Stella of Warpaint

Do we really need to make an introduction at this point? This is another great interview Tom Tom has conducted with the rising star, Stella Mozgawa. In her own words: Be inspired, don’t be intimidated.

Kiran Gandhi (Tom Tom Magazine): This is the most demanding tour schedule, I’ve ever seen in my life.
Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint): Really? I’ve had crazier, craziest is when you’re in a van, kinda wish we were in a van right now.

TTM: Why are you guys flying everywhere?
Stella: No, our bus is… deceased.

TTM: [Chuckles] So, all the bands are in one bus?
Stella: No, no just us.

Hannah Haines (Tom Tom Magazine Photo): Need to wash everything in the van?
Stella: Yea, I think we just need someone to come in and fumigate it.

TTM: Okay, first question we are dying to ask is this, What is the band singing at the beginning of composure?
Stella: mmm. I can tell you guys, but you can’t print it. [She tells us].

TTM: When you started playing drums after you were thirteen, what made you continue? What made you want to get better?
Stella: I think for me the main kind of force of momentum was definitely that I wasn’t allowed to play drums before I was thirteen; not by parents, but in primary school. There was always this boy drummer there and I always wanted to sit down and play on the drums cause I’d be practicing on pillows and stuff. I always had this desire to play the drums and because it was forbidden, it drove me crazy. It’s like some saying don’t think of the elephant. Don’t think of an elephant. You’re going to think of an elephant. It’s like that, “ Oh you can’t play drums” it makes me go “Oh shit..oh shit..I want to play drums and I’m going to prove that guy wrong.” And after a while, I think its just inspiration as well, as I started playing band straight away and then I just got that bug playing live and thinking up parts. Luckily, my hobby just became my life.

TTM: What music phases have you been through? Did you ever go through a Spice Girl phase?
Stella: Oh totally, ya, Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, AJ was my favorite…. A side from listening to a lot of hard rock, I listened to a lot of Tool and Primus when I first started playing drums. Never really got into girl bands just more old man punk rock.

TTM: Was Bridegirl was an American thing or were people into it in Australia too?
Stella: A lot of girls I was in bands with loved it. I never really got into Riot Grrrl or girl bands like Bikini Kill. I started listening to all kinds of music. I never really choose one phase, you are always learning always interested in history and chronology. I think that is the most important thing.

TTM: So, then when you were playing drums were you listening and playing along to it?
Stella: That’s how I learned to play drums, yea, actually by listening to the album Undertow by Tool. Enima, Lateralus those three Tool albums. Sailing the Seas of Cheese by Primus. And lots of Steely Dan records.

TTM: In one of the interviews with Warpaint, they talk about how the band is happy that they get to make music that they actually would listen to, what’s that process like?
Stella: I was fan of Warpaint before I joined the band. I knew them through friends and stuff. I heard a few of their songs and thought, “This is a really cool band, I really like some of their songs and they are in it for the right reasons.”

TTM: What does that mean, “the right reasons”?
Stella: Not coming from an ego driven position that we have to be the best band in the world or the biggest band in the world – it’s more like we just have to be as good as we can be and continue working towards something. I really like music from the late 60’s. 1969 is my favorite year, two of my favorite albums are Uncle Meat and Trout Mask Replica – both of their aesthetics are so unique, but also a lot of pop music, soul music, hip hop. I’m ADD when it comes to music.

TTM: In “Composure” and then throughout “Warpaint” the double hihat you do…it’s too good. It’s so f*cking good. What is the leadership component you bring as the drummer?
Stella: I think there is definitely an intuitive exchange in the band. Everyone has their moment when they are feeling very strongly about an idea that they have. Our diplomatic rule is: Always try everything. Try every suggestion. Unless you try it you will never know. Everyone’s vision has to be played out. I think everyone has their own leadership role within the band. Obviously rhythmically Jen and I tend to govern what is going on but that is our role in the band. We don’t govern the vocals or anything, unless we feel strongly about something.

TTM: Can you sing and drum?
Stella: Yes. I find it easier to sing and play drums at the same time cause of the muscle memory.

TTM: When you play do you feel as though you are performing?
Stella: My style when I first started drumming was “I’m scared to just keep the beat, otherwise, I’m going to get fired or they will get upset with me.” And so I [concentrated hard] when I first started playing drums. I don’t think there is one right or wrong way about performing. I definitely feel better when all of us are kinda feeling it. If the crowd is in the same mood as we are, I like that.

Hannah: Do you have a favorite performance to date?
Stella: Great question. Actually, we had a really good show in DC, September or October for the XX. The 9:30 club and everyone was standing up and dancing.

TTM: Do you like that venue?
Stella: Yea.

TTM: They also treat their artists very well.
Stella: Yea, uh huh.

TTM: I really liked what you said about music as self-indulgent vs. music as something to give to someone…could you talk about that? Is it possible to marry charity and music?
Stella: It’s good to step outside the system and be a human and actually go help someone as opposed to: I’m waiting till I’m famous to give money and help. I appreciate artists that have integrity and do charitable deeds. When you are an indie band it’s good to make people aware of things that are happening and things that you feel strongly about.

TTM: How do you do that? That’s amazing.
Stella: I think just write about things. Talk to people about things. You got to educate yourself first before you make others aware. You want to promote the right thing.

TTM: And people can do that through a song, lyrics?
Stella: Yea, I’ve been listening to this PJ Harvey album, Let England Shake, and on a very subtle level, she talks about military life, warfare, the nature of conflict, death, fear from soldier’s perspectives. It’s done in such a beautiful, romantic, true way and she was never really a political songwriter by any means but she obviously felt compelled to make this protest album in a poetic beautiful way. I like the way she’s done that.

TTM: Do you think there is a difference between major labels and indie labels?
Stella: There definitely is a difference without trying to offend the patent of a major label. I think it is totally archaic, to be honest. I’ve played with artists who have been signed to major labels and there is so much more control from the elements whether it’s feminine or masculine. It has this masculine energy about it: it’s like “I‘m going to give you money but you have to give me something in return.” It’s almost like a retro marriage format. The thing our label, and DIY labels, is that they are very trial and error. In our case they will cater the deal to the nature of the band.

TTM: Do you have any advice for Tom Tom readers?
Stella: Be inspired, don’t be intimidated.

Text by Kiran Gandhi

Photos by Hannah Haines

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