"Get Back to the Chaos" with the Kills

by Andrew Phillips


I think he’s rolling a joint, nonchalantly spreading the leaves out over the paper. I nervously glance at the sign taped to the dressing room wall; it outlaws such spirituous smoking. It’s a moment before I realize that his pouch is clearly filled with tobacco; Jamie Hince (aka Hotel) is a chain-smoker, one for whom Marlboros hold no delight. When Alison Mosshart (aka W) enters the dressing room, she takes up the pouch and, with equal expertise, rolls a cigarette of her own.

Through the smoke, the Kills’ presence is sinister, the same shadowy imagery that adorns the cover of their recent RCA/Rough Trade release No Wow. They have an ashen, road-worn air, the mark of the discontented artist. Their music holds similar mystique: dark, cagey rock with a barrage of odd electronic adornments. Their continuous reaches for the tobacco pouch, the forward arc of Allison’s hand when she holds her cigarette, is all it takes to make the image complete.

Of course, it’s just imagery, like when the duo lunge violently towards one another on stage, grinding their guitars noisily together so that the strings touch and scrape. The Kills make you feel like something sinister and sexy is going on just below the surface. Alison will bounce her leg forward, a cocksure strut, pounding throaty words into the microphone while Jamie, skin weathered and drooping, gazes longingly towards her. They’re artists of a true, dark breed.

But when the smoke clears Alison, a Florida native, and Jamie, from London, are personable, despite their collective cool. And the sexual tension? It wafts away. Both remain distant but they’re not unapproachable—rather, they’re just mired in artistic purpose. They’ve done their rounds—Alison started playing in prestigious pop-punk band Discount when she was only 14—and are no strangers to the art of making art. Still, a lot of what they say sounds like A-grade art-school bullshit; but from these two, I buy it. They seem genuinely interested in the works of John Cage, Suicide, and Andy Warhol, and believe their music an earnest attempt to mirror those artists’ unique sprit and vision.

Whether or not they’re successful is for you to decide. I will say that I’ve heard this line before, and for once, I believe it. Of course behind all these admirable intentions, behind the mystique, there are living, breathing people as well, people who like video games…

Jamie Hince [to Allison]: Have you been into the restaurant part of the club?

Alison Mosshart: No.

JH: You should go in there; it’s got something really amazing.

AM: Really? You’re not going to tell me what it…

JH: Pac-Man.

AM: Yes ... GOD!!

PopMatters: You guys are big fans?

AM: We’ve become big fans on this tour. I never really knew how much fun it was.

PM: Is this just out of boredom?

JH: Kind of. We’re not really one of those bands that do all the game machines and pinball and pool and all that, but when you’re on tour for a long time you get really good. When you’re on tour its all about waiting.

PM: Are the places you’re waiting getting bigger?

AM: Yeah. It’s really nerve-wracking because I don’t ever think, even now, that that many people are going to show up. But they do. I get nervous: nervous about playing, nervous no one will come, nervous everyone will come. Everything.

PM: [To Alison] Let’s talk Discount. What you’re doing now is VERY different. Do fans transfer over from that band? Do you want them to?

AM: A lot of people don’t know. We [the members of the Kills] literally changed our names. People have gradually picked up on it because people have printed our real names. There are people every night who are like, “I saw you ten years ago. I still have a picture of you with really short hair.”

PM: Why do you still go by monikers when people know your real names?

AM: It started when we didn’t have any songs and we were just hanging out all the time recording little bits of music and fixing microphones. We were listening to records all day and talking about Edie Sedgwick and that New York sixties art and music scene. We’re just total junkies for those books and those photographs and that kind of legend. Legend is not even the real truth. I quite liked that.

JH: We didn’t have a name for our band; we didn’t have a deal; we didn’t have any money; we didn’t feel like the kind of band that had been realized. We were just two idiots in a hole getting drunk on two-pounds-fifty bottles of wine. Those are the kinds of things that get you through the night, over-romanticizing something.

AM: It made us really happy though. It’s almost like a kid thing to do.

JH: It has a different resonance now that we’re touring and playing in front of people. People want it to be really profound but there wasn’t much meaning in it when we did it. It was just this stupid thing ... to do to try and be one of those bands, to try and make a sort of mystery around it.

AM: Our first tour was really cool in that way because people didn’t know; they weren’t people from Discount shows. It was whole new group of people who were reading these crazy articles in the paper and a weird word of mouth thing. I mean full families were showing up. There wasn’t necessarily a scene attached to it. I was so fulfilled by that tour; all the freedom we had and all the freedom other people had to come see us because it wasn’t in this, like, box yet.

PM: Are things more categorized now? Have you fallen into “indie rock”?

JH: It definitely changes. There’s something really beautiful and pure about when a bunch of people go to see a band that no one’s heard of. It’s a much different audience, different than when you go and see a band because you read about it in Blender or Fader, or something like that…

AM: ...or because there’s an advertising campaign behind it.

JH: The more effort you make to check out a band, the more honest it is. Like now, I definitely feel like people are coming to see us because they read about it in magazines, whereas before I don’t know where people were coming from.

AM: I think those original people that showed up were so sincere. Everybody else, you don’t know. Now that we’re playing places that are this size, you just can’t talk to everybody like we used to. Sometimes you don’t talk to anybody.

PM: Do you think of yourselves as part of something that’s happening now?

JH: I think there’s something happening now. I’ve heard it being compared to when punk exploded; I think that’s a little hopeful. Now, so much of that creativity is absorbed by things like MTV and record labels. But I feel like for the first time in history being in a rock band, or an indie-rock band, is actually quite a respectable career move. We need to kind of ditch that. You read about Velvet Underground but you’re also reading about experimentalists like John Cage and Lamont Young. You’re reading about Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsberg. It’s all one big scene that made a social impact. The bands now are a career; everything seems to be a marketing strategy. I’d like to get back to the chaos.

PM: So are those things are models for you?

AM: I think the ultimate goal is to not have any influences. When we made the record we didn’t listen to music for four months. You really get yourself into this weird state in your head where you’re kind of feeling more like an inventor, just letting things come out of you instead of trying to focus and think about things; no over thinking or analyzing, just doing it. It was really important to us because we wanted to hear what we are like, really. I think it’s quite important to try and feel like you’re doing something new and fresh to yourself. And if you can do that hopefully it’ll be new and fresh to other people also.

PM: Did it work?

JH: Well, no matter what, I think you get judged by what else is going on at the time. I kind of felt like [our first record] Keep on Your Mean Side was always mistaken for this celebration of rock or blues. There were a ton of other bands at the time that were influenced by that. But I never felt like that’s where we were coming from. Our inspiration was a lot different.

PM: Well, because there are two of you, one thing I’m sure you get is the White Stripes comparison.

AM: Yeah, I don’t get it. It can’t even offend me because it’s so far away. Also, we’re friends with them and we really like their band but we’re coming from two different places. I think the only thing that they see is that it’s two people in a band, a boy and a girl. I think the brain stops there.

JH: Journalism always works in fashions and fads. Even the news: if you were an alien and you looked at some newspapers you’d think there was a point where everyone was leaving their kids alone, and then for a month everyone was getting attacked by dogs. They just latch on to one story and then find a ton of other stories that are similar. You find that in music, you find that they latch on to one band…

AM: ...and every band sounds like that band.

PM: Have you been approached for a lot of commercials? A lot of indie bands have had that happen recently. I heard you turned something down.

JH: My gut reaction when those things come through is that I’m not really interested. I don’t really care how much money it is; it doesn’t seem right to me. Is it a creative thing? People need to be clear when you do something like that; you’re doing it for the money. You have to be at peace with yourself over that and I haven’t yet. Like, “I’m gonna put my music to this and I’m gonna get paid this much.” I don’t know what it would take. It’s been up to 700 grand and we said no.

PM: What was that for?

AH: For an ad for Carlsberg Beer during the European football championship.

PM: That’s incredible. That would be so hard to turn down…

AM: That’s 700,000 pounds. So that’s like 1.4 million right now, for 30 seconds. [laughing] It’s sick isn’t it? One day when I’m like 80 I might really regret it.

JH: It was for the song “Superstition” and they had this whole thing written around it where there would be all these sports stars doing their superstitions while “Superstition” was playing. Nobody cares about that shit anymore so it kind of wears you down. How important are the politics? How important is boycott and all that stuff when you’re not really preaching to anyone. I’m not gonna say we’ll never do it, because the world is changing so much. Sometimes I think it’s dumb that we turned down that amount of money. People say, “Everybody knows you need money to do your fantastic thing; think of the things you could have done with that money.” Part of me is just like, “Yeah, I’m dumb.”

PM: I think these lines are really interesting. I mean there are hardliners out there who would say that if you have an agent you’re a sellout…

AM: I think that’s a bit much.

JH: Well, there are a lot of bands in their 40’s that are really resentful of giving it all up for that. “I haven’t got anything. I’m still playing shitholes with one light bulb that stink of bear.” And they’re like, “I did it all for what?”

AM: I did it for my scene, which doesn’t exist anymore. Now I’m all alone.

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