Rollo & Grady Interview :: Emily Kokal of Warpaint

Rollo & Grady Interview :: Emily Kokal of Warpaint
Emily Kokal – Image by Dan Monick

Warpaint has an undeniable presence. After one of their live shows or even one listen to their music, you know you’re experiencing something special. Yes, they’ve got God-given talent, and yes they’re beautiful, but they’ve worked hard to get where they are now. The Echo Park based quartet of Emily Kokal (vocals, guitar), Jenny Lee Lindberg (bass, vocals), Theresa Wayman (vocals, guitar) and Josh “Jocelyn” Klinghoffer – have drawn comparisons to Cat Power, Sonic Youth, Mazzy Star and The Slits.

Earlier this year they self-released their debut EP, Exquisite Corpse - which went straight to #1 on Amoeba Records local artists charts. Exquisite Corpse will be re-released worldwide on Los Angeles indie-label Manimal Vinyl next month.

I recently caught up with Emily Kokal by phone to discuss the origins of Warpaint.

Rollo & Grady Interview :: Emily Kokal of Warpaint

R&G: Warpaint has been very active this past year.

Emily: Yeah. It’s been really fun and gradual. It seems like it’s all been right on time. When we’re ready to move forward or we get better, it happens naturally. We did a residency at Spaceland last August, and after that, we started playing a lot more local shows and more shows led to opening slots for bands like Little Joy. It’s been really fun and exciting playing a lot of shows in LA, getting better with each other, writing more songs, and now touring and playing for strangers, which is really nice. We’re so used to playing for all of our friends, which can be a tough crowd when they’ve seen you play 15 times in the same venues. I think you come to know what to expect a little bit, whereas being on the road, you’ve got to deal with different PAs, different crowds and places you’ve never been. You just have to let go, do your best, play your best and not really care. Just find the best way to play with each other no matter what the circumstances are. We’re loving it.

R&G: How important was it to self-release your EP this year?

Emily: It was especially important because we recorded it almost two years ago. It was like being pregnant too long. Getting it out there has been really fun. Releasing something is great, because for so long we were playing shows without any music that you could listen to in your car. Having a product for people to play and listen to has been really good for just raising awareness so people can come see us play live. That, to me, is the best part of what we’re doing right now – the live stuff. Especially because the EP was recorded a while ago. I’m really proud of it and there have been just so many changes. Getting it out there gives us room to make another record and put out what we feel is happening with us now.

Rollo & Grady Interview :: Emily Kokal of Warpaint

R&G: You guys formed in 2004, why did it take so long for Warpaint to release an EP and tour outside of the Los Angeles area?

Emily: We were just learning how to play together and more than having any ambition to really get out there, it was a little bit more innocent and about the process. We all lived together, played music together and wrote songs together – it was about discovering how to write. Everything we did was completely new. When we would write a song, we would be like, “Oh, I can’t believe we just did this.” We jammed on things forever and never wrote – just played. We never really mapped out songs. In fact, we would map out songs and before we ever played shows, they would change like five times because we’d want them to go somewhere else or be more interesting to us. Then, when we started playing shows, that’s when we really had concrete songs. We still change our songs all the time though. It’s hard to keep playing the same songs the same way.

R&G: Is it true that you guys formed on Valentine’s Day?

Emily: Yeah… I don’t remember why that happened. Theresa and I lived right by the Whole Foods on Santa Monica and Fairfax. We were Hollywood all the way for a while, which was funny because we didn’t have cars and we didn’t go out or anything. Our friend Dave Orlando – who ended up being our drummer – had a studio right there. There was a vintage jeans and rock ’n’ roll store called Lo-Fi, and his studio was back there. Theresa and I would just hang out with him. Shannyn [Sossamon], Jenn, Theresa and I were kind of friends and decided to play together one day, and it was really fun and really easy. There was something unspoken and very cool.

R&G: So Warpaint technically took form during that one session?
Rollo & Grady Interview :: Emily Kokal of Warpaint

Emily: Definitely. It was just to get together and play music. I think we played the same thing for two hours, but nobody got sick of it. As you play the same thing, you get stronger and better at what you’re doing. The fact that all of us were that patient, playing the same thing, where I think most people would be like, “Oh my god, this is ridiculous.” It was like, “Okay, we understand that this is something fun for us.” There were no rules. We just played and recorded it and didn’t stop to try and write anything. We were all relating on the same level and it was so fun that we just wanted to keep going.

R&G: Did any of the songs from that session make it onto your EP?

Emily: Yes, several of the songs. “Stars”, “Elephants”… “Stars”, I think, is the first song we ever wrote. Actually, no it’s not. We had this other song that was never recorded because it was just an instrumental. We used to make a lot of instrumental songs and nobody would ever know what to sing over them.

R&G: You and Theresa are from Oregon. I understand that you met each other in choir class back in junior high. Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with her?
emily theresa
Emily: I had moved from California and I was new to Oregon. I just remember meeting her and feeling… She’s just a really comforting person – warm and really loving and kind of shy but really funny and cool. I just instantly knew that I wanted to be friends with her. I think we just felt that. Sometimes I feel like I moved to Oregon – everything was just to meet her and for us to go on the little ride we’ve been on because we’ve been best friends since then and we’ve done pretty much everything together. When we graduated high school, we moved to New York together. We traveled to Southeast Asia and Europe and lived in LA, and came back to Oregon together. We’ve been around the globe together. Meeting her in that moment was awesome for me – it changed my life. I think we changed each other’s lives, because when you meet somebody you connect with when you’re young – in a creative way – it brings out what you have inside of you. I think we also have a healthy competition. She was really creative and I was really creative and we just matched speeds and helped each other grow. We didn’t really play music together until we started Warpaint. We both played a little on our own, but a really good part of what goes into the music is the history we have and the understanding we have of each other – just like helping raise each other.

R&G: How does Jenny fit in the mix?

Emily: She just fits like a glove!
Rollo & Grady Interview :: Emily Kokal of Warpaint

R&G: Like a glove?

Emily: I met her when I was 19 in LA. It was kind of a similar thing when I met her. It doesn’t just happen when you fall in love with a boy. I think you can see somebody and just be like, “Whoa, I know that you and I would really get along.” It was just instant. We became friends and then she met Theresa. I ended up moving away to San Francisco to do some theatre and Theresa ended up moving in with Shannyn because Theresa was dating Shannyn’s roommate, so Shannyn and Theresa and Jenn became friends while I was gone. It was just really natural.

R&G: I hear sometimes that during recording sessions things can be tense. Is that true?

Emily: Like any band, we definitely have tension, but we’re very much a democracy. And, ultimately, when we really like something, everybody likes it. If there are disagreements or tensions, it’s usually just because we haven’t found “it” yet because when we do find it, we all really love it. Things come out when we have the chance to work on it. We don’t have to talk about anything – it just happens. Most of our tension comes from the difficulty of making time to play together as much as we’d like.

R&G: You guys are going to release a full-length album in the Spring of 2010. Is that correct?
Rollo & Grady Interview :: Emily Kokal of Warpaint
Emily: Yeah. We’ve got a lot of songs.

R&G: Will it all be new material or are you going to put anything from the EP onto the LP?

Emily: Nothing from the EP. Some of the demos that you’ve heard – “Jubilee Day Past”, “Set Your Arms Down”, the song we play live, “Warpaint” – those will be on there. Most of those songs from the EP, we recorded many years ago, and those songs were written in 2004, so we have a lot of new material waiting to be released.

R&G:
When’s the last time you said, “Fuck it, where’s my shit, oh my god I’m mad at it [Lyrics from “Beetles”].”

Emily: Like fifteen minutes ago. It’s always in my head.

R&G: I love that line. What were you looking for?

Emily: Yeah we do too, Theresa actually wrote it. She was just really frustrated. She was moving and she had her little baby and everything was very chaotic and she was driving everywhere in a hot car. It was just to express her frustration. The first time she sang it, I just remember that Jenn and I laughed so hard, that we couldn’t stop.

Download Exquisite Corpse EP (iTunes)