B-Sides: Warpaint

b-sides logo_bigger size

I’ll tell you right off the bat that this post will focus at least a little on how much I like to look at pictures of the women who make up Warpaint. I have huge crushes on all of them. They wear pretty hats and dresses and scarves. PLUS they create dreamy rock music and they’ll probably get really popular in the next year or two. Lovely women musicians on the brink of great renown? A whole bunch of the best traits for a band to have.

Warpaint was started in Los Angeles more than ten years ago by sisters Shannyn Sossamon (yep, that one) and Jenny Lee Lindberg on drums and bass, respectively. Shannyn got a little bit famous for being in movies, and left the band. Jenny now plays with Emily Kokal (guitar), Theresa Wayman (guitar), and Stella Mozgawa (drums and keys). The band shares songwriting and vocals, which is, strangely, a rare quality in a band, and a vote of confidence in their musicianship.

The other vote of confidence in their music is, uh… their music. They self-released an album in 2009 that John Frusciante (yep, that one) produced, and their latest album (The Fool, released in October) was put out by Rough Trade (see also The Decemberists, The Morning Benders, Antony and the Jonhsons). NPR just fell in love with them. I love when NPR falls in love with indie bands. It feels like when my great-aunt told me, when I was 13, that she was going over to Hastings after brunch to buy the new *NSYNC Christmas album. In the best way possible.

Warpaint sounds like they’re telling you a secret. Their vocals are almost always layered, and the guitars and drums float unobtrusively in the background. Again, in the best way possible. The Fool is impeccably produced, and the instruments, vocals included, are well-knit. These songs are clearly hand-crafted, but only clearly enough that we can appreciate exactly HOW well-crafted they are. And THEN we remember that, experts that they already are, this is only THE FIRST full-length album by this band. Their live show is supposed to by hyper-exciting and experimental. So now we all get to sit around, batting our eyelashes at pictures of them (…no? Just me?) and reveling in the nonstop touring that up-and-coming bands always do around their first albums.

Here’s their music video, directed by Shannyn Sossamon herself. It’s a pretty perfect sum-up of who Warpaint are and why they’re so fabulous, in all their blurry-edged glory.

by Katie Presley
View profile »

Katie Presley is a writer and editor currently based on the East Coast (help, how did this happen??). She's been with Bitch in one form or another since 2010, when she started as a New Media Intern, and most recently served as Bitch's first and only Music Editor, from 2016-2017. Past resume lines include Assistant Producer for All Songs Considered at NPR Music, panelist on Pop Culture Happy Hour, and bylines at NPR and Ms. Katie is also a doula and herbalist, and writes a blog on herbal medicine, "The Herbal Apprentice." She also co-founded the first full-spectrum doula organization in Texas, The Bridge Collective. She is also a late-comer to being a Dog Person, but currently lives with four cats. 

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

17 Comments Have Been Posted


that a "feminist" article about an all-female band begins by focusing on how they look. hmmmm....some things never change


Katie was honest in this post about liking the style and images of the band, but she also spends three out of four paragraphs talking about why she likes their music. I don't think it's antifeminist of her to say the women in the band have pretty clothes, especially since she's focusing on other attributes as well.


however, the quality of their music is not a bonus to their image.
they are an amazing band with a stellar live show. PLUS, they look good.

just sayin....


Hi Jo,
Thanks for reading! I put my crush in the first sentence because I didn't want it to creep in later and make it look like I was HIDING the fact that I think these women are all beautiful. Because hiding that would be a damn shame.
The music is not a bonus, certainly. The whole package is a bonus. The fact that this one band has so much going for it is the bonus!

Give me a break

Ok Jo, go troll somewhere else. This is a well written article about a very interesting group of musicians. The author was clearly just having fun expressing her crush on the band. Save for two sentences at the beginning, the entire article had nothing to do with how they looked.

Get out the old BYRDS LP's

Who could fault their looks? All young women are lovely, but their music seems a colossal snooze. Never-the-less, I would be thrilled if any of them looked at me with a twinkle in their eyes. Their musical production is impeccable, but if I want to hear great Rickenbacker guitar and harmony, I will get out the old BYRDS LP's.

I'm pretty tired of bands

I'm pretty tired of bands with names that invoke Native stereotypes.

But does it, necessarily?

But does it, necessarily? I'm not saying you're wrong, but Native Americans weren't the only ethnic group throughout history to use warpaint (and I'm not even sure all of them did). Take the Celts, for example--they used blue warpaint. Again, I'm not saying you're wrong, and obviously it is a good idea to watch out for racist stereotypes, but I'm just not sure if there is one, here.

Sure, you can say the "Celts"

Sure, you can say the "Celts" (another pretty broad group) used woad etc. to paint themselves. And maybe Warpaint is trying to draw upon the mythic history of Celtic tribes in their self-fashioning; in the specific you may be right.

I am seeing a pretty broad trend, however, in bands using stereotypical Native imagery in their names (and costuming) - especially bands with a lo-fi, chillwave, folk-y, drone, whatever sonic bent. Off the top of my head: Indian Jewelry. Apache Beat. Neon Indian. Headdress. Wild Moccasins.

This coincides with a major fashion trend ripping off Native jewelry and sacred regalia in the pursuit of hipsterdom. I've never been to a Neon Indian show, but I've certainly seen photo after photo of drunk white girls with headdresses from Urban Outfitters and their own interpretation of "warpaint" on their cheeks.

Band names are a pretty major part of a band's image. What are these names saying about the bands who choose them?

Sorry to burst that bubble

But it does, according to <a href="http://www.spinner.com/2010/03/08/sxsw-2010-warpaint/">this interview</a> from SXSW 2010:

<cite>How did you come up with your band name?

Stabs in the Dark, our Indian chief.</cite>

So it seems like exactly what it seems like—young band trying to tag on to this appropriative pop cult phenomenon by naming themselves something "Native". I read another interview where one of them said they were initially concerned about the name because the word "war" was so heavy. Doesn't sound like they were giving a hoot about racist stereotypes that they were indeed referencing.

Also, the reference could have been offensive regardless of their intent. Just sayin'.

Uh, OK

This band (which is not young) borrowed their name eight years ago from one of their own song titles, not because some joke Indian chief asked them to appropriate his culture or whatever baloney you're talking. They just thought it sounded badass.

I suppose if they had kept their original name, World War 4, someone here would be talking about how they're trying to "make war sound cool" or something. Or how their song "Set Your Arms Down" is disrespectful of people without arms.

Great post!

Ooooo, I love wispy, reverb-y shit like this. In related news, I have had the fattest crush on Shannyn Sossamon ever since she rode that skateboard around campus in <i>The Rules of Attraction</i>.


You cracked me up with this: "I love when NPR falls in love with indie bands. It feels like when my great-aunt told me, when I was 13, that she was going over to Hastings after brunch to buy the new *NSYNC Christmas album." And generally, I appreciated the enthusiasm of your post. No need to play it cool when you have fallen in love with a band. I will check them out.


You've hit the nail on the head. I loooooooooove Warpaint and your NPR comment has me dying. One thing though, this isn't their first music video.

thanks natalie!

ooh! what other videos should i be looking for? thanks for the heads up!!

as i recall...

there's a video for 'stars' and 'elephants' (which was the song that got me hooked on them).
i think 'stars' was filmed after wildfires had ravaged a part of LA....

Add new comment