We’re sat at the Tolhuis on the northern side of the Ij, overlooking Centraal Station. People scuttle to and from the ferry in marked contrast to those lounging on the terrace. The latter have obviously decided that an afternoon of work is not for them and bask pleasantly in the sun: living that Dutch dream of doing absolutely nothing in convivial surroundings. Indeed the only ones to add a dischordant, vibrant note to this pleasant scene of torpor are two of the girls from the much talked about band Warpaint, Stella and Jenny-Lee, who are in very high spirits.
IN: I was listening to you the other day and one thought kept coming back: that your music is impressionist rather than Expressionist. Is that fair comment?
Stella: You mean it’s private in its emotional output? Or it’s not explicit?
IN: Actually the first thing you said was, is, another question I want to ask! But yeah it was that things weren’t particularly explicit. Expressionism would imply that you’d one to push an idea. But there are other things: the one-word song titles and the music doesn’t have a focal point. There must be some deliberate reason for this?
Stella: I think a lot of that we are four composers, I mean the girls write the lyrics and they sing, but everyone is involved and the music allows for tangents and everyone has their say. It’s a collage or a montage of ideas that all diplomatically fall into a certain entity. There’s no one dictating mind or idea or prevalent thread. We have one mind but it’s also four (laughs)
And we’re all going to speak our minds so…
IN: A four-headed god
Jenny Lee: A four headed god… yeah
IN: You have a confrontational name, Warpaint, and yet your music and you yourselves come across as bucolic, easy going, a tad domestic, so it’s very strange you have this name, a complete opposite to your sound.
Stella: Yeah I guess there’s an element of irony. I guess that’s true in that we’re not consistently aggressive. My interpretation of it is that it’s fierce, whether it’s quiet or aggressive or obnoxious. There are so many sides to it but there’s always a strong intent.
IN: There’s also the element of dressing up.
Stella: Yeah. Getting ready for war, or to celebrate. There’s an element of people preparing themselves whether it’s going to war or going to a club. A dance in the jungle?
Jenny Lee: But it’s important, whatever someone’s preparing for, it’s important.
IN: I remember thinking Throwing Muses sounding like you. Singing about an intensely private world: and this private world is another thing at odds with your name.
Stella: We got that the other day, Throwing Muses I guess it’s a nice dichotomy you know. We never had the idea of setting out to define a sound with the name.
Jenny Lee: When you hear the name Warpaint you’d never think of four girls, I mean I would think a lads band, or a tribal band.
Stella: I guess it’s from the approach rather than the aesthetic. I can’t see us being hung up on the name: it’s more the creative process that we’re interested in.
IN: And why there are no verbs in your song titles? They’re virtually all one word song titles… and adjectives or nouns.
Stella: We’re nouny grandmas (laughs)
Stella: This is the way when we’re writing songs in our practice space we never think “ooh what’s the name of this song and what is it going to sound like? It’s just easier, as a reference to start us off on the writing, and then we can get on and go, go, go… but there are definitely stories behind some of the names of the songs but they just happen to be…
Stella: They are pretty trivial, like a moment you had but titles like Elephants or Bees are just points of reference.
Jenny Lee: And we end up writing the names on the studio wall and we look at them and say “oh that’s easy that’s cool, I like it”.
IN So you would not deliberately sit down and write a song about say “Elephants”
Jenny Lee: Well actually yeah, Bees is named after the baseline in the song because it sounded like bees buzzing, Beetles is in reference to a dance that reminded the girls of a beatle, not an actual beetle but a Beatles you know John, Paul, George…
IN: A head shakey thing?
Jenny Lee: A doowop thing you know, a... what’s the word…. Breedlove (The girls whisper conspiratorially and eventually start laughing)
After a while we decide to ask what the merriment is about.
IN: I beg your pardon?
Jenny Lee: It’s all Breedlove (collapses laughing)… We were trying to catch you out and you were going with it. We were just typing on the iphone and some nonsense predictive text thing happened and we got Breedlove.
IN: An oxymoron.
Stella: That’ll be our new Tolkien language creation thing! “They’re so fucking weird they make up words”
IN: Tolkien was a strange bloke and I think the combination of teaching Saxon & Old English and his First War experiences sent him a bit… I’m sure the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion was war therapy in some way. The whole idea… “Fuck it let’s create an entire Elvish language”.
Stella: It must be an element of being completely batshit and also like having a feeling like “well, I can create this other world that makes sense to me”.
IN: Like Magma. They made their own language up, & sang in this: Kobeian. Two of them bought castles and waged magic war on each other.
Stella: That’s fucking rad, I wanna wage magic war against loads of people. Eccentrics I love it
IN: You’re quite eccentric too. All this talk about bees and fish reminds me of Robyn Hitchcock
Stella: But he’d write his songs with bees and fish in mind. We don’t. Or wasps... (Turning to…) You love wasps don’t you?
Jenny Lee: Well I love them but I don’t want them near me, I talked to them earlier and told them to leave me alone but they didn’t listen.
IN: To get back on track, I wanted to mention that I thought your music sounded like a lot of lullabies. Who are you singing to?
Jenny Lee: A lot of the time I would say ourselves or a past relationship or passion; or warmth for another human being… not all of the time but definitely these are the things that we draw on. I find that when I’m writing it’s conjuring a passion or deep feeling that I have towards another human being, it doesn’t have to be a boy it could be my mom, but yeah, deep feeling. Most of them I’m just singing along.
IN: Do you need an audience? It’s like a hermetically sealed commune, this band.
Stella: You know what that’s really interesting, we’ve had that said to us a few times, that we’re kind of our own audience.
Jenny Lee: It’s not intentional…
Stella: It’s more making sure that … (pauses). You don’t make music initially so it will be liked or accepted but perhaps it’s more music that we would like to hear. I think it’s the same on stage. First and foremost we have to be satisfied with what we are doing, that we are connecting properly. There’s always regard for the audience, but we never have a sycophantic need to please the audience. We never set out to make anyone feel good or try to connect but there again I never believe that there is ever a genuine connection. I feel it’s very noticeable when bands do that.
Jenny Lee: We want to give the audience eye patches when they walk in, so they can put them on, lie down and go to sleep when we’re playing. They can do whatever the fuck they want, (laughs). We never say come to our show and I always make a point of saying “thanks for listening”, not “thanks for watching”. We don’t have a visual element to our shows at least not yet… or a concept of how we want to be looked at. We just try to concentrate that we’re in tune and in touch with each other musically and it’s the best that we’re feeling. And the audience will pick up on that. We just try to perform for each other. I am really keen on the idea of people closing their eyes when they come to hear us play. I mean we love playing live it’s a totally different feeling from playing in the studio. And we can feel the energy of the audience.
IN: One of the best concerts I’ve seen was Rodelius & Moebius in the Lichtfabriek in Haarlem and the audience just stared at the ceiling.
Stella: Because bands like Cluster are studio bands in many respects. Anyway, there’s only so much brain space you can dedicate to elements of a live performance so if most of your thoughts are going towards visuals as in “what am I going to wear” or “how am I going to dance tonight”, then it’s a step towards the unessential in my opinion.
Stella: It’s an element that’s much more prevalent in music now, instead of “how are we going to record this, are we going to use half inch tape or quarter inch tape”. Bands are being force-fed the idea that image is fifty percent of the product. And they sometimes don’t have a strong understanding of who they are as musicians, so they follow formula.
Jenny Lee: It’s also forced upon you, there’s a lot of onus on image and people in bands follow this directive because they want to continue in the business, so they do things because it’s expected of them. Sometimes to their detriment.
IN: Doing all this shit for other people that doesn’t help at all in the long run. Mad, eh?