“We wanted to be flamboyant and ridiculous…” hmv.com talks to The Kills
The Kills are back, finally.
The duo of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince released their last album, Blood Pressures, back in April 2011. Plans to record album number five were delayed by a hand injury that required Hince to have five surgeries and relearn how to play guitar. Another possible source of delay was the breakdown of his marriage to model Kate Moss. Married in 2011, the couple split last year. Mosshart occupied herself with her art and being a member of Jack Black’s band The Dead Weather.
Sufficiently recovered from injuries physical and personal, Mosshart and Hince reunited last year to record Ash & Ice (you can preview and purchase it on the right-hand side of the page) in Los Angeles and New York. The new record, out June 3rd through Domino Records, includes first single 'Doing It to Death' and its follow-up, 'Heart of a Dog'. A third song, 'Siberian Nights', features a video directed by actor Giovani Ribisi. An extensive tour began in March, with additional North American dates scheduled for the fall.
hmv.com spoke to Mosshart and Hince backstage at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall last month. Among the topics discussed were Hince’s hand, the band’s fans, their punk roots, and why The Kills never want to be as big as Taylor Swift.
You’re deep into your first tour for this album. Jamie, did you have any particular anxiety going into this tour because of your finger?
Jamie: “Not specific to my injury. Because I’d already done all the auditioning I needed to do to know that I could play. People might disagree but I feel like I’m a much better guitar player now. I don’t know why that is. It’s because I don’t rely on anything normal or orthodox anymore. I used to think my heart bone was connected to my hand bone. But now I think my brain bone is connected to my hand bone. And I think more about it, you know? And it’s a really nice way of playing.”
Jamie, outside of how it might affect your guitar playing, what does that kind of an injury do to your sense of your control over your own body?
Jamie: “I’m aware that I’m not 19 anymore, and there are things that I’m careful about much more now. I was a lot more reckless with my body. The thing that came out of this is I discovered that I’m an extremely positive person. I’d say much more than the majority of people I know. And it surprised me because I didn’t think I’d be like that. I thought I’d be pragmatic and erring on the pessimistic side. But I’m super-positive. I’m a f--king lifesaver. And that really threw me when I found that out.”
How did you find that out?
Jamie: “I was at a 17-year-old’s birthday party and there was a 100-year-old man there who started choking and I basically saved his life, which is why I’m saying I’m a lifesaver.”
Alison: “I remember that!”
Jamie: “And everyone else was like ‘Oh nooooo!’ and I just went straight to work. I surprised myself. I was shocked!”
Allison: “I think any time you have an injury or illness or anything like that, it’s kind of life-affirming. You have to really psych yourself out of going down the drain and working around it. At the beginning of this tour I had a sprained knee. I couldn’t walk. And every single day felt like it would last forever. What if it doesn’t heal? What if I need to get knee surgery? What if I’m out for six months, right when the record comes out? It’s so easy to do something like that and injure yourself. It just happens. I think we got our bad shit out of the way. We’re good.”
There was a five-year gap between albums which, to fans, seems like a long time. Did it feel like a long time to you two?
Alison: “It only started to feel like a long time when we were still touring in 2015 and playing those songs for the 90 millionth time. As a performer you want to play new material. That’s when it really starts to feel like you need to work on new stuff.”
Jamie: “And we had obviously expected the record to come out a lot earlier. But we had started to book shows thinking we would be playing new material. And that’s when I started getting frustrated because these shows started to come up and we realized we were just going to be playing old songs again, and it was like ‘Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.’ And we’d do that and then run back to the studio and completely get immersed in this new music again.”
What kick-started getting back to making new music?
Alison: “It was just time. His hand was doing better. He was playing, we were writing. He’d done a lot of work. He’d built a studio in the time he was injured; he started working on stuff in there. It was just time.”
Jamie: “I was in the studio all the f--king time. Every time I wasn’t on tour I was in the studio. Or in hospital.”
You’ve talked about Ash & Ice being a difficult record to make. Have any of them been easy?
Jamie: “No, never.”
Alison: “I don’t think you ever feel like that when it’s happening. It’s always all or nothing.”
Jamie: “Well, actually, that’s not strictly true. Maybe not in terms of albums but I remember us remarking on [2002’s] Black Rooster EP, which is the first thing we recorded, and thinking it’s almost too good to be true. I’d always struggled with recording in my previous bands, and this was the first time it was exactly the way I wanted it to sound. Everything about it was exactly how I wanted it. I’d say that was an easy record to make in that sense. It took two days, and it was easy.”
What did you want to accomplish when you two first got together? Was there a plan?
Jamie: “Not really. We were aware that we were on the cusp of a cyber revolution that was going to change a lot of things, and it was making the politics of music, which I was always obsessed with, you know, being brought up with anarcho-punk and riot grrl and all that - Fugazi, hardcore - you could see that a big change was going to happen.
“And I revisited a few early interviews of ours where I said it was dumb to have manifestoes and mission statements because the world is the thing that is going to change, not you, and you are going to have to adapt (laughs). So we never set out to have any goals, did we?”
Alison: “We had aesthetic goals.”
Jamie: “There were artistic things. We wanted to show ourselves as standing against this boring, monotonous, down-to-earth music that everybody was doing, like singer-songwriter shit where people walk on stage in a pair of cargo pants and a T-shirt. There’s no performance or anything. We wanted to be against that. We wanted to be flamboyant and ridiculous in a lot of ways.”
You two seem close. What is the longest period you generally go without communicating?
Jamie: “Two weeks?”
Alison: “Maybe two weeks, tops.”
Jamie: “When I say two weeks, I’m thinking of when I was in my holiday phase, where Kate would make me go on holiday all the time. [Mosshart laughs] There would be times when I would be on a beach, drinking piña coladas, with no reception. But I can’t imagine two weeks without seeing you or when I didn’t talk to you. It’s ridiculous.”
Taylor Swift cultivates the illusion of a personal relationship with her fans. The Kills have always seemed cooler, more distant. What is your relationship like with your fans?
Alison: “I really love our audience. I don’t think we come at that love from a pop mentality or a social media place. I think it’s genuine, being on stage. I don’t know. It’s something I can feel, not something I can describe to you. It’s wonderful, it’s great. I don’t know what Taylor Swift does exactly. I’m sure something that I’m not doing.”
Jamie: “She has a lot more fans than we have.”
Alison: “She does.”
Jamie: “But I would think that the people who make it down to the front rows must be pretty intense. That electricity between her and those first few rows must be fatally dangerous.”
Would you ever want to be that popular?
Jamie: “No, because the nature of pop music is that you build up as big an audience as you can, regardless of whether they like your music. In a way.”
Alison: “It’s more like a lifestyle.”
Jamie: “It’s much more focused on amassing a following, and selling and units and all this sort of thing, in the most cynical way. It’s the nature of pop music. And the nature of punk music, which is where we came from, was just we do this thing and there will be people who relate to it and want to be part of it, and maybe they won’t ever be 20 percent of the population. Even if it’s just 20 people, it’s going to be some life-changing shit.”
I’ve just read that Joe Corré, the son of punk music architects Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren and the co-founder of lingerie company Agent Provocateur, has announced that he is going to burn his collection of 40 years of punk memorabilia in protest against proposed celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the birth of punk. What do you make of that?
Jamie: “Joe is a friend of mine, actually. He came to my wedding and gave me a rather ridiculous full-sized statue of Elvis on a microphone which ended up in a swimming pool by the end of the night. I think it’s interesting. Because it’s not like The KLF burning a million pounds [which the British dance band actually did in 1995.] These are specific things, and it does have a real punk attitude. Punk was a youth explosion. There’s no reason why it should be in a museum necessarily.
“The only sort of crack in his armour is that there is a privilege to it. He inherited that. It’s not necessarily his. Why shouldn’t pictures of people wearing this stuff back in the day be valuable?”
Alison: “Why didn’t he just burn it and tell everyone he burned it later, rather than tell everyone he was going to burn it?”
Jamie: “Well, because that’s the nature of where that strain of punk came from; that it’s obstreperous and it wants to wind people up, and it wants to give them something that they don’t understand.”
Alison: “For some reason it makes me bored with it.”
Alison: “I’m not shocked (laughs).”
Jamie: “I mean I’m not shocked. He’s a very rich man. He sold Agent Provocateur for £50 million! You can’t say you’re a street kid that’s getting rid of your punk things. He should burn his fucking house down! That would be punk.”