Right on!

Jennylee Lindberg on Warpaint, going solo and creating music to dance to

  • Text Alex James Taylor
  • Photography  Trent McGinn
  • Fashion Courtney Kryston
  • 24th September 2016
Music

Jenny Lee Lindberg takes the stage of Brooklyn venue Baby’s All Right by the light of 1,000 violet-blue bulbs. With a simple “Here it goes” the LA native drops into her groove, performing tracks from her debut solo record right on! to a sea of transfixed eyes. When, amidst the fervent capering, a rare moment of serenity surfaces. Lindberg’s glance turns towards the heavens, frozen. Lost in the moment. When, equal to a hypnotist’s click, she is roused by the thud of the snare and descends into gyration; hair flailing, limbs loose. In that instant the lyrics to her track boom boom harmonise with her movement, “If you see me/move my body/move your body.” And Lindberg’s solo mantra is established.

As an intrinsic cog in the acclaimed Warpaint machine, Lindberg wields a notoriety for being an ardent experimentalist, her formidable bass style – a sultry off-kilter pulse – has become synonymous with their elemental sound. Striking out alone, those slippery time signatures and inviting arrangements remain intact, yet translated to a more intimate and personal soundscape. It is here that Lindberg announces herself as an amorous chanteuse.

It all started a few years ago when Lindberg first dipped her toe into the hazy pool of solo songwriting. Over the phone from Los Angeles, she explains, “I got to a point where I wanted to share my own music, outside of Warpaint. Once I decided I was going to do it, I went for it.”

And go for it she did, under the moniker Jennylee. For if music be the food of love, then right on! is a ten course fusion mezze, half aphrodisiac entrées, half hearty platefuls. In this context, there’s a whole lot to chew on. Even the slightest sonic effects – be they the diaphanous guitar swirls that swan-dive through the opening of never, or the candid clicks of he fresh – gain resonance.

 

“I just didn’t know what my voice was, what I wanted to say, and I think after a while when you’re more mature and have more life experience, you realise that you don’t have to actually know what you have to say or know what you have to think, it just comes out.”

Every subtle chord shift and breathy sigh feels considered, oscillating between surreal grooves and intimate melancholy throws, Lindberg’s debut anthology glistens with crystalline textures; unyielding yet shimmering. Opening track blind kicks into gear with an ominous bass thud (what else?) and sets the tone onwards. Atmospheric, driving, otherworldly.

Alex James Taylor: Last week you played your first solo show, the album went down a storm with the audience.

Jenny Lee Lindberg: It was such a blast, I was super nervous but the minute I got on stage I felt empowered and knew the only thing to do was give it my all and have fun. When all you’re trying to do is have a good time, I think anything will translate well. When I made the album I didn’t want to include anything that we’d be like, “How can we play this live?” I wanted it to be accessible and translate to the stage performance, but with a rawness, the songs are free to move and change.

AJT Do you always tend to get nervous before a gig, even with Warpaint?
JLL: I get nervous before every gig, for sure. Especially if we haven’t played in a while and are playing new material, I get extremely nervous. When you’re on tour and playing together each night you get tight and comfortable, but then when we haven’t done that, “Oh shit!” You feel exposed and vulnerable. I’ve only played two solo shows like, ever, so yeah, I was pretty nervous showing people those tracks for the first time.

AJT: I noticed that you didn’t play bass live, did you feel like it was restricting you on stage?
JLL: Well with my solo material I have a band, and I wanted to focus my attention on the vocals and performance. Performing with an instrument can be a bit restricting and I wanted to be able to move and dance and really get into the music.

AJT: So what spurred you on to making a solo record? Have you always been working on solo material during your spare time?
JLL Yeah, I’ve been making my own music for a long time and then I suddenly got to a point where I wanted to take it to the next level and share it. I’ve always written my own music, often just writing bassline after bassline, I’ve been doing that for a while but the vocals were always pretty minimal because I didn’t really like the sound of my own voice for a long time. I just didn’t know what my voice was, what I wanted to say, and I think after a while when you’re more mature and have more life experience, you realise that you don’t have to actually know what you have to say or know what you have to think, it just comes out. If you allow yourself to just be free, open and receptive to whatever is going on, if you are all those things then it’s actually really easy to make music. I realised that when I was coming from that sort of place, a very vulnerable, open, non-judgment and free space, I really enjoyed my voice because it was my voice, and whatever I was singing or saying actually meant something to me. It was real.

AJT: Sure, so was there one particular catalyst that made you want to turn those demos into a fully realised solo record?
JLL: So I’d been making my own music and I knew that there were songs that I wrote that weren’t necessarily for the band. I’ve been sort of compiling things over the years, or at least just getting my feet wet with writing songs and finishing them. The first song I ever wrote from start to finish, I took my time on, I structured it and everything, it’s a song that was actually on the last Warpaint album. I loved it and definitely wanted to carry it on and actually release something of my own. So I’ve been compiling material of my own for a few years now, but it wasn’t until about a year ago that I actually went home and said to myself, “I’m starting.” I went downstairs into my studio and began the process. Originally it was just going to be demos that I’d recorded but then I thought, “No, I’m going to take it to the next level, I’m going to take it to the studio and I want these songs to be fully realised,” you know? I wanted the songs to be the way I hear them in my head.

AJT: Do you tend to have people around you when you’re writing music or is it more of a solitary activity for you?
JLL: I do it myself for the most part. It always helps when Stella [Mozgawa, Warpaint drummer] gives me a beat or something, it’s always a bit more creative when it’s something organic like that, rather than using the computer or a drum machine, or whatever, which is great, it gets the song going and keeps the groove going, and is really helpful for writing. But when you’ve got the creativity from a real person it’s a different thing. But that happens too when I’m on the drum machine and I hear a beat I really like and it’s like, “Boom, yeah!”

AJT: You co-produced the album with Norm Block, his band Plexi were known for that really unique experimental, fusion sound, a trait that matches right on!, were you guys already friends?
JLL: I’ve known him for a long time, we used to play drum and bass together just for fun and we had a really good musical dynamic, so when I wanted to take my songs to the studio I thought of him immediately. He’s an engineer; he mixes, plays drums and is just a great person to work with.

AJT: For sure, it’s more raw and intimate than your work with Warpaint, which you’d expect from a solo album, did that come naturally?
JLL: Yeah, I just wanted it to sound real. I feel like there is a little bit of every genre of music I love and am inspired by and amazed by, in the record. I didn’t want it overproduced and that’s the kind of sound you get from that New Wave era music, I love it when music sounds raw and elemental, but still has a song there you can follow. I mean, with Warpaint stuff I love our demos, I love when we just record ourselves playing together, I sometimes like that better than the actual songs that end up on the record, because it’s just real. Not very many people do that but it’s really nice to capture the moment and be able to share it with people, I think people can associate with that. Obviously on right on! some of the tracks are more personal than others, I wanted the album to have that candid feel to it, and you can’t hold back.

“I’ve got to be able to move with it and move to it, it has to make me feel something and if it doesn’t then I’m not doing my job as a musician, I’m not serving myself as an artist.”

AJT: Your track bully seems to be one of those types, is it referring to a particular person or situation?
JLL: You know, that song was actually just written as a hypothetical situation, it’s just basically a song to any bully. I never got bullied when I was little, it’s just something that came into my head. But then I realised that yeah, I’m sure at some point in my life I’ve definitely felt pushed around, most of the time I get on with people really well, but there’s always going to be people who don’t like you for particular reasons. I’ve always looked to avoid confrontation, I’ve never been a fighter, ever. I’d always just walk the other way, and maybe not even stick up for myself, so maybe in a way this song is an ode to anyone who’s ever pushed me around, or anyone who’s ever pushed anyone around.

AJT: You spoke about preferring tracks stripped back and raw, are you good at knowing when a song is finished?
JLL: Yes. I very much know when a song is done. Often it’s when it’s the most simple it can be. If it’s the barest and most minimal it can be, and I like it like that, I know that there’s very little to add to it. My plan for the whole album was to keep it very elemental and raw and try and get those hooks and get whatever it is that you’re trying to get across, you don’t need so many ingredients, if you can do that with minimal components I feel like that is pretty amazing. I like that idea of making something as good, and as simple, as possible, that can be the hardest thing. Overproducing can often kill a song, if you feel the need to keep putting layer and layer on it, then maybe the song is just shit [laughs].

AJT: I’ve heard youpreviously speak about taking up bass to create music to dance to, and you’re very influenced by movement. For you, how deep does the connection go between music and dance?
JLL: Whenever I’m writing I’m like, “My groove is this”, it’s got to be something that moves me. Like any kind of music, even if it’s slow or a bit melancholy or a bit prettier, or whatever, it still has to move me. I like to mix components that urge your body to move in different directions and groove with the music.

AJT: Have you ever done dancing professionally or taken classes?
JLL: Yeah, I started dancing when I was about eight years old and did it on and off. I still do classes and have a girl who teaches me privately every once in a blue moon. But I sort of stopped for a while, I was still dancing 24/7, but I wasn’t taking classes per se.

AJT: The way the record flows is reminiscent of a dance routine, in the way the songs move with each other and flow into one another at different speeds. When I listen to it as a whole I can sort of imagine it being performed as a dance routine.
JLL: [laughs] Dance routine, I love that saying.

AJT: [laughs] I’m thinking more ballet than Beyoncé style. Is that how you see it?
JLL: Definitely, I have always loved music that makes me move and dance and I guess that has always been my goal when it comes to writing my own music, or with the girls. I’ve got to be able to move with it and move to it, it has to make me feel something and if it doesn’t then I’m not doing my job as a musician, I’m not serving myself as an artist.

AJT: There’s also a really strong narrative woven through the entire album, there are characters and settings that come in and out of each track. In that way it is like a movie score, it’s very atmospheric.
JLL: Yeah I see that, maybe it could be the soundtrack to a horror film, that would be cool [laughs]. I would love to make a soundtrack for a horror film, but like old school, John Carpenter Halloween style. That music is amazing. There was a movie released recently and the music was so well done for it, It Follows. The music is amazing and really adds to the atmosphere and overall aesthetic.

AJT: Would you say that you found it easier to push yourself and explore different avenues because it was all on your own back, so to speak? You didn’t have three other people’s opinions to consider, as you do with Warpaint.
JLL: You know what? It’s not about letting other people down, it’s just about being really excited that you have all these ideas, and when you’re writing with other people in a band… it’s like people have asked me, “How do you know if it’s a song for you or how do you know if it’s a song for Warpaint?” And I usually know by if I just have a bassline for a song, or if I have that whole song complete in my mind. If I just have a cool bassline I’ll take it to the girls and see what they can do with it. If it’s a song of my own I have all the ideas, I know exactly what I want the bass to do, the vocals to do, and everything else. There were songs of mine that they wanted to make band songs and I was like, “No, I’m going to keep that for myself because I don’t want to change one thing about it,” and I don’t think that’s fair to bring that to the table and ask them not to alter it.

AJT: Sure, and I suppose it has made you more confident as a musician, it’s an amazing achievement.
JLL: Yeah, I think that I was able to do it and write all the songs and express myself, the most surprising thing was not being so hard on myself, having freedom to be open and create. I feel like when you create art from that place it’s the most liberating feeling ever, and 99.9 percent of the time, you actually love what you’re doing. It’s like a stream of consciousness; you’re just living in the moment, enjoying yourself and creating music that flows directly from that freedom. I feel that when you’re in the studio you have to let tracks take their own route and not worry about the sound changing course, the studio is a place for creativity and openness.

AJT: Absolutely. Nirvana wrote On a Plain spontaneously in the studio. I think that really takes you back to the core of songwriting, it’s where the magic happens.
JLL: Definitely, there are two tracks on the album where Norm and I did just that and it was great. It was so nice from my perspective having these absolutely fresh songs on the album, because the other ones I’d had in mind for a while. We just jammed out with bass and drums and got never and white devil, vocals and guitar just came naturally to it, everything happened very effortlessly.

AJT: Are you taking the album on tour then?
JLL: Absolutely, there are a few things on the table at the moment but I definitely want to take it on tour, I’m really excited about that.

‘Heads Up’ by Warpaint is out Friday, 23rd September on Rough Trade. 

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