Warpaint – Stella Mozgawa Interview

LA’s Warpaint play Crawdaddy on October 21st. Siobhán Kane caught up with drummer Stella Mozgawa to talk LA integration, good times and touring with The XX.

Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman and Jenny Lee Lindberg have been in Warpaint from 2004, forming on St. Valentine’s Day. In truth, love frames a lot of their work; the richness, the absence, and the legacy. Over the years they have enjoyed a couple of different incarnations, but last year, drummer Stella Mozgawa joined the band and provided a sense of complicity and completion. Their first EP ‘Exquisite Corpse’ was recorded in 2007 with Jake Bercovici and John Frusciante and announced their sometimes psychedelic, always dreamy sound to the world.

This year they recorded their first full-length, ‘The Fool’ with producer Tom Biller, which does not feature any songs from the EP, and though there is a legacy from their earlier work – that dreamy pop sound, it seems to herald a very different kind of war cry; the free, ethereal vocals, the dreaminess surveying darker territory, and more honesty, perhaps won through a different kind of confidence now that the band is complete. In any case, songs such as ‘Undertow’ and ‘Krimson’ draw you deeply into their world, a place of, as they describe themselves: ‘happy nightmares’, where they promise, (as on ‘Elephants’) to ‘break your heart’ .

Siobhán Kane talks to Stella Mozgawa.

The band, in various incarnations have been together and producing music since 2004, but you joined in autumn of last year. Emily [Kokal] said in a recent interview that you were essentially the missing piece of the puzzle. How did you meet the rest of the band?
She is so sweet, but that is how it feels. I didn’t know them terribly well, only in a trivial sense; I used to see them at coffeehouses and things, and literally everyone in Los Angeles is in a band as well, so I didn’t really think anything of it, and wasn’t really expecting anything, and then eventually I was talking to Theresa at Coachella with Theresa and she realised that I was a drummer and we were talking about that. Then I saw them perform later at Spaceland, this venue in LA that is home to a lot of alternative music, and to be honest I had no expectations at all, but I thought they were wonderful when I saw them live, I was really amazed, and I secretly wanted to be in the band, but at the time they had this great drummer already, the wonderful David Orlando, so I just put it out of my mind, and I knew that they had had quite a few different drummers over the years. Then one day, they just called up and asked if I wanted to come in and help them record the album, and be part of the creative process. They didn’t say that there was going to be any long-term commitment or anything, but just be part of the process, and I was like ‘absolutely’, and everything came from that.

You are from Sydney originally, how do you find Los Angeles? It seems like a very strange place.
There is no real significant culture over there, there is an overriding archaic sixties mirage, that Beach Boys sunkissed thing, and then you have Long Beach, which seems pretty scary, it is hard to find a strong image to hold on to there. The first few times I visited I thought it was quite scary, but then another time something just clicked. I was living in New York, it was winter, and then I went out there and the weather was so mild and I landed and off the plane I saw the mountains, and I just thought that I would be treated well by the place if I moved there. I didn’t necessarily want to move to LA, I had been there five or six times, but that particular time I got a lovely sense about it, it sounds pretentious, but there was an energetic pull or something, I knew that it would be a good place, and it has only ever really allowed me to do what I have wanted to do.

Do you think that part of that is being an outsider, even from the very fact that you are not from Los Angeles and have another sense about life that it will never have any hold on?
In one respect you are always seen as quite a charming, novel character, and you love the place because you are not familiar with it, but logistically it is very hard to explore, but then at the same time, you get some opportunities, and the Australian government have been very supportive of Australians going abroad and making music and I have always been grateful for that, and it gives a good image of their country as well, but it can be difficult. It’s strange, sometimes I think if I was an American here I would have a much harder time. You have to have confidence and faith, and being an outsider kind of gives you that, you have already taken a risk, to some extent. Things came pretty easy for me in America and I appreciate it, though there has been some struggle.

You have been in several bands before, Warpaint is different in terms of sounds, but has the entire experience so far been very different?
Yes, this is so different, in every way. Usually I was hired as a session drummer, and sometimes played other different parts as well, but within bands where there was an illusion of democracy, that they said ‘express yourself’ and then you try, and then they show you how they want it to be done. People want you to be in their band, but where there is one overriding brain, and is basically a dictatorship, whereas this band is very democratic, there are four brains, and I have never experienced that before, and I always wanted to have that experience, instead of, for want of better words, whoring myself out. I don’t regret it at all as it has led up this point, but truthfully it was depressing going from one project to another, each project as arbitrary and ridiculous as the next, and I literally feel like whatever qualms I have occasionally in the band, and of course there are little struggles, because everyone has slightly differing visions of how things should sound, we compromise and are ourselves and it’s all good.

There is a distinct sense of kinship between all of you, which translates into live performance, how has your tour been going?
You know how people often talk about the best times in their life in hindsight? Well I know absolutely that I am living the best times of my life right now, isn’t that amazing? Here we are on a tour bus, and it feels like a luxury we cannot afford, but we have it nonetheless, and there is Theresa with her four year old son and The XX, and the other girls, and it is the most fun I have ever had in my life. I am most conscious that in my entire life this is the best thing, and it is not just vacuous fun, it is significant, I feel as if I am really doing something I love and am appreciating it, every day.

Is touring with The XX a huge part of that fun?
The XX are a major part of the fun, we support each other, and we have some similar tastes, and share a love of the same kind of music, but we are very different as well. The other night I felt like I took over the music on the tour bus, I had had a few drinks and suddenly put on Toto’s Africa, then some Lionel Richie and Ginuwine, some real nineties stuff, and Technotronic, [laughs] songs to dance to when you are drunk, basically, but we also share more ‘serious’ music tastes [laughs], like recently I have been listening to some stuff by OOIOO with Yoshimi P-We of The Boredoms and also the new Swans record, they are both really, really great.

Warpaint play Crawdaddy on 21st October, 2010. The Fool will be released on Rough Trade on 25th October, 2010.

[youtube url= https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMkqbY0oGKQ&rel=0 ]


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