Emily Kokal hasn’t seen the band’s drummer, Stella Mozgawa, in two years.
The four members of indie band Warpaint, half of whom are from Eugene, aren’t the only people who’ve gone years without seeing each other. The bandmates had spent much of their life together since forming in 2004, singer and guitarist Kokal tells Eugene Weekly, from touring to recording albums in the studio.
But the pandemic-induced separation gave the band a chance to spend more time working on Radiate Like This, the band’s first album with major label Virgin Records. In the lead up to issuing the album on May 6, Warpaint released a music video for “Champion” on March 17 and will soon drop one for “Stevie” later this month.
Writing and recording the new album was a departure from the usual recording process. The band has rushed through previous recordings, Kokal says, often squeezing as much studio time as possible. With the pandemic, the band had more time to work on the album, though Kokal balanced recording with caring for her newborn child. And with the new album on its way and live music returning, the band is now gearing up for a European tour — and soon to be announced U.S. summer dates.
In summer 2019, when the band was in early stages of recording songs for the album, Kokal was pregnant and wanted to finish the new album before she gave birth. The band spent some time in the studio, recording at Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree, California, which was co-founded by Dave Catching of rock bands Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal.
The band was planning to take a break from recording after March 2020 so Kokal could have a maternity leave from the album, but the break was a bit longer than expected because COVID was just around the corner. And she remembers the start of COVID well. In a Los Angeles coffee shop, she says she went into labor, and the next day that coffee shop was closed for the next year.
“And then, boom. All of a sudden we’re isolated in our rooms, going through the same thing that everyone in the world is going through,” Kokal says.
Radiate Like This reflects the pre-pandemic and pandemic world of recording, she adds. “There is so much divinity in the way this album is separated,” she says. “I see this as a bridge between two worlds. There is something contained inside the music that is a reflection of what everyone in the world was going through.”
From the start of the pandemic until early 2022, Kokal spent much of the time recording her parts for the album, not just learning the art of studio engineering for herself and all of its techniques and software, but also doing it with a newborn. Some of the album was recorded while she was in Eugene, sometimes around her child’s sleeping schedule.
Although it was their first time spending so much time away from one another, the band had more time for recording, Kokal says. In the past, Warpaint would use studio time on the rhythm section of songs, such as guitar, bass and drums. But it’d then run out of time to hone vocals.
The time provided by the pandemic gave Kokal and Theresa Wayman (also from Eugene) an opportunity to focus on writing more elaborate vocal composition for songs. “This afforded us all this extra care to the crafting of the songs, and also giving us control of the textures, harmonies and the quality of the vocals,” she says. “It’s nice to have this as a different flavor and showcase a little bit of our vocal and songwriting chops.”
Kokal says the album is the “most Warpaint” produced yet. The band brought in home recordings to the studio during the pre-pandemic studio period. She jokes that the band is now adulting, rather than trying to write songs from scratch during a recording session in a group setting, as it may have done in earlier days.
During the years-long recording process, Kokal says she was listening to a lot of ambient music by artists like Brian Eno. That and the Oregon atmosphere seeps into the tone of the music, she says. Despite the vocal heavy and ambient tone to the album, she says the album still has Warpaint’s patented guitar work.
Warpaint’s guitar parts often weave chord shapes and riffs not usually found in rock music. The guitar parts written by Kokal and Wayman have enamored many musician-oriented publications, especially MusicRadar, who chose the duo as 2017’s best alternative guitarists, beating out Annie Clark of St. Vincent and Rivers Cuomo and Brian Bell of Weezer.
Shortly after the new album’s May 6 release, Warpaint heads out on the road for a European tour, starting in Paris. It won’t just be the reunion of Kokal and drummer Mozgawa. The band will have a new member coming along: Kokal’s daughter.
“She’s going to be surrounded by aunties who love her,” she says of her bandmates. “A month of her being able to walk the canals of Amsterdam, go on adventures with her dad while I’m working and come back to me. There’s something exciting about it. She’s built for the road — she’s easygoing.
Visit EugeneWeekly.com to watch the “Champion” music video. Radiate Like This releases on streaming platforms May 6.