Warpaint: "Sex should be in the music of the song, more than the costume or the act"

<b>Warpaint</b>'s <b>Jenny Lee Lindberg</b> weighs in on Gaga, dances with Slash and dresses like Oor Wullie

Feature by PJ Meiklem | 03 Aug 2011

It's not all glamour being one of alternative rock's sweet young things: eleven in the morning, in Los Angeles of all places, and Warpaint's Jenny Lee Lindberg is making a banking transfer as the bassist, like most of us common plebs, has just stumbled into the red.

A few mouse clicks later and the musician, one quarter of the psychedelic guitar group who dominated many music writers' 2011 ones-to-watch lists, is back to her hyper-real world of rock n' roll aristocracy, explaining what it really feels like to be a sweet child o' guess who?

"When I was 15 I went to a New Year’s party at Slash's house with my sister, we hung out and I ended up dancing with him for a good hour. For sure, he won't remember this. He was kinda drunk, but he could dance pretty good."

That's a long way from T in the Park, where most will have last seen the leather-hatted one. But these are simply the circles that the bassist and her bandmates move in; Lindberg's sister is Shannyn Sossamon, who starred with a young Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale.

Warpaint emerged six years ago from a star-spangled, primordial stew of celeb support, which has included online endorsements from Justin Timberlake, and first EP engineering from Red Hot Chilli Peppers guitarist – and at the time boyfriend of singer and guitarist Emily Kokal – John Frusciante. This year the music world will see if they can pull away from the hype and the glitter, and establish themselves on the tunes alone. So far it's looking good in these parts, with an impressive top of the bill slot at Glasgow's Stag and Dagger, and a show at Edinburgh's Queen's Hall coming this month.

But that Californian background is a hard thing to pull away from; Lindberg says Los Angeles is a big influence of their sound.

"I've been coming to LA every Christmas since I was six, and it's a familiar thing to me. My sister moved [from Reno, Nevada] a few years earlier than I did, so I was coming here to see her. It was an easy move. I knew people here. I knew I was going to get involved in the entertainment industry to some degree. I wanted to model and try acting and that's what I did for a couple of years, but I decided that's not what I wanted to do so I started playing music."

Of course, having a few friends in high places has meant that Lindberg and co have enjoyed a smoother ride to the bright lights than many other young wannabes chasing the American dream.

"There are options here in LA,” she insists. “Everything is here. You can do anything and everything. It's always good to have options. If you actually wanna do something with your life, and you have ambition, and don't just wanna settle and do something that's not challenging, as often a lot of people do – it's easier [to not move from your hometown], you don't have to think too hard, you're just into robot mode, and I’m not that kinda person. I get really bored when that happens."

So far, so rock n' roll cliché. Then you listen – really listen – to Warpaint’s music, and you realise this is anything but obvious: an intriguing layer cake of lighter than air harmonies, post-rock guitars, and a bottom end groove that, well, makes you want to shake your bottom end. It's all, says Lindberg “totally deliberate.”

"I have one motive as a bass player and that's to always bring the dance, even if it's a sad song, or a heavy song. Whatever type of song it is, I feel it has to be sexy to some degree. It's not like I'm saying guitars aren't sexy – they are – but often if there's something melancholy or sad that'll come from the voice, or the guitar, the bass can counteract that."

It’s not only Lindberg’s basslines that have attracted a diverse crowd to Warpaint’s gigs. Their biggest Scottish show to date took place at a packed ABC this past May, leaving the crowd both rocked to their socks, and more than a little bit in love. Accomplishing it all, for those not lucky enough to stumble across the band, while dressed like Oor Wullie.

"Dungarees," Lindberg drawls, "I bring them every tour and I love wearing them. They're comfortable, cosy but easy. You don't have to think about them. You just have to put ‘em on. I'm not making a statement with them. They're comfortable and I've been wearing them since I was 12. I actually think overalls are really sexy on a girl, but I’m a bit of a tomboy. I like it when girls are more in touch with their boyish nature. It doesn't mean you have to be a lesbian, or a dyke, or wanna be a boy. I just think it's cool to be in touch with both sides."

Statement or no, it's an interesting look to coin in today's pop culture. With mainstream pop music sliding down the greasy pole to pornland, the way women dress and act on stage has rarely been such a politicised question. Just think of last December’s stooshie when Rihanna and Christina Aguilera provoked a stream of complaints with their respective raunchy pre-watershed performances on the dreaded X Factor. Similarly, Scotland's own KT Tunstall was chastised by Shakira fans for daring to question the Latin American star's use of her "ladybits" in music videos.

Like most liberally minded music fans, Lindberg has mixed feelings on the subject:

"Pop music has always been like that, with Madonna, then Britney Spears, Lady Gaga. There's a similar thread there, and I feel pop music has always alluded to sex in some shape or form and I don't think it's necessary, but it plays such a part. I do think that it's slightly ridiculous. I think that sex should be in the actual music of the song, more than the costume or the act. Sex should be in the instrument."

As the name suggests, Warpaint are a contradictory creature. An agent of destruction and art combined: "We were running through names and we just said ‘how about this?’ Someone said, ‘I like this, it sounds really aggressive and strong and bold but it's also representing four girls who are quite feminine and the music isn't punk or harsh.’ You're expecting a metal band or something but it's actually not at all. It's a misreading in a way."

The music stemmed, Lindberg argues, from a determination to do something different; to emulate not just a sound, but an emotional response conjured from a list of favourite bands way too long to list here. It seems their inspiration reaches across the Atlantic, too. "That show in Glasgow was really cool,” Lindberg refers back to the ABC. “Clinic played before us, which was super-rad."

Clinic? Where does that group of grizzled post-punk Liverpudlians in surgical masks fit into the world of L.A parties with guitar heroes? It turns that our teenaged infatuations with America worked both ways.

"When I was younger British anything was so far from my reality,” Lindberg pines. “British anything – British music, British ways of living, of speaking. It was like a fantasy. It was so far removed from what my reality actually was, and that made me curious. Even the way they looked, the way they carried themselves, it was so different to what was going on in Nevada. It's almost like it developed into an obsession."

Suddenly that dance with Slash – a born Londoner – doesn't seem like such a stretch. As rock star obsessions go, there are far worse rabbit holes to tumble down.

Playing Queen's Hall, Edinburgh on 23 Aug