Q&A: Warpaint’s Jenny Lee Lindberg On Playing The Festival Circuit, Touring With Harry Styles, & Superfan Ellen DeGeneres
It’s bizarre to think that Warpaint have been around for almost 10 years. One EP and three albums later, they still come across as a young, enigmatic band — the sort of group you still can’t quite get a handle on and who seem poised to evolve in ways you wouldn’t predict. On their most recent album — last September’s Heads Up — they continued to expand and tweak the hazy, autumnal psychedelia of their early work. This year, they’re touring behind it, hitting the festival circuit — including Lisbon’s NOS Alive. After Warpaint’s late-evening set at the festival, we checked in with bassist/vocalist Jenny Lee Lindberg about where Warpaint are now, their #1 fan Ellen DeGeneres, and how they wound up booked as openers on Harry Styles’ 2018 tour.
STEREOGUM: I’ve seen Warpaint in a lot of places over the years and it seemed like there was a large, fervent crowd in Portugal at NOS Alive. Do you have a big European following?
LINDBERG: We have a bigger crowd in Europe than in the States. We played in Poland the other day and then here.
STEREOGUM: I feel like Warpaint are in a weird situation — you’re big enough, but it’s not the likeliest festival sound. Do you get burnt out on doing the festival circuit?
LINDBERG: It’s less monotonous than doing your own tour, and our own shows are an hour and a half, sometimes more. So that’s a bit rough. Festival sets are shorter, so that’s cool, and if you’re lucky you get on a bill with lots of your friends playing as well, so it’s like band camp. We’re friends [with several of the bands at NOS this year], friends with the Kills, friends with Savages, friends with Local Natives — they’re from LA.
STEREOGUM: As far as I can tell, Warpaint have made each album a little differently. Coming off of Heads Up, do you feel like you’ve finally found the way you work best as a band? Or are you thinking about changing it up again in the future?
LINDBERG: I think the situation with the first record was that we had been a band for so long before we actually made an LP, so a lot of those songs were live. They had many years to them and they sort of took many forms, but we spent a long time writing those songs, kinda figuring it out, jamming shit out. So when we went to go record those songs…I feel like that record probably could’ve sounded a lot more live than it does, because we went in, and [drummer] Stella [Mozgawa] and I recorded everything together. There was no overdubbing. It was just a little bit of a different process, but I think there was a polish put on it. Which happens with records in general, which is annoying but it’s OK. That first record…the songs were so old, and we were changing and evolving through the years. What we ended up having to do live for that first record was sort of having to strip back things. Because when it’s an album, you can mix it, you can pan shit. But when you’re playing it live, everyone’s playing at the same time, and it’s a bit busy, and there’s a lot of guitars. A lot of things happening. We had to…not rewrite, but sort of strip back. So for the second record, we wanted to just pull back a bit. Give each other more space, let things breathe. It was less guitar-driven. Our first LP might be like, “This is it!” and then the second one is, “[Gasp] you changed so drastically!” No, we’ve been evolving as a band for years, you just don’t know it yet. Those are old songs, and this is where we are now.
STEREOGUM: So where did that leave you going into Heads Up?
LINDBERG: With this record, it was sort of a combo of the two. We didn’t need to strip back so bad, I missed the guitars; we were touring for a while with the [second] record and it was two keyboards and a guitar sometimes and I was like, “Just transpose your shit to the guitar.” Two keyboards…oftentimes, it just sounds better live when it’s on guitar. On [Heads Up], there’s definitely overdubs and sounds, but it’s a little more guitar-driven than the last one, while still kinda retaining the groove and the dance-y [elements] — it’s a little less psych-rock. We can do that, too, and I love that about us. That’s what’s great about playing live, you can jam out and you can get that out of your system. But the songs just kinda have all of the elements we have as a band. I think this is definitely my favorite record of ours, for sure. It’s the most representative.
STEREOGUM: Ellen DeGeneres specifically requested “Whiteout” when you played her show. Did you know she was a fan beforehand?
LINDBERG: We didn’t know. And I loved it. I was already going to say “Let’s do ‘Whiteout,'” I didn’t want to play “New Song” again. We already did it for Fallon. The single was so old then. That was obviously the most radio-friendly song, but who cares? There are so many other things that I think are magical happening on the album, so let’s showcase some other things. We asked them what they wanted and she said “Whiteout.” Everyone was like, “Damn, that’s cool.” It was surprising. And then she watched us soundcheck, which was really cute. And she said, “I love you guys!” and we had no clue. It was just like, “Oh, we’re doing Ellen,” which we were excited about because she’s rad and funny as all hell.
STEREOGUM: Is that shocking or weird in any way? You’re a band that plays this spaced-out — very broadly speaking — indie rock, and then you’re on morning TV. Is there ever a “How did this happen?” moment or were you used to it? ??
LINDBERG: Not really used to it. We did Conan on the last record, I think that was it. We hadn’t really done any kind of television. It’s funny, you think, “Whoa, what a big deal, there’s gonna be so many people watching!” But it really doesn’t make or break anything at all. But I was stoked because so many people watch that show, they could be into it or not. I haven’t looked at the numbers, like, “Oh, did our fanbase grow?” I don’t know, I have no clue. That doesn’t really happen for us. We’re a very slow build. We’re not one-hit wonders. We’re in it for the long haul. I think it’s great because we’re comfortable with our level of success. We’re humble, it never goes to our head, we can appreciate it. I can handle it. To shoot right up? That’s intense. And it fucks with you and it fucks with people’s heads. That’s unnatural. And it’s been so natural the whole time [for us].
STEREOGUM: You’re opening for Harry Styles next year. That’s kinda different. How’d that come about?
LINDBERG: I’m super grateful and so excited to play for an audience that would never necessarily know who our band is, because Harry Styles and Warpaint are not necessarily in the same genre of music. I’m not a snob, when it comes to that. I do like his solo record. I think he’s rad. I watched the One Direction documentary on the plane years ago and I fell in love with all of those boys and how hard they work. It’s not the same genre, but fuck it, all music should be like that. I think there should be more shows like that, where it’s eclectic. Introduce people to different kinds of music. It doesn’t just have to be one thing. He actually asked us to go. He’s a really big fan of Stella — he really loves her drumming. So he was like, “Hey, do you guys wanna open up?” And it was like, “Fuck, yeah, that sounds amazing.” In Asia, crowds we have never ever played in front of. I’m stoked.
STEREOGUM: I know a lot of artists don’t think about this consciously in the moment, but looking back on it or in the context of something like touring with Harry Styles, is there ever a moment where you think, “I’m not really sure where Warpaint lives, but we’re just going to take this wherever it goes?”
LINDBERG: I just think it’s important to be open and it’s important to not be a snob. It’s especially important to support your comrades, even if they don’t play the same music as you. That’s boring, to be closed-minded — I don’t like that attitude. I think having gratitude and being so excited, that we even have this job — it’s a dope job! I’m not singling anyone out…if I don’t like some band because it’s not my taste, then I might say “You know what, I’m just actually not into it.” Not gonna mention any names, but we have gotten some offers before…I don’t have any qualms with [Styles’] music. I think what he’s doing is great. It’s not on heavy rotation at home, but I like it.
What’s cool is that he actually asked us. He asked us, which means he’s into our band. I don’t think booking agents would’ve ever paired us together. It was a personal request, so I’m even more flattered that he’s giving us that opportunity to play in front of other people. And that shows what kind of person he is, where he’s like, “Oh, I want them to open up, I want the world to hear them.” He’s kinda supporting us, which is cool. That’s what tour support should be. We always bring bands on tour that we love and that we want to expose to our fans because our fans are really loving and so sweet. It’s like, the more the merrier, that everyone can just come together and chill the fuck out.