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Warpaint’s Theresa Wayman talks all-female festivals, Depeche Mode’s live chops and more

By Jay Cridlin
Warpaint. Photo by Mia Kirby via Sacks & Co.

This isn't how Warpaint's first trip to Tampa was supposed to go.

Not that there's anything wrong with the Gasparilla Music Festival, which the L.A. indie rockers will play on Saturday as one of this year's top-billed bands (click here for details). But the group was supposed to make their Tampa debut last September, opening for Depeche Mode at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, before Hurricane Irma got in the way, forcing the show to be canceled.

"It felt like really strange times," guitarist Theresa Wayman said by phone from Los Angeles. "There was a lot of weird stuff going on at that time. When we were in Las Vegas, there was the shooting the night we left with (Depeche Mode). Then we were up in Northern California pretty much right as those big fires were starting, so San Francisco, there was ash in the air everywhere. The U.S. and the world in general just seemed pretty ominous at that time."

Warpaint's music can feel like that sometimes, too — but in a good way. The group's hazy but melodic music toes the line between dreamwave and Gothic pop in an effortlessly fashionable way, making them hipster and festival favorites the world over. Their eclectic summer schedule features appearances at major music festivals in Europe and an Asian tour with (of all people) Harry Styles, but so far only one date in America. That's Saturday at GMF.

Before the show, Wayman talked about getting off the beaten path in America, the concept of all-female festivals and more.

Since the Depeche Mode tour never made it to Tampa, how was it? What's your review?

I watched it over and over again, and I didn't get bored of it. The way that Dave Gahan in particular connects with the audience, is always electrifying. Martin (Gore) has a really different kind of stage presence. He's written all those songs, but the songs he signs on the tour are ones that people really, really have a strong, heartfelt connection to. It just is an overwhelming experience to be a part of that, to see such a large audience of people being so happy and filled with joy and emotion.

I'm guessing that tour took you to some cities you'd never been to before. Tampa was going to be one of them. At this point in your career, does it mean anything to you to come to a city for the first time?

It definitely makes a difference. It's nice to see new faces and to feel like as you're traveling, you're not just hitting the same spots al the time, that you get to branch off and see what other people are doing in other parts of the world and connect with people. I think it matters a lot.

There's a perception here, as in probably a lot of cities, that cool bands like Warpaint just don't come here. Which isn't true, but is that something you've heard in the past? That when you come to town, it maybe means something different from, like, REO Speedwagon coming to town?

Yeah, definitely. I think San Antonio was on our trip this last time. We just did our own show on one of (Depeche Mode's) days off, and we went to San Antonio, and we'd never been there. I don't know how small it is, but it felt small, at least the area we were in — kind of a quaint little place, but that could have just been the neighborhood we were in. I felt like it was really important to be there because there were people that really wanted to see us, and so we were greeted with open arms. It was just this special night.

It's always odd hearing a band like Warpaint on a big, bright, hot festival stage — which it's going to be, probably, in Tampa. Your music sounds very much like a soundtrack for dim interiors.

I know. (laughs)

Has it been a challenge to go out and play in the mid-afternoon at a huge festival?

Yes. (laughs)

How have you adapted to that?

I guess by appreciating that we are even being asked to play. But I definitely don't prefer daytime shows unless they happen to be more folky and low-key festivals, where there are people out with picnic blankets, and it's just kind of dreamy in its essence. But if it's this blaring, hot, disconnected stage in the middle of the day, it's not usually my favorite. But you can't always get those bigger slots.

One festival you're playing is Grrrl Noise in Mexico City — it's you guys and Cat Power and Best Coast; it's meant to be a female-led festival. Have you played an event like that before?

No, not quite like that. I'm excited to be in an all-female festival. Does Lilith Fair exist anymore?

They tried to revive it, and it didn't take off. Maybe it would now if they launched it again.

Yeah. I think just even talking about (Lilith Fair) is good energy, thinking, "Oh, this is all-female, look who's on the bill.' There's something special about it without even it being there.

There's this coalition of like 45 festivals around the world that says they're going to aim for a 50-50 gender split in their lineups by 2022. What do you think about that? How do you see that playing out?

I mean, it could work well. But it could also be forced. It depends on what kind of music women start doing. You have to have the content there in order to do that — unless the content's already there and they're not doing that on purpose. But I don't think that's the case. There are a lot of women doing music, but not as many as men. It kind of makes sense that it's weighted, because you have to have performances. I know there's also politics involved in ticket sales and stuff like that. It kind of depends on what the audience is more open to as well.

Each festival is so different in the criteria of who can headline and who can't. And I don't think it's always gender-based. I think it's just about money, and right now, it's probably more male bands making money or drawing crowds than female. But who knows? There's a lot of powerful, strong pop female figures, too, and that's where a lot of the money is at.

Rock In Rio just announced their Lisbon version is going to do an all-female day this summer, with Katy Perry headlining.

Oh, cool. But all-female — does that mean her whole band is going to be female?

I don't know if it'd be an all-female band. It'd just be her band, I assume.

It would be interesting if somebody did that, though — if a festival was like, "Okay, we're going all-female, and that's the rule." So maybe you'd have to have people headline that don't normally headline, which would give a chance to people like Warpaint. We headline sometimes, but it's specific markets. Maybe that would be a cool thing to do.

— Jay Cridlin