice for me. For a lot of people who are flashy, your muscles get so strong that you almost compulsively play, because you can. And as technically impressive as that might be, it’s not musically or aesthetically pleasing. I would sometimes do that myself, where I would overplay—or we would all overplay—and we weren’t totally listening to each other.
How did you learn to respect the space?
Kokal: After a lot of years of doing that, and also the way that we wrote songs for a lot of years—we would practice all the time or we would just jam—and jamming was how we found a lot of these
parts that would interweave. We would jam parts for so long that they became perfect little puzzles with each other. We stopped writing like that because we’re so busy. When we were younger, we would just practice five days a week and now that’s not realistic. Also, for the last album, I wanted to focus more on singing. We’d done so much of this micro-playing with each other that it felt nice to take a little break and discover what it felt like to not sing and play at the same time as much. Part of our evolution was getting the vocals and harmonies to a strong place—to the same place where the guitars were. I also had moments when I was just less interested and wasn’t writing things on the guitar in the first place. I would write things on keyboard or on my computer and I would add guitars, but I wasn’t writing on guitar and we weren’t jamming them out together. If you make a demo at home, sing on it, and you’re not playing guitar, you don’t necessarily add it later.