Warpaint’s ‘Radiate Like This’ Is Their Most Brutally Honest Album Yet

"It can be very alienating if you don't fully understand what someone's saying to you, it feels like they're hiding something."

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Under the heat of an American summer in 2019, Warpaint were in drummer Stella Mozgawa’s Joshua Tree studio in the Californian desert, making new music for the first time in six years.

Guitarist and vocalist Theresa Wayman brought in two songs: ‘Altar’, and the first single off the album, ‘Champion’. Mozgawa calls this the ‘opening ceremony’ of the album.

Radiate Like This is the band’s latest album, slated for release on May 6. It’s their first album in six years, but Mozgawa clarifies they were never on hiatus — even if they pursued other things, like solo music projects and starting families. “We never stopped,” says Mozgawa, sheltering from a La Niña downpour in a Redfern cafe.

Warpaint toured their last album, 2016’s Heads Up, for four years, before coming back together to work on the newest release. They had just laid the foundations with co-producer Sam Petts-Davies when the pandemic threw the music industry into turmoil.

Radiate Like This doesn’t reinvent the wheel for Warpaint, and fans will be once again drawn to its atmospheric, icy sound. As expected for a band that’s been on the scene for over 20 years, their music has been labelled and categorised as everything from ‘chill-wave’ to ‘satanic majesties’; Mozgawa describes it as a ‘comical hybridisation of genres’, which is probably more fitting for a sound that disrupts the rigid confines of categories or subcategories.

“Even within one album, you couldn’t really use such a brushstroke to describe everything,” she says. “There’s definitely a lot of laid-back moments or relaxed moments on this record, but it also gets pretty turbo and I think that especially with songs on our last few records, it’s never just one kind of speed or mood.”

In that respect, Radiate Like This is no different to their past albums — but it is the band’s most unflinching and honest body of work yet. Mozgawa says this inevitably comes with maturity.

“There’s a lot of discussions about vulnerability being maturity and people having more time for self-reflection,” says Mozgawa. “I think that’s something that’s reflected in the record as well — being less afraid to say something difficult or saying something that’s a little more clear or clean, thematically, than before. Metaphor and poetry are very beautiful, but it can be very alienating if you don’t fully understand what someone’s saying to you, it feels like they’re hiding something.”

Rather than keeping their audience at arms-length with lyrics open to interpretation, with songs like ‘Stevie’ — the newest release from the upcoming album — Warpaint aren’t hiding anything.

“You’re down and dirty / You are one freaky mother / You give me happiness / You make me wanna / You make me wanna dance / With you / Pull up/ Pull up on my love / Thеre’s so much that I would really love to show you / Want to hold and love and really get to know you / I’m your moon and stars through any kind of weather / You’re the sun, I feel you forever”

“Metaphor and poetry are very beautiful, but it can be very alienating if you don’t fully understand what someone’s saying to you, it feels like they’re hiding something.”

“I think inherently if a person feels like they’ve matured and they’ve grown, then that is often reflected in the music,” says Mozgawa. “It’s rare that that doesn’t come out. You can hear there are a lot of ideas competing for attention in the first couple of albums. Just this kind of excitement of ideas and excitement of collaboration that’s kind of palatable.”

This time, Mozgawa says, the excitement and urgency have dispersed to create an album that’s more relaxed in concept.

They were lucky to have laid most of the groundwork for the album pre-pandemic — but there were some unexpected upsides to the subsequent isolation. It allowed more time to refine the songs, and for vocalists and songwriters Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman to realise their visions without the noise and immediate feedback from other band members. Mozgawa says she can hear the extra work they put in.

“Texturally, it’s a lot richer than a lot of the other albums, which sounds maybe closer to what we sound like live,” said Mozgawa. “This one’s a little fuller bodied, especially vocally.”

On the other hand, she says, working in isolation would have been a lonely and challenging time for Kokal and Wayman. “You don’t have that exciting, immediate response from your band members of, ‘oh my god, this is amazing, keep going with that idea’,” she says.

Mozgawa stresses that while some parts of the album were created separately, she never felt distanced from any part of the process. “I think early on we had an idea that we were going to make this album ourselves and produce it and engineer it ourselves, so I was very much involved in that early process and in every song in some kind of way just by virtue of having to be in the studio,” says Mozgawa.

“Just Four Humans Living In This World”

So, after six years, why did Warpaint decide now was the time to create new music? Mozgawa says the real question is why make a new album at all?

“I think we all individually and collectively check in with each other even if it’s not a proper conversation,” says Mozgawa. “We all know when everyone is excited about any kind of new material and when we hear each other’s songs or demos that people have made, it’s pretty obvious when it feels like it belongs to the band in a way or that the band can allow some idea to blossom when it’s passed through every individual mind.”

A song that Mozgawa was most excited about, and says is still one of her favourites, was a catalyst for the whole album: ‘Altar’, a stripped-back track with a crisp drumbeat and soulful harmony front and centre.

“‘Altar’ was done in my studio, and I felt really attached to the way that the drums sounded and the rough arrangement of that song,” she says. “I remember hearing that the first time and feeling really touched by it emotionally. I feel like there’s a beautiful sentiment in that song and it’s quite simple in its beauty. It’s kind of heart over intellect and I really like the way that it feels.”

Simple in its beauty and acting on a feeling perfectly describes Warpaint’s journey back to making music together. At one point in our conversation, Mozgawa actually apologises for the lack of drama.

“I’m sorry we can’t make up some elaborate [story], you know, ‘oh, everybody broke up with their partners’. And there’s enormous drama attached to this record. It’s really just not,” says Mozgawa. “It’s just four humans living in this world that are lucky enough to express themselves and make music with each other and hone their individual creativity and individual skills, in a weird time.”

And this is the magic of Warpaint. Four individuals, with exceptional talents and an incandescent love for music, thrive in collaboration. We as listeners are simply the lucky beneficiaries.

Radiate Like This will be released on Friday, May 6 via Virgin Music Australia.

Madison Howarth is a Wonnarua and Yuin writer with a passion for storytelling through a First Nations lens. She is the Online Learning Manager at Future Women. Follow Madi on Twitter.