Emily Kokal of Warpaint Talks Touring With Depeche Mode and the Band’s Next Album

Los Angeles-based all-female indie outfit Warpaint are finally getting the recognition they deserve. Last year’s “Heads Up” release saw the quartet shoot into the hearts and minds of indie fans everywhere with their fresh, upbeat pop-rock brand. The single “New Song” preceded the album to rave reviews, catching the attention of household names in the realms of pop and rock. Now, Depeche Mode have invited the band on their North American stretch which kicked off Aug. 23. Alt-J and Harry Styles have also recruited the ladies to join them on their respective tours, giving Warpaint an even bigger stage to showcase their sound.

As the tour kicked off with Depeche Mode, front woman Emily Kokal spoke with Entertainment Voice about the recent upswing of Warpaint enthusiasm and her thoughts on joining these world-renowned artists on tour.

While you are technically a girl band, many people like to focus on this concept as central to your music. Do you like to perceive yourselves as a girl band? Is it central to your sound?

In so far as we are girls, there’s no denying it or trying to, you know? I don’t mind people who are attracted to the idea of us all being girls, or if that’s something that gets them interested, whatever it may be. But the only girl band thing that may be annoying is when it’s compared against music, like for a girl. Like “It’s good for a girl.” I think that’s a very outmoded, outdated idea. But ultimately, whatever gets people into it, whatever they like about it, I think that’s cool. As far as my perception, I definitely know we’re all girls because I’m with them all the time (laughs). There is something about being in a group of girls rather than a group of guys, in a general sense as far as stereotypes. Mostly we’re like a collective of friends. That’s how I see us.

Last year Warpaint dropped its most successful project yet, your third studio album “Heads Up.” How have things changed for the band since its release?

Since the release, we started touring, so that was new, touring the album. And just because of the energy of the record and maybe some of its popularity, and also where we’re at in our career in general, it’s been a pretty fun year of touring. Touring those songs from this album has been nice. Basically, what’s been happening since then, we’re just now starting to come to a place where it’s time to think about the next project and start working on something new.

You’ve mentioned before the following artists sort of brought you out of your childhood and into what’s now your musical adulthood. In what ways have these artists influenced Warpaint’s music today?

Wu-Tang:

Wu-Tang Clan and the introduction of marijuana into my life was like a perfect storm in high school. That was really a pivotal time in my life anyway. That was when I went from, like, a drama kid and hanging out with a lot of people I wasn’t really feeling, but from this dramatic, acting world and I started smoking pot. I’m not going to give pot all the credit but there was something about just listening to music. Listening to hip-hop and Wu-Tang was one of those things where they just blew my mind. Especially as a collective, as a team. So seamlessly they flow and leave each other space and prop each other up. Especially the way RZA would make everybody’s solo projects and they’d all get in on each other’s projects. They had such a rawness and just so dirty, but so intelligent. It was amazing. Plus, it’s just such beautiful music, such beautiful samples. Kind of dark and sexy.

Björk:

Björk’s the same kind of thing. Though high school was a lot of Wu-Tang, I would say at the end, I was listening to a lot of “Debut” with Theresa (Warman, guitarist), because we went to high school together. We listened to a lot of “Debut” and a little bit of “Post” but we moved to the East Coast and became nannies when we were 18 and we would just drive around and listen to “Post” and “Debut” and “Homogenic” and (“Telegram”) …which was a remix album. She was a huge inspiration and game-changer. Thinking about getting inspired by women as a woman, there’s something about…you know, I loved Aphex Twin and when I heard (Björk) actually made a lot of her own beats and did a lot of her own production, that’s something I had never seen or heard of in my life yet. So hearing this music that this woman produced and created herself… she was just a modern day composer. She’s a Mozart or a Beethoven. Her lyrics were so weird, and I understood them. It felt like she was speaking directly to me, you know. Needless to say, she was important to me.

Outkast:

So Outkast was the same time as Wu-Tang in high school, just being blown away by the lyrics and the consciousness inside the lyrics and how many lyrics you can actually say without feeling like you’re just talking too much. It’s an art form of communication and the power of communication and ideas. It really blew my mind. And then the production of Organized Noize. They were the production team (behind Outkast’s early records). Just the beats, the melodies, the singing… I get a lot of inspiration from R&B and hip-hop, just the variety and the lack of rules, the discovery. But especially lyrically, you know, there’s something about saying a lot of words instead of only, maybe, like five words per second and the sentence is the whole entire chorus. Something about just tapping into a flow, or giving voice to just the, like, the spirit and the moment of a freestyle flow. I still try to apply (it) to my writing process.

In fact, you’re not shy about your adoration of others artists. Your Instagram features photos of Meryl Streep, Mike D of the Beastie Boys, Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna. Do you feel it important to deal credit to those artists at the top of their game?

I’m a fan, you know. Probably first and foremost. That’s the only reason I make music because other people have done it forever. I’m inspired by people who seem to be really pushing themselves to their limits and seeing what they’re made of. It’s important for me to really bow down at other artist’s feet, to just bow down at the spirit and their music, celebrating what music does and how transformational it is.

The band’s just now kicking off a massive North American tour with Depeche Mode which runs until Oct. 27. How did that come come to fruition?

We’re paying them to play. No, I’m kidding (laughs). We definitely put the word out there that we were interested and we got a response pretty quickly that they were fans of the band. It happened really quickly and it was really cool. We are about to go to sound check for the second show on tour right now.

You’ve also been picked up by Harry Styles for his upcoming world tour which will take you through Southeast Asia and Japan. 

What girl doesn’t want to get picked up by Harry Styles (laughs).

How have you prepared for playing these huge arenas?

I don’t think you can really be prepared until you have done, at least, that one show. You’ve just got to show up and be prepared to do your best. But also, as much as it’s exciting, it’s big venues and everything like that, people are very excited to see Harry Styles play. So I also feel kind of less of a pressure. They’re not there to see us, even though some people might like us or some people might not be paying attention. But at least for my mind, that works for me to be like, “You know, we’re just here. It’s not a big deal. We’re not the main event.” It also gives us time to do different things, try different things. Just do things a little differently than we would with our show, to try different kinds of ideas. Sometimes with our show it’s very specific and kind of one specific way. So it’s nice to do something where the audience may or may not know you. You can do whatever set list you want. You can play an entire record, change it up for fun.

Assuming album number four is still some ways down the road, but have you guys began to brainstorm a concept or direction for your next project? 

We’ve brought a bunch of gear on tour with us, and since we’re playing in these arenas and certain venues, we’re taking them out and setting up a music room and kind of jamming and starting to write. The music will probably, as usual, be a product of the environment that they’re created in. Which, you never really know… there’s a lot of synths. We brought a lot of different kinds of gear. You can actually see it on our Instagram page. I brought an acoustic guitar. You bring these sort of little things and they end up shaping a certain vibe or sound. Playing backstage maybe will make you play quieter, or you do things a little electronic because we don’t have a drum kit. So it’s going to be a kind of process, but we’re starting to play around on this tour because we have a lot of downtime.

Warpaint tours with Depeche Mode Aug. 23 – Oct. 27 with stops at NYC’s Madison Square Garden Sept. 9 – 10 and L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl Oct. 12 – 18. The band will also tour with Alt-J Dec. 5 – 10 and Harry Styles May 1 – 12.