The path from blog-worthy buzz band to compelling live presence is treacherous. As we've learned from the hundreds of bands that face-plant live in the wake of well-hyped debuts, adding layers of nuance to a record creates a tightrope onstage many acts can't walk.
On the heels of its massive 2010 debut, The Fool, Warpaint had no choice but learning how to make its delicate, dreamy sonics work in a live setting.
"We were thrown into the touring world and had never done that before," says guitarist Theresa Wayman. "We learned a lot about playing music live, about being performers, about what works onstage versus what works in recordings. It's not always the same thing."
The initial conversation surrounding Warpaint focused on its Hollywood connections: Bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg is the sister of actress Shannyn Sossamon (the group's original drummer), and Wayman had a bit part in the 2002 adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' The Rules of Attraction. But this year's self-titled record has shifted the attention squarely to the group's razor-sharp musicianship.
After renting a house in Joshua Tree and going on a songwriting bender, the L.A.-based quartet enlisted super-producer Flood to turn weeks of jamming into a tightly wound record that's footed equally in straightforward grooves and crystalline ambiance. Flood's work with Nine Inch Nails and U2 is exemplary of his "studio as instrument" flourishes, famous for making basic compositions sound massive without dulling their edges. But it was his work on PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love that hooked Wayman on his approach.
"It was clear he's got a range of capability, but PJ Harvey was what really sold me," she says. "She's like us in that she wants to retain some of the demo aspects of her songs because she feels like the demo is a really important moment in the song's evolution, and that original feeling and idea that it captures is something more wild that hasn't been too thought about. It's really important to remember that moment of the song."
Warpaint is more straightforward than it sounds on paper, albeit with a heavy dose of texture that many associate with Warpaint's Southern California roots. Drummer Stella Mozgawa refuted the band's distinct ties to L.A. as "archaic" in a recent interview, but Wayman considers the tone of Warpaint to be distinctly Californian.
"We got influenced by other types of music and broadened our horizons, but at the same time it sounds more 'California' to me than our last one," she says. "It's kind of dreamy and a little bit hazy, and that to me is a feeling you get when you're in L.A. and out in the desert. Everything is a mirage because it's so sunny and hot and there's always this glare in your eye. It's like the feeling of summer and kicking back and daydreaming."
The inflection of R&B and electronic sounds is often overstated as young bands go out of their way to distance themselves from bloated rockist ideals, but the marriage of hip-hop beats and driving basslines to the feather-light vocals of Wayman and guitarist Emily Kokal is the most obvious highlight on a record loaded with them. Despite the group's traditional rock-band setup, calling Warpaint a rock record feels a bit off.
"Groove is really important to us," Wayman says. "I think that's what we really get off on and it's what we love doing live. We tried to make it a priority on this album. We probably listen to rock music less than any other kind of music, to be honest.â
SEE IT: Warpaint plays Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., with James Supercave, on Thursday, May 1. 8 pm. $18 advance, $20 day of show. All ages.