Published in Eyebag Magazine (print), May 2017.
It’s mid-afternoon and I’m in an oddly sterile hotel lobby, waiting for LA band Warpaint to meet me for our interview. I’m cradling a bouquet of Australian natives for them, which is probably the least sustainable gift for a touring band. Mum never did let me visit anyone’s house empty-handed.
I’m ushered into their hotel room, a two-storey loft-type affair, and the band’s tour manager dunks the flowers into a saucepan full of water. Frontwoman Theresa Wayman and drummer Stella Mozgawa enter, flustered and sunburnt, fresh from a photoshoot at the tennis court downstairs.
Stella picks up our note card nestled in the banksia and crumbling eucalyptus. “Holy shit,” she says, beckoning Theresa across the room. “Did you write this? Did you use a ruler? This is like, the font they use when they teach kids to write.”
It’s weird they’re gushing over my handwriting (I did use a ruler), because I’m supposed to be gushing over their music. Theresa, Stella, bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg and guitarist Emily Kokal have been making atmospheric indie-rock for 13 years now, and today I was half-prepared to just recite my favourite albums of theirs in some dumbstruck babble. But somehow we end up talk about everything but music. We discuss pleasure spots and documentaries and secondary education in Australia.
Their new album is really good though.
Welcome back to Brisbane. I think the last time you were here was for Laneway back in ‘14?
S: Yeah, that’s right.
I remember walking past you and Emily in the crowd. We made eye contact. Do you remember that?
T: Yeah, do you remember that?
S: Oh yeah. That was a really special moment.
I am so glad. How are you keeping yourselves entertained on the road?
T: We just had a day off so we drove to Byron Bay. We didn’t even want to come back. It’s nice to get away and do things like that. We don’t get that opportunity often.
S: And it’s so close. You gotta see Byron before you die. I make it a ritual to go once a year. But yeah, other than that we play a game called Celebrity Cheese. It’s a really bad pun game where you incorporate the name of a food item, and make a pun on a celebrity’s name.
S: Is Oprah. Curry Grant. This game’s been going on for six or seven years.
Do you ever get on each other’s nerves?
S: It’s hard because sometimes if you’re feeling a communal vibe, not everyone’s feeling that at the same time. You may be feeling quite insular and needing your own space. Just the inconsistencies of that. My biggest pet peeve, when the whole crew and the whole band decide to do an activity, is indecision. That drives me completely insane, but I have to like, bite my tongue. [Adjusts dress] I told you this dress just gets so boosy! I don’t like it.
T: Stella just really wants to show you her cleavage.
S: No, I don’t! It just looked so different in the store and now it’s too much.
We’re in a safe space. What’s been your strangest experience on the tour so far?
S: That’s such a good question.
T: Oh, someone showed me their third nipple the other night.
Where was it?
T: In Byron Bay.
S: No, where was the nipple?
T: Oh, it was right on the rib under the actual nipple.
S: A rib nip.
T: It’s left over from when humans nursed like animals. Like a dog.
Oh, stupid question. Where else would it be, right?
S: Oh anywhere. Nipples could be anywhere. What if you had a nipple on your bum?
T: What if it was really sensitive, like a pleasure spot, and it was your fetish? And it’d be really hard to find someone who actually wanted to–
S: Touch your bum nipple? No, I feel like if you liked someone, you’d want to touch their bum. And their nipple.
T: It’s probably a really divisive thing, a butt nipple.
S: It’s probably one of the most divisive things I can think of, if it exists at all.
Okay. Well. Eyebag is all about, you know, when you stay up really late obsessing over a thought or idea or song or doco–
–and you’re so tired, but a good-tired? When was the last time you had one of those?
T: I got really into this documentary called The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone. And it’s like 12 or 14 episodes, and each one is really dense, an hour long. I just got really sucked into it, even though it was extremely depressing. And from there it spiralled off into watching Oliver Stone’s Snowden film and just becoming aware of what’s really going on behind the scenes. It was keeping me up and I wasn’t getting sleep and I was getting really depressed and feeling like there was no point in anything. Like, what do we do? We can’t change anything. Is music good enough? Is that an important enough pursuit in this time, where there have been decades and decades – more than that – of corruption and greed? I don’t know. How do we change that?
I think that definitely fits the criteria.
S: I would say for me, the most recent thing I’ve been absorbed in is Westworld. Big Michael Crichton fan. It’s very dense, philosophically. The way something like Star Wars is. It asks a lot of very complex questions. It’s about a theme park where there’s all this AI, and people buy tickets to – mind the language – fuck, kill and do anything that they want. And the story is told primarily from the protagonists who are robots. It’s so good.
Do you have places or situations that particularly inspire you? Like, for me I guess it’s the shower.
S: Byron Bay. I find places that are naturally perfect very inspiring. More than music or film, actually. I spent the first 25 years of my life being absorbed in things and sensations, as opposed to really appreciating nature.
T: I think early morning, sitting in a coffee shop, having headphones on, knowing that you’re going there for the purpose of creating. I enjoy that. Being on the plane. I think when you’re moving in general. Maybe it just gets the mind going because you’re in motion.
And you feel so out of it.
S: You feel like you’re not necessarily a slave to a schedule, or a time zone.
And you’re just waiting.
T: Exactly. You can just relax.
What were you like growing up?
T: I had a few different phases. I was goofy, I enjoyed making my friends laugh, until I got all depressed and emo. Even then, I still liked making my friends laugh. But things got a little heavier. I played a lot of soccer from when I was five to 18, so that was my thing. I was into photography and art and being alternative when I was in high school. My parents were together – they’re not anymore – but I had a pretty solid home life. I wasn’t allowed to be as social as my friends were, also I wasn’t allowed to eat sugar and watch TV – only a couple of programs like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure or Sesame Street.
They were strict?
T: They weren’t strict. They were sorta hippy, but not. They didn’t look like hippies, but they had those ideals. Anti-establishment ideals.
S: I was probably very quiet when I was younger, until I started high school. In high school, I turned into the class clown after being a bully for like a year, which was like my revenge because I was so nerdy in primary school. So when I was in high school, I had this opening to be part of this group that were like, terrorists. I was like, ‘yeah this is going to feel really good’, and then it really didn’t, immediately. I started playing a lot of music. I started playing drums when I was in high school, so I was completely absorbed in that. I was also a drama kid, so I did a lot of acting in school plays. So those were always the two main things I was working towards. I’d say I was probably a nerd as well, but playing music and being in those plays was a way to socialise for me. I found my identity through those things and I became a lot more confident.
You went to school in Australia, right?
Yeah, Sydney. Did you go to school here?
Yeah. Australian schools have such a distinct vibe. I can totally picture that.
Right? Uniforms. That’s the main thing that’s like, amazing to me. I talk about this a lot, how fortunate I feel to have gone to a single-sex school and to have worn uniforms. I would’ve been a completely different person otherwise, I can just tell. High school is just a hormonal mess.
What’s your most treasured possession?
S: I’d say that synthesizer my dad gave me – that I stole – and took to America. Whenever I think about my house flooding or setting on fire, more than anything, I would save that. It’s been in my family for so long. I have a picture from when I was really young standing next to it. The fact that I have it now is symbolic.
T: Jeez, I don’t know. I mean, my son doesn’t really count because he’s not my possession–
S: He does count.
T: He’s definitely my most treasured. But I don’t possess him.
S: He possesses you.
T: Yep, Sirius. He’s awesome.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t in Warpaint?
T: I’d probably be in investigative journalism.
T: Yeah, just trying to make people aware of what’s going on. I think that’s an important role in society now, and to me it just makes so much sense. It just feels like something I wouldn’t question the validity of, you know?
S: I initially wanted to be a psychologist. Then I realised I could probably do that later. So left uni and dedicated myself to music. But honestly, if I weren’t in the band, I’d still be a musician or a producer.
What about the last time you cried? Stella, is this getting into psychologist territory now?
S: This is great. I love these questions. I’d say yesterday I was pretty overwhelmed by beautiful things.
Happy crying. That’s not too bad.
S: I don’t often do sad crying. I do overwhelmed crying, where I’m just like, ‘ah, so many emotions!’ but it’s rare for me to feel sad and default to crying. I usually just marinate in misery, but do nothing physical or engage my tear ducts. I’m probably not well.
T: Or you’re just really happy.
S: No, it’s not that.
T: I keep going back to this, but this is an important thing. I was watching Rachel Maddow – she’s a news correspondent for MSNBC – and she is incredible. She is another person I would model a career after, for sure, the way she talks, the way she goes into great detail about everything. How and why it’s important she’s talking about what she’s talking about. The show is really quiet besides her talking, and everything really hits hard. I started crying. I was overwhelmed. Especially in America, we have a heavy scene going on. I know that you have a conservative government here right now too in Australia.
S: It’s also about to pop off now that Pauline Hanson’s back. She’s the equivalent of someone like Steve Bannon, who’s so wildly racist and such a bigot – I have no trouble saying that on record. She kinda disappeared into obscurity for a while, and now there’s this wave of intolerance.
T: It becomes really frustrating and overwhelming, and you start to feel like there’s very little one person can do. Why do we have to be paying into this system that isn’t speaking for us at all, that isn’t operating on behalf of our desires at all? There’s so much bureaucracy and everyone in politics is playing this game. They can’t just be sensical, you know. Basic human rights are not the main focus. It’s just about money and power. So that’s the last time I cried. Watching the news. ♦