Get Your Jujus Out: An Interview with Jennylee
The Warpaint bassist talks going solo, stage jitters, and the future of guitar bands.
All photos by Frank Mojica
An unusually chilly December night in Los Angeles couldn't stop a legion of fans from queuing up hours before doors opened to see Warpaint bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg take center stage at the Echo. The evening marked Linberg’s proper homecoming and release show for her recently-dropped solo album right on!, so it was only fitting, then, that she and her backing band took the stage wearing matching right on! hoodies like a cult.
As far as cult leaders go, Lindberg is an unassuming one. Back in October, she played a low key and somewhat hush-hush live solo debut as Jennylee in the dimly-lit back room of a bowling alley. Rather than playing bass, Lindberg was fully immersed in singing and dancing with a hypnotic intensity. During the set's opening number, she left the All Star Lanes stage to sing and dance with her eyes closed and back turned to the crowd, the first of many times she would hop offstage throughout the show.
In Warpaint, Lindberg sets a foundation of hypnotic bass grooves, and fleshes out the band’s signature harmonies with backing vocals. But as Jennylee, she takes Warpaint's atmospheric mystery and kicks it into a vintage post-punk and goth direction that's equal parts dreamy and agitated.
Compared to that debut show, Jennylee's recent gig felt more assured as she sang and grooved along, often as if in another world. Her acolytes' reactions proved as enthusiastic as her album's upbeat title, especially as she howled on her knees for the finales of "Riot" and "White Devil."
Thirty-six hours later, Jennylee and I hopped on the phone to chat about right on!, stage jitters, the future of guitar bands, and what's in store for Warpaint.
Noisey: Is it more nerve-wracking to do the solo shows versus those with Warpaint?
Jenny Lee Lindberg: It is interesting because I get nervous at Warpaint shows, too. I think I get... It's a little bit easier, to deal with your nerves when you can move around and close your eyes. It's scary, a little bit, when playing bass and singing. Which is why I don't want to do it. Well, one, because I do that all the time in Warpaint, and I wanted to change it up a little bit. But whenever we have shows, like we haven't played in a minute, and have new material, I get really nervous because we haven't done it.
Yeah, like, "How is it going to turn out?"
It's not like we've been doing it for years, and you're just like "Oh, cool." It's new material, so it's not like I don't know it, but it's obviously easier when you know something and… Sorry, I just woke up not too long ago. I'm still on the weirdest schedule from being back from Europe, so I haven't spoken at all today, and I'm just a little bit tired, so forgive me.
Basically, I get the same amount of nervous. I thought I would be more nervous. I get more nervous when we're in Warpaint. When I'm onstage, it takes a minute for the nerves to shake off, but it feels like when I'm moving when I'm doing my solo stuff. I was really, really nervous for that first show. And the minute I started, it was just like "Oh, okay, this is cool," you know? This isn't so bad. I thought I was going to faint. I didn't know what I was going to do, how I was going to do this. I don't want to say it's more fun when you're singing and dancing.
Yeah, it's different! And the nerves sort of dissipate when you're able to dance, and move, and close your eyes and turn around do stuff. I know I move and dance around with the bass, but if I'm singing with the bass, it's like there's nowhere to go. You're just there with the microphone and the bass, you know what I mean? It's hard to get your jujus out. I mean, you're still playing music and expressing yourself, but moving around? Just not a whole lot. Anyway, that was a long answer.
When did the material for right on! start to come about?
Well, there's a couple of songs on there that I wrote some years ago. And then I'd say about the last year and a half or two... I was just kind of writing. We've all been writing our music forever. Just before we were in the band, as well. It's just there's a lot of things I was writing that were either instrumental or there were very minimal vocals, and I think I just had a lot of ideas. The songs weren't really finished, and I just started writing songs and finishing them and gathering content for what I wanted to be a solo record.
But it was very ambiguous and I didn't have any date, and there was no real deadline for myself. And just writing music. I'm still doing it. I'm writing music right now. That's what I do. But it was very loose, and I would say with Warpaint, when we were touring the last album, we would come home for breaks, and then I would go into my studio. All the songs were for the most part demoed and made at my house first, and I was just going to release an album of demos initially and just do everything myself.
When we would come back from tour, I'd have breaks and I'd go make stuff. When we were done touring, we had actually kind of a long break where there was nothing. Maybe we'd have a show a month, but there was a minute there where we were on a break for three or four months. It was just before the holidays, so there was a big chunk of time where I really hunkered down and wrote for the album. Basically I knew I had some time and it would be okay to go into an actual studio. And in what was supposed to be ten days, I had called [producer] Norm [Block] and what I wanted was an engineer and drummer, because I pretty much had my shit sorted. I didn't want a producer. I just wanted an engineer and drummer.
So I called him and I knew that he had a studio and he was a drummer, and I said, "Are you available the next ten days? Can I come in? I have these songs and I need drums," blah blah blah. He moved some stuff around and he fit me in there, and it turned into two and a half months. We wrote two of the songs in the studio, and the rest of the songs were written before. A lot of the songs had beats before, but they were electronic beats. And Norm picked up drum stuff, and I had people come in and play guitar on a few tracks. It was a lot of fun.
When you have a song, or a part or idea of one, what makes it go to Warpaint versus one of your solo songs?
So if I have a bass line and I have a vocal, and I have a guitar part, and I have harmonies, and a piano part, well, there's really no room at that point for anyone else to add anything, so I feel that's my song.
If I just have an idea, and sometimes I've written songs, you know, Stella and I have gone into jams and it was supposed to be a Warpaint song, and I went home and put vocals on it, and it just kind of sat there for a minute. And I was like "no, that's a me song," you know?
What do you think is going to happen in the future with the concept of a band? Will it fall on the wayside since individuals can now more easily create a full band sound with technology, friends, etc?
The concept of a band, I don't think that's going to die. Because even if a person wrote all the music, just one person, they still got people to come in and play. Eventually, you don't have that outlet. I'm sure there are people in the world that have never had that, and that's not what they do, but they also have a very specific sound and there's not very many of them. You know what I mean?
There's a lot of bands out there. I think there's more bands now than there ever have been. Just in general, everyone's in a band. And it's difficult and it comes with its challenges, but I feel if you've experienced that and then you experience making music on your own, it's really nice to have the both. I think that you might get tired of being a band, and you want to do your own thing. And you do your own thing, and that's great, and then I feel like that it won't be long before you actually miss the collaboration.
It's a beautiful thing, to be able to collaborate with people, and I'd say anyone's been blessed that's had the opportunity to be able to do that with other people. I feel like it's definitely something that you would miss. Maybe change would happen and you wouldn't collaborate with the same people, but just the experience of collaborating with other artists, I think is really special and I wouldn't never want to do that again. Even though I really love working on my own and love writing my own songs, and I love dancing, and there's still a sense of collaboration that goes into that project as well. But I love making music with the girls, and if anything were to ever happen to Warpaint and we decided not to do it anymore, I would probably start another band. Or a few different bands. I have many projects going on.
That's kind of where I see the future happening, is people doing multiple things. And that's already starting to happen. There's so many people that are in so many different kinds of bands playing different kinds of music. You can't always get it out in one project, you know what I mean?
Yeah! And nowadays, or just in this generation, that music can be pretty eclectic sounding. Or people just have eclectic tastes and don't get everything out in one sound. So there's lots of people who have lots of bands, so I think maybe the opposite of what you're thinking. The amount of bands that I hear of and see, I'm just like, "Wow, it's so crazy. Everyone's in a band."
What's in the future for Warpaint?
We're writing a third album right now.
How's that going? Does it feel different from the second album?
It's going great. I think it's been nice for everybody to step aside and work on their own thing and then come together and work on stuff with us. It feels fresh; it doesn't feel like we're burnt out from touring. It's nice. A fresh perspective.
It doesn't really feel any different when we go in and write. Each year that goes by, you get more experience, so things just happen, I think, a little bit. I don't want to say easier. It doesn't mean they require less effort. Things just happen. They just happen more quickly. It just comes together. I think when you know what you want more, you have more of a direction. You have the ability to execute it with more conviction. The better you get as a musician, the more experience you have.
Now that you've found your voice with right on!, will you be singing more with Warpaint?
I think this next album, we all want to sing. You know, Warpaint has this sound and I'm not fighting my way to sing, like "Oh, I want to sing on a bunch of songs." But I love it when we all sing together, and I think it works and there's definitely some songs that I have where I'm singing that I'm bringing to the stable. Yeah, there'll be more of it for sure, but hopefully there will be more of all of us singing together, which is what I want.
What's coming up for you in 2016?
Touring. I'm going to tour this album, which I'm excited about. And work on Warpaint. There's only so many confirmed publicly at the moment, but there's a U.S. tour happening in February, a potential European tour happening in April. My plan is to just go to every territory at least one time. That's what I want to do. Probably spend half the year touring. Then festivals in the summertime. Warpaint will probably play some shows in the summertime. We'll be done with the album, so busy year.
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