The more concerts you see, the more you realize how special certain bands are. There are bands you’ll see once and be blown away. Then, you see that same band a couple months later and realize it’s the exact same show–even down to the banter between songs.
Los Angeles indie-rock four-piece Warpaint is not one of those bands. In the summer of 2017, the band heavily toured the festival circuit. They played Coachella, Shaky Knees, Hangout, Governors Ball, and Bonnaroo over a two-month stretch. At some of those festivals, they went up against headliners and drew small but passionate crowds. At Governors Ball, they played a mesmerizing set as the rain began to come down.
Even when the band played the same setlist from one weekend to the next, it was never the same show. Transitions would change, certain songs got extensive solos and jam sessions. It’s why they have established such a cult following. It’s also why they’re among the top 10 bands to listen to or see live after puffing your favorite feel-good herb. You’re able to slip deeper into their bending grooves and recognize the individual contributions of each woman to the band’s dark, etheric sound.
On Thursday and Friday of this week, Warpaint will celebrate the 15th anniversary of their existence with a pair of shows headlining Love You Down Festival at The Echo and Echoplex. It’s a festival that brings together the music community of Eastside Los Angeles. The lineup was curated by Warpaint bass player Jenny Lee Lindberg and local favorites SWIMM, and includes several Warpaint side-projects. Guitarist and vocalist Theresa Wayman will play a set as TT, her solo endeavor from which she dropped a record last year. Jenny Lee will also bring her solo project, and singer and guitarist Emily Kokal will play a set with Deafmute. Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa will be performing as “Beef” with Boom Bip.
High Times spoke with Mozgawa over the weekend, just days before Warpaint will play these milestone shows in Los Angeles. Though the band is celebrating 15 years, Mozgawa was the latest addition, becoming a full member nine years ago when they recorded their 2010 album The Fool. Together, she and Lindberg make up one of the best and most underrated rhythm sections in alternative rock.
This interview has been edited for length.
It’s been a while since you’ve played real headlining shows in LA—how excited are you to celebrate this milestone as a band?
It’s gonna be really exciting. It’s a festival that’s been going on I think for a couple of years run by some friends of ours. They got together with Jenny [Lee Lindberg]. I think maybe they were kind of involved in last year’s festival together and it just felt like a fun kind of creative way to celebrate our anniversary with something local.
You came along after the band had been together for a few years. You had been in various bands before Warpaint, was there a moment that you felt this was the band that was going to achieve longevity?
I guess initially we just made a record together and that felt really good and then organically we just all decided it made sense to just have me join the band. It was pretty simple.
It’s almost like how a good relationship comes together, right?
I think maybe in the best relationships that seems to be the case where you know you’re together and you know you’re compatible and you can have that official conversation. It was one of those situations where it felt like a natural next step and it wasn’t something that we needed to discuss at length. It was, ‘Okay this is working so let’s keep going. And nine years later it’s been a similar kind of story.
The more times I’ve seen you guys perform, the more I’ve appreciated what you guys do because it’s just never the same thing from night to night.
There’s definitely a part of it that we’re consciously avoiding a level of mediocrity in just playing the same set and saying the same things between every song. The banter gets repetitive, the setlist, the vibe gets repetitive, and I think a lot of bands really pull that off but that’s not necessarily the nature of our band. … So we do keep it kind of loose but also make an effort to do something that is special every night as opposed to something that’s repetitive and homogenous.
I’ve always secretly felt you guys would kill it on the jam festival circuit, just because of the nature of your band. You have super-fans that discuss which live version of a song is their favorite, like jam band fans.
Yeah, it’s just something again that we don’t really consider too much or talk about too much but we’ve definitely discussed the prospect of kind of flirting with that jam-band culture for what it’s worth. But I feel like even those bands, they just do what comes naturally to them. … I’m not sure if we’re there yet exactly but I think that’s a wonderful byproduct of playing music and touring. … There’s really something to be said for seeing a band put together a show they’ve played a year and a half and they know exactly when they’re gonna talk to the audience and all that kind of stuff and I really do respect that but we’re almost not even capable of doing that.
OK, I’ve long mentioned your band as my absolute favorite to see when stoned. Do you guys have that sense from your fanbase?
It’s not like a really ceremonial thing we do together even though I’ve definitely heard and read of people promoting that culture in our band. I think people definitely prefer that as a tagline than just talking about how we’re drinking green juice and stuff.
How do you utilize pot when it comes to your lifestyle as a regularly touring musician?
To be honest, I was never a big pothead. But I did find this one strain that I’ve been able to handle and I find that it’s very useful for jet lag after traveling and being on tour and stuff like that. Blue Dream—that’s my jam. But this is only a very recent thing, and I never had a card or anything in California, but since it’s become recreational I just came across a friend who swears by this strain and we have a very similar disposition when it comes to what we can handle in terms of weed and I was just really blown away. You just gotta find the love of your life, your strain-soulmate.
I don’t really travel with it that much or smoke a lot of weed on tour and definitely not before shows, but I enjoy using it as a creative tool because it’s just way better than drinking. It’s actually really nice to have an option like that because I don’t really like drinking too much and I’m getting on in the years and I feel like hangovers just get worse and worse so you have to find another way to get a little bit consciously disconnected from your experience, if that helps you to be creative or helps you to get out of your head and more in your heart and all that kind of stuff is pretty invaluable when it comes to making music. But I respect people who don’t need that at all. But I think for me, just the older I get and the more music that I make and the more things you’re aware of, it’s nice to have a salve you can use to not just invite being creative, it’s more like a ceremonial thing.
You’ve played some pretty fantastic shows, you opened for Depeche Mode at the tail-end of your last album cycle. What stands out the most from your time with the band?
It’s actually really hard to answer that question. There’s definitely not one moment I can think of. But I think honestly doing Glastonbury a couple of years ago when we headlined the Parks Stage felt really special. I guess because we kind of started since I joined the band, it always felt like London, that kind of fanbase. But specifically the UK, we were signed to a British label and I think the UK is very proud of discovering bands, especially American bands that aren’t particularly well known in America. It just feels like a second home and every time we go back there it feels like we experience some kind of new milestone and some kind of growth that’s very palpable for us.
On paper, there are so many things I could say but ultimately it’s the moments where you actually become aware that time has passed and there’s been some kind of evolution in the crowd that’s in front of you or the people responding to your music.
If you’re in LA, make sure to catch Warpaint this Thursday, Feb. 7 and Friday, Feb. 8 at The Echo and Echoplex. Tickets are still available to the Thursday show.