May 09, 2022
By Celine Teo-Blockey
Warpaint, the Los Angeles-based quartet with a predilection for gauzy psychedelia and noize return after six years with Radiate Like This, a swirling, warm embrace with a focused message: that women are champions—for ourselves, and everybody else. This ode to the strength of womanhood, a sentiment as old as time bears repeating and is unmistakable on lead single, “Champion.” It opens with a sole voice, cooing languidly over a buoyant drum and bass, “I’m an ocean, breathin’ in and out, I’m a million years old. I’m a champion.” This chill wave enhanced by a dreamlike chorus of voices before culminating in the bridge with the collegial “and here it is, I got you”—all contribute to an incredible sense of well being for the listener.
Where once muted lyrics may have been drowned out by layered guitar washes and heavier sonic textures, here, each phrase is enunciated, amplifying its intention to be heard. Yet, the rhythmic structures on Radiate Like This are as propulsive as ever but at every turn steer clear of overpowering the message of love and empowerment, that’s couched in their warm, hypnotic melodies. This emphasis on womanhood is the album’s satisfying throughline.
“I think there was definitely an intention to be more clear in the lyrics and also in the parts and arrangements of the songs,” confirms one of the band’s three lyric-writers, singer/guitarist Theresa Wayman, on a three-way Zoom call that includes drummer Stella Mozgawa. “I also think that there’s more clarity of mind with us in our processes, and a focus in writing,” Wayman adds. “I feel like, yeah, there’s been some maturing and maybe life choices that have created more clarity.” The vibe-y, R&B-inflected “Stevie” and sweet yet sexy “Melting” are open-hearted love songs, in praise of a partner.
Since their much-lauded 2016 album Heads Up, singer/guitarist Emily Kokal, who now lives in Joshua Tree with her partner, has had a new baby. Bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg, who had previously released her solo project featuring Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode as well as some of her Warpaint bandmates, relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah with her boyfriend. During the pandemic, Mozgawa returned to Australia where she helped produce albums for Courtney Barnett and Cate LeBon. For the bulk of the pandemic only Wayman—who released her solo album in 2018 and has started a fashionwear business with her mother—remained in Los Angeles.
Prior to the pandemic and each member’s various side projects, it seemed a logistical challenge for them to come together and write their fourth album. “There’s never really a kind of like, manifesto meeting with our records,” says Mozgawa, “but I remember ‘Melting’ being a thing very early on.” A few months later, Mozgawa heard a demo that Wayman made for “Champion” and “Altar.” She adds: “The most conscious thing we did was when we came out to the desert for a few days.”
They four of them were finally in a physical space together, working on these songs that they were each making individually. “I remember after that thinking, ‘Oh I think we’ve just started making a record,’” Mozgawa says, of the cohesiveness of the songs that had now benefitted from the band’s collective input.
Wayman adds: “I think originally we really wanted to do a lot of writing and playing together and getting things really tight as a live unit and written as a live performance, before recording.” But that process seemed to be taking them too long. “And maybe we were all slightly on different pages for that,” she continues. After that desert session in the summer of 2019, they then shifted gears and worked a lot on foundational aspects of the songs at their downtown Los Angeles studio space. “I felt like I was in there most days either engineering an idea,” explains Mozgawa, “or playing on it, just to help us move it further along.”
They had begun tracking with co-producer Sam Petts-Davies (Thom Yorke, Frank Ocean) when the pandemic hit. Physically separated, they had to each continue making the album. For Wayman, that also meant writing lyrics to songs that fit it with the mood and general theme of previous songs that were more complete. They were all often recording their parts separately in DIY studios at home. As frustrating as this could sometimes be, it gave them time to pause and improve facets of the record that in previous records they might have rushed through.
“We always kind of feel our way,” says Wayman of their process, which she admits can yield surprising results but also has its drawbacks. “It’s like we’re moving around in the dark…it might be the hard way to go.”
Mozgawa however puts it down to the natural evolution of a band that’s been playing together for almost 20 years. “When you’re younger,” she explains, “you’re kind of trying things like ‘Am I a Goth or am I a skater? Or am I like a surfer girl or whatever it is….’ all these masks that you put on to see if that look fits. I think that’s part of what’s exciting about early albums of bands.”
Yet, elements that have worked for Warpaint in the past are still hallmarks on this record. For example, this formidable idea of the fierceness of women accentuated in a song like “Hips” (“She’s got diamonds in her pocket and an army of light/Don’t fuck with her”) that in the light of recent events, especially the roll back of Roe v Wade, is just the kind of anthem that we need now. Closing track “Send Nudes” is equally teasing and playful as it is emboldened.
But the most beloved of Warpaint’s musical idiosyncrasies is their use of breathy interjections like “ooh,” “ahh,” and “whoa” for sensual melodic effect. “Those wordless chorus,” Wayman laughs, then sings a typical Warpaint whoa-whoa melody, “they go really far in indie rock!”