The all-woman, genre-defying indie rock band Warpaint recently had the honor of closing out KCRW’s Twilight Concert Series at the iconic Santa Monica Pier. The event I had anticipated for months was the band’s first headlining show of the year in our shared hometown of Los Angeles, and it was sure to be the best show of the summer. My friends and I set out for the beach early, camping out and sunbathing on the sand as we listened to the band soundcheck. While listening to them from afar and anticipating the show, I reflected on how I first discovered Warpaint, and all the memories involving the band and their music stored forever in my soul.
The year was 2010. I was 15 years old, sexually confused, and on a date with a boy I didn’t actually like. The xx was the hot new band on the indie scene, and [name redacted] had won tickets to their show at the Hollywood Palladium from a local radio station. I loved the xx’s debut, so I said yes to the date even though I knew it would be a night of thwarting off his advances while I pined after my new female friend who would also be at the show. I had no idea that this night would change the course of my life forever.
A little band I had never heard of opened the show: a local quartet called Warpaint. When they hit the stage and started jamming, I was immediately floored. These four women with their perfectly blended groovy bass lines, weaving guitar riffs, ethereal vocal harmonies and intricate drum beats made most male musicians popularly recognized as rock and roll gods look like amateurs. There was something special about this band, magical even. I wasn’t just hooked; I was in love.
This was September of 2010, and Warpaint’s debut album “The Fool” had yet to be released. The aforementioned female friend and I played their “Exquisite Corpse” EP, the only music available from the band at the time, on repeat for months, sometimes picking up the bass and guitar and jamming along to songs like “Elephants” and “Krimson.” We were so excited to have discovered this unknown gem of a band, and we could not stop dancing to their sensational music.
The next few years of my life were an emotional roller coaster that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. In addition to the normal turmoil of being a teenager, I suffered from severe depression and anxiety. Sometimes, the only thing that could calm me down during a panic attack was listening to “The Fool.” The band kept me going when I was feeling really down, and like a comforting blanket, they always brought me joy even in the darkest of times. Warpaint’s music served as an oasis offering refuge from the chaos of my life and inner monologue. When my thoughts and feelings became too overwhelming, I could always count on Warpaint to calm me down. They reminded me of the beauty of life and of things worth living for.
Flash forward to October of 2014. I had fallen so deep into depression that I was ready to give up. I knew I was going to die by suicide; the question was simply when and how. Warpaint was finally about to play a headlining show in San Francisco, however, the first time this had happened since I moved to Northern California a few years prior. I decided that there was no way I could end my life without seeing Warpaint one last time, so I delayed my plans.
That show exceeded expectations beyond belief. It was my first time hearing many of the songs off their 2014 self-titled album performed live, including rarities like “CC” and “Feeling Alright.” I danced my ass off, feeling solidarity in the enthusiasm of the crowd. It was a few days before Halloween, so I donned a giant, fuzzy bear suit. I looked ridiculous, but I was hoping to attract the band’s attention, and it worked.
During the end of “Love is to Die”—the band’s biggest hit off their self-titled sophomore album—co-frontwoman Theresa Wayman herself came down into the audience, handed me the mic, and let me sing the song’s outro with her. I was overjoyed, the happiest I’d felt in years, maybe ever. The song’s lyrics profoundly resonated with me in that moment: “Love is to die, why don’t you not die? Why don’t you dance? Why don’t you dance, and dance, and dance…”
Fulfilling my dream of singing with my favorite band (and meeting them after the show) reminded me that life is worth living. For the first time in my life, I realized that dreams do come true. After four years of constant melancholy, my depression vanished within weeks. I decided to approach life with a new attitude: relentlessly pursuing the things that bring me joy in life, not giving up, and trying to have as much fun as possible. I moved back to my hometown of Los Angeles, and made it my mission to experience as much live music as humanly possible. It’s been a few years now, and I still struggle from time to time, but I always have live music and my favorite records to keep me going. If I ever feel like giving up again, I remind myself that there’s always another show to look forward to.
On Thursday, Aug. 17, I had the privilege of experiencing Warpaint live for the 15th time when they played the Santa Monica Pier. By the sea and under the stars, this quintessential Los Angeles landmark proved the perfect setting for Warpaint’s genre-bending, other-worldly sound.
Bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg grooved to the music in her signature style. Bopping her head and shuffling her feet to the beat, she periodically beamed at her bandmates. Lindberg and her bandmates are so in tune with each other that all it takes is a knowing glance for them both to burst out laughing. This telepathic connection clearly translates to the music, because Warpaint’s rhythm section, consisting of Lindberg and drummer Stella Mozgawa, is one of the best in the business. Mozgawa is a sought-after studio and touring musician, working with artists such as Kurt Vile, Jamie xx and Cate Le Bon when she’s not drumming in Warpaint. Back in 2015, the readers of NME voted for Lindberg as one of the 40 greatest bass players of all time.
As co-frontwomen, Wayman and Emily Kokal share lead guitar and vocal duties. Their singing styles, while distinctly different, complement each other perfectly, as do their guitar tones. Kokal’s smooth and angelic vocals and guitars often steer the songs in a more melodic, harmonious direction, while Wayman’s stylings bring a darker, more haunting effect. Warpaint’s blended vocal harmonies—sometimes joined in three or four part harmonies with Lindberg and Mozgawa—are sublime. All four members of the band are incredibly technically skilled, but their creative songwriting abilities and ability to improvise onstage are unparalleled.
In the earliest years when I saw Warpaint play, Wayman came across as shy and subdued. Ever since that 2014 show, h0wever, I couldn’t help but notice that she has really come into her own as a performer. At the Santa Monica Pier, she appeared especially comfortable in the spotlight, flirting with the audience and inviting everyone in the pit to come closer to the stage despite a burly security guard who was determined to keep everyone four feet away from the barrier. When she put down her signature red Fender Mustang to take on lead vocal duties for “Love is to Die,” she danced over to the edge of the stage, leaning towards the audience and teasing us as though she was going to throw us the mic and let the audience take over the show.
As they opened with the title-track off their 2016 album “Heads Up,” Wayman sang lead vocals while the rest of the band joined in to create a perfectly blended four part vocal harmony. From “Heads Up,” they transitioned into “Krimson,” a song off 2009’s “Exquisite Corpse” EP. The two songs melted together as if they were one long song, combining the driving guitar hooks of each corresponding song as a bridge between the two. You wouldn’t even know that the latter song had aged nearly a decade, because Warpaint’s music is timeless. They experiment with new sounds on each album, but they maintain the consistency of a distinct sound that is uniquely their own.
Paying homage to their longtime fans, Warpaint continued the set with another golden oldie, “Stars,” a song the band hardly ever plays anymore. Jaws dropped when Wayman cooed the opening line: “Oh wonderful one, why are you like that…?” I couldn’t believe I was finally hearing “Stars” live again after so many years! Warpaint rocked the Santa Monica Pier with a career-spanning set, with oldies like “Elephants,” mid-career hits like “Undertow” and “Disco//Very,” and new jams such as “Dre” and “The Stall.” As they closed their set with “Intro/Keep It Healthy,” Kokal brought the evening to a fitting conclusion as she sang “touch the stars, feel what we’re made of.”
To many people all over the world, Warpaint is more than just a band. They’ve amassed a devoted following in places far from home, like the U.K., Poland, Brazil and Indonesia. In their hometown of Los Angeles, they have a troupe of local fans, many of whom have been following the band’s career since the beginning. I’ve even talked to fans who have seen the band play live upwards of 50 times. Fans come together from all over the world to discuss Warpaint news, share new photos and interviews, and discuss their favorite songs and albums online, many people, myself included, making close personal friendships with other fans who live across the world from them.
In talking to these devoted followers, I’ve discovered that I am not the only one who has found refuge from anxiety, depression, and other personal problems in Warpaint’s music. I’ve heard many stories similar to mine over the years of Warpaint’s music saving lives. The band is a testament to the healing power of music and the community surrounding it. Warpaint goes above and beyond enriching lives with their music. Anyone for whom the band has been a big part of life over the years can attest to their power to transform lives, and even save them. Fans like me feel we owe so much to this band, as if we owe them our lives.
Words and photos by Avital van Leeuwen
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal ideation, contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free, confidential 24/7 support and resources. Readers outside the U.S. can visit suicide.org for a list of international hotlines.
Catch Warpaint on tour right now with Depeche Mode:
Aug 23 USANA Amphitheatre Salt Lake City, UT
Aug 25 Pepsi Center Denver, CO
Aug 27 DTE Energy Music Theatre Detroit, MI
Aug 29 Turner Hall Ballroom Milwaukee, WI*
Aug 30 Hollywood Casino Amphitheater Chicago, IL
Sep 01 Mohegan Sun Arena Uncasville, CT
Sep 02 Upstate Concert Hall Clifton Park, NY*
Sep 03 Air Canada Centre Toronto, Canada
Sep 05 Centre Bell Montréal, Canada
Sep 06 Brighton Music Hall Boston, MA*
Sep 07 Verizon Center Washington, DC
Sep 08 Underground Arts Philadelphia, PA*
Sep 09 Madison Square Garden New York, NY
Sep 11 Madison Square Garden New York, NY
Sep 13 MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre Tampa, FL
Sep 14 The Social Orlando, FL*
Sep 15 American Airlines Arena Miami, FL
Sep 16 Jack Rabbit’s Jacksonville, FL*
Sep 18 Ascend Amphitheater Nashville, TN
Sep 20 Austin360 Amphitheatre Del Valle, TX
Sep 22 Starplex Pavilion Dallas, TX
Sep 23 Paper Tiger San Antonio, TX*
Sep 24 Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Houston, TX
Sep 27 Ak-Chin Pavilion Phoenix, AZ
Sep 30 T-Mobile Arena Las Vegas, NV
Oct 02 Santa Barbara County Bowl Santa Barbara, CA
Oct 06 SAP Center San Jose, CA
Oct 10 Oracle Arena Oakland, CA
Oct 12 Hollywood Bowl Los Angeles, CA
Oct 14 Hollywood Bowl Los Angeles, CA
Oct 16 Hollywood Bowl Los Angeles, CA
Oct 18 Hollywood Bowl Los Angeles, CA
Oct 21 Key Arena Seattle, WA
Oct 23 Moda Center Portland, OR
Oct 25 Rogers Arena Vancouver, Canada
Oct 27 Rogers Place Edmonton, Canada
*headlining show without Depeche Mode