With the release of both a new solo project and a Warpaint album, Jenny Lee Lindberg is finding inspiration in the moment
While most people did whatever they could to stay occupied during the pandemic — be it baking bread, binge-watching shows, or picking up a new hobby — Jenny Lee Lindberg took advantage of the downtime to focus all of her energy into her music. Relocating to Utah for three years before recently moving back to Los Angeles, Lindberg wrote, recorded, and released her sophomore solo album Heart Tax, while tandemly putting the finishing touches on her band Warpaint’s fourth studio album, Radiate Like This. The two releases are vastly different stylistically, but they equally encapsulate her personality as a songwriter and a bass player.
Heart Tax features a prominent upbeat, indie-pop feel that focuses on Lindberg’s vocals and oftentimes unorthodox bass playing — which was the final part she composed on all of the songs. Writing her bass lines last allowed her to sculpt them in different ways that alter a song’s vibe while also holding all of the components together. This effect is most prominent on “Tickles,” “Heart Tax,” “Clinique,” and “Hallows Eve.” As a whole, the album is a departure and evolution from her 2015 solo debut, Right On, as Lindberg’s maturity as a songwriter and recognizability as a bass player are clearly illustrated on her new material.
Radiate Like This, the long-awaited album from Warpaint and first release since 2016’s Heads Up, found Lindberg doing the opposite process by recording the bass tracks first, before anything else was tracked in the studio. Alongside drummer Stella Mozgawa, Lindberg knocked out the rhythm section’s performance right as the lockdown hit, which led to a two-year waiting game before the record saw the light of day. Stylistically, the beautiful album oscillates in mood, capturing every bit of emotion the band went through to get to the finish line of the process. Lindberg’s bass steers the emotional temperament of the songs, reaching euphoric highs on “Champion,” “Stevie,” and “Send Nudes,” while brooding accordingly on “Like Sweetness,” “Altar,” and “Trouble.”
Despite the sonic differences between the two albums, the consistent factors in all of Lindberg’s playing are her trusty Rickenbacker 4001 bass, her ever-present Boss chorus pedal, and her refusal to succumb to clichés in her lines. Her love of writing on the spot and in the moment has proven effective in finding outside-of-the-box ways to approach songwriting and distinguish her own style as a bassist. After releasing these two albums, that style is bolder and more prominent than ever before.
Between Warpaint and your solo album, you’ve unveiled a lot of music lately. What inspired this major output?
It had been a long time since I’d put out a record, having released Right On in 2015, so it felt like it was time. I had been collecting ideas and putting together songs for a few years. My plan was to put out my solo record first, but then the pandemic stalled Warpaint’s recording process. We were supposed to put the record out a year before we did. Things kept getting pushed back, which gave us more time — and then the releases of my solo album and the Warpaint album were very close to each other, so I ended up working on them simultaneously. I had already recorded my parts on the Warpaint album with Stella, so we were mostly done with drums and bass and were waiting to track vocals. But I still had to be in it for the arranging and mixing, which primarily was happening through Zoom, so it felt very much like I was doing double duty.
With the long span between your release of both records, how did you evolve as a songwriter?
It was six more years of experience and playing and evolving as a person. I learned about a lot of new things and acquired new tastes and new inspirations. When I listen to Right On! [her 2015 solo debut], I get nostalgic and reminiscent about myself when I was 16 years old. My composing, lyric-writing, singing, and playing for my solo stuff is pretty simple. Whatever I’m playing is very repetitive, like a continual blank canvas so I can come up with vocals and find the counter-rhythms and pockets for melody. Whether it’s a bass line or guitar riff, the skeletons of my songs are very basic, and then I develop them and re-record over them. For my solo album, I put my bass on last, which was nice because I was able to be more indulgent and have some fun. Doing it that way puts a little fire under your butt to step out and try new things. You can interplay with other parts instead of it being the first part tracked, which can make it go in a lot of different directions.
Aside from recording bass last, how was this process different from your previous ones?
With this record I felt like I had a bit more to say, lyrically, whereas Right On! was a little more mantra-based, and I love that shit, too. For this one I had more stories to tell, so there were more words. I started a lot of songs on guitar and worked out the lyrics from there, and then I gave myself a wide range to play around with my bass — while also complementing and holding everything down, without being too floaty. Making my bass the final touch allowed me to explore with it and find some things that I otherwise might not have.
“Clinique” sounds very much centered around your bass. Did you write the song around it?
That was actually supposed to be a Warpaint song for Radiate Like This, and I honestly don’t even feel like it belonged on my solo album. It didn’t feel very cohesive with either album, but I realized it didn’t belong on Radiate. I wrote that in the studio with Stella, which is how a lot of songs have started in the past. We recorded it, liked it, and structured it, and then I took it home and put vocals on it. Emily [Kokal] and Teressa [Wayman] recorded on it when we were debating about keeping it on the album, but I put it on my record, so it was a family affair.
The low-end placement on “Heart Tax” is awesome and patiently rolls around the vocals. Is that synth bass?
It is synth bass, but I layered my electric bass on top of it. I think that might be my favorite song on the album.
What was the writing process like for Radiate Like This?
I wrote a lot of the songs in the studio. With previous records we would write together, and then we’d go into the studio to record after we’d played those song for a while. This time around there was much more writing in the studio. I appreciate doing it both ways. I like having preparation and time with the material, but I also enjoy seeing what happens on the spot. You don’t have too much time to think about things or second-guess them. It’s much more feeling-based and reacting, which is extra nice when it works.
Do you tend to write better when you go with your first instinct?
Yeah, I do. Unless I’m writing a song collaboratively, I like figuring out my parts in the moment. That allows me to figure out what is most exciting. In my writing in Warpaint, oftentimes the first ideas I had were the best because I wasn’t thinking about them too deeply. Obviously you want to put energy and effort into it, but I don’t want to think too much when it comes to music. It’s not like I’m being lazy; I just want it to be natural. There’s some magic in the first impulse that you usually can’t replicate.
How did you dial in your tone on this album?
It’s pretty basic, to be honest. I [usually] play with my chorus on, which is standard for me. There are some songs where it needs to be a little more muted or with less pizazz. On a song like “Stevie,” I didn’t want to play with chorus, so I kept it dry, essentially. If we’re playing in the room or when we’re writing I’ll throw on an octave pedal, but it depends on what the song calls for. Delay and chorus are my two go-to tools.
Your chorus pedal is a huge part of your sound. At what point in your career did you turn that pedal on and not turn it off again?
My very first amp was a Peavey TNT150, which had a chorus already built in. I turned it on and discovered how much I loved chorus. You could adjust the rate and the depth, and I simply loved it. When I moved on from that amp, I bought the Boss Chorus [CE-2] and I’ve been using it ever since. With Warpaint I almost always have it on.
“Stevie” has a great bass groove. How did that song come about?
Emily had written that song on either guitar or piano, and she had it floating around for a while. When we were deciding which songs we were going to put on the album, it came up. That one was actually challenging for me. I wrote my parts over the span of a couple of days. I’m always hard on myself, and I like to get my part right away, but this one I put a lot of thought into. Our producer [Sam Petts-Davies] had visions and suggestions for this song, which I’m totally fine with, and he was also trying to extract some “newness” out of me. I got taken out of my comfort zone quite a bit. I had to surrender to the process and be open to the suggestions, even though it felt a little suffocating at times. But I was grateful for the challenge — I really had to lean into it. I’m proud of my work on that song, and I’m happy that I was pushed past where I would normally go. We all have habits in our playing, so to get beyond that is very freeing.
You have a great approach on the song and resist a lot of bass clichés that would have fit in easily.
I always try to resist clichés. When I hear other people play them, it doesn’t bug me, but I try to never to go with the obvious choice. If it’s a standard part, then it’s usually not the most interesting thing to do, although some songs don’t need much at all. There’s always a unique, creative way to do simple.
After sitting on the album release and not being able to tour, how does it feel to finally play these songs live?
I was a little stressed out, as we all were, because we had written all of those songs in the box and we hadn’t played them together, live, or ever, really. We knew we had our work cut out for us to learn and internalize the songs, so we could be loose with them when we perform them. We didn’t have much time to rehearse, either — we only had a month, which may seem like a lot of time, but I wanted more. I pretended we’d been touring with these songs before we actually hit the road. Usually toward the end of the tour after playing the songs each night, you get so much tighter and better as a band. I always want to start a tour like that. This time around, we used quite a lot of backing tracks. We picked six new songs to play, and we stripped some back and did different versions. Our live versions of songs are usually very different from our recorded ones. We transpose a lot and we come up with changes along the way. This time we made some synth lines from the album into guitar lines and added backing tracks to fill out the sound. I play some synths on this material, on songs like “Hips.” It was a lot of fun figuring out how to present these songs in a live setting.
You and Stella are such an amazing rhythm section. What’s it like playing with her?
Very telepathic. I feel extremely supported and taken care of by her, which affords me the freedom to listen and lock in, and not think about what’s going to happen next. We both know that it will travel where it needs to go, so we don’t even have to get heady about it. Because of that, it only takes us like five minutes to write a song. We jam together and out come parts A, B, and C, and then we structure it a bit, and there it is. It’s very effortless writing and playing live with her. Every night is a lot of fun, and I feel very blessed that I get to play with her.
You recently played on Phoebe Bridgers’ new album. What was that like?
That was a fun experience. I had never met her before, but I had known her producer, Tony Berg, for a while, and I knew her drummer, Marshall Vore. I got the call because she had been performing with Connor Oberst [as Better Oblivion Community Center], and I had recorded on Connor’s Bright Eyes album, and known him for a while. He recommended me to Phoebe and introduced us, and we set it up. She was very sweet. I came in and played over the track, as everything else was already finished. Actually, we recorded three songs in one day, and it was very relaxed. They were open to letting me explore and never told me what to play. We laughed a lot and got along really well. She had sent me the songs ahead of time, and I liked them. Most times I don’t like hearing the music before I go into the studio to record with an artist, because I like to go with my first response to their music in the moment.
You’ve become synonymous with your Rickenbacker bass. What do you like about it?
I love the brightness and clarity. You can also do subbier, more muted types of playing. It has a little bit of everything with its tone. I like playing chords, and it reacts well to that, too. I have a lot of other basses, but I have such a relationship with the Rick that it’s all I ever want to use. I know her so well. When I play other basses it kind of feels like a different instrument altogether, and I approach it differently, not being as familiar with it. I’ll do that for creativity and to change things up — I’ll write something on my Kay bass or my Fender Precision, and then I’ll play it on my Rickenbacker and it’s just better. Maybe it’s because I’m so familiar with her and it feels like home.
Why bass? How does the instrument resonate with your personality?
When I picked it up, it was the most practical instrument to start playing, when the drums and everything else felt out of reach. It happened serendipitously. I was in Reno when I was 18, where I’m from, visiting home after I had moved to L.A., and I was talking with my friend and told him I wanted to start playing an instrument. I had no desire to play guitar, as it just didn’t appeal to me. He had a bass that he offered to let me borrow. I had never found anything at that point in my life that could hold my attention and make me passionate like the bass did. I was determined to learn it, use it, and get better. As a child I had pretty bad ADHD, and my mom was open about letting me follow my passions, whether it was dance, softball, karate, or any activity. Sometimes I wish I had played piano growing up, but I’m happy I learned music later in life when it was something I wanted to do. Bass is what was calling to me. and I picked it up very naturally. I always tell people that bass is easy to learn but really hard to get good at. –BM
Hear Her On
Warpaint, Radiate Like This [2022, Virgin]
Jenny Lee Lindberg, Heart Tax 
Bass 1978 Rickenbacker 4001, 1950s Kay upright bass
Rig Fender Bassman, Fender Bassman 610Neo, Ampeg SVT-CL, Ampeg SVT-810E
Pedals Boss CE-2 Chorus, Boss OC-3 Super Octave, Boss DD-6 Digital Delay, Way Huge Pork Loin Overdrive, Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail, Pro Co Turbo Rat
Strings D’Addario Medium Roundwounds
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