Volvo wants them, but The Kills aren’t interested. They’re more concerned about being confused with The Thrills or The Killers than cashing in.
This minimalist indie duo are not here to resurrect Robert Johnson or Charlie Patton. There’s no agenda to save ROCK. No, the Kills are camped out in the Chelsea Hotel to promote their new record, chain smoke some cigarettes, and work on their other hobbies: writing in their diaries and taking photographs with their digital camera.
We found The Kills, Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince, ensconced around a table littered with cigarettes, water bottles, an iPod, and a worn copy of Gunther Grass’s The Tin Drum, a book about an “the eternal three-year-old drummer” that Jamie claims to have read dozens of times.
They were in New York doing interviews to promote their follow-up to 2003′s amazing Keep on Your Mean Side. Alison and Jamie graciously sat down with us to discuss their music, those nagging White Stripes comparisons, and touring with Franz Ferdinand. Jamie is unpretentious and outspoken. He smoked a lot. Alison is beautiful, articulate, and a bit shy. She smoked even more. Their platonic affection for one another was obvious and endearing. Their chemistry will delight fans on their fantastic new record, No Wow.
NOW WOW. OUT MARCH 8 ON ROUGH TRADE/RCA.
FW: How long were you in the studio with No Wow?
Jamie:We did in two parts. We wrote it in Benton Harbor, Michigan. We were there for four weeks. We then took a week off and then recorded the album in three weeks in New York.
FW: So you guys have a quick process then? Are you working a new album already?
Alison: Well, we didn’t know that we did. That was part of the challenge because we’ve been on the road for so long and we don’t write while on tour. It’s not what we’re drawn to doing. We just do art on the road. We take loads of photographs. We draw and do collages and paint and film and write constantly.
So we went to the middle of nowhere and spread out all of this stuff we rounded up. It was our inspiration. Really, we panicked because we only had two months to write the new album so we gave ourselves only a month to do it to make it even scarier. We sat down and spent about 80% of our time talking and about 20% talking and it worked.
Jamie:If you don’t set yourself any themes or restrictions, it can be really hard to come up with something creative. Naturally we were drawn to set up boundaries so that we could operate within one area and explore that as much as we could.
The boundaries we set were the lack of time we had to make the record. It became the theme of the record. We didn’t have time to think about what we were doing. We thought let’s make a record purely from our guts and our heart and not over-think anything or rework anything. I was really fascinated by the possibility of making a record of 11-12 songs that represented 10 minutes of inspiration. Even if it meant sitting around day dreaming for two days and then getting up and writing something for 10 minutes and then sleeping for a day.
FW:Do you find American audiences are more or less willing to accept a band that plays with a drum machine and backing tracks?
Jamie:It’s pretty similar the world over. Lots of people love it and it pisses so many people off.
Alison: A lot of people demand their money back. We do have a drummer; you just can’t seem him.
Jamie:The drum machine is a massively integral part of our sound. It is an anti-rock thing for me. Rock music always has these tempo changes and these explosions; you know “FEEL THE ROCK” as it explodes in the chorus. With a drum machine it’s like a metronome that keeps you from doing that. We found early on that it made us tense up when we played and we liked the sound of that tension.
But it really pisses people off.
FW: It seems there were a lot more electronics on this record. Was that intentional?
Jamie:I’m attracted to things that look good so if the recording equipment looks old and weird, I like it. There were these weird drum machines in the studio we wrote in so we used them. That’s the gut instinct version of what happened.
There’s an academic explanation as well. Our first record was mistaken as a celebration of the “BIRTH OF ROCK” or “PRIMITIVE BLUES ROCK.” I felt like our set up and our dynamic has a bit more in common with the birth of electronic music. The drum machine is the heart of it. We’re more affiliated with stripped down electronic music, like Suicide or Cabaret Voltaire as much as I did with Charlie Patton. I’m a white, middle class bloke from England. I don’t quite have the blues in me [laughs].
Well Eric Clapton did.
Jamie:Yeah, he’s terrible and that’s why.
FW: What are you listening to these days?
Jamie:TV on the Radio
Alison: Fiery Furnaces
Jamie:TV on the Radio is a stunning band. They have such an amazing dynamic musically. I love that they have such an unorthodox set up, both musically and racially. They’re coming from a very different angle. We met them in Iceland. It was weird. We were playing the same festival in Iceland and we were introduced to them a couple years ago. Meeting TV on the Radio in Iceland is really bizarre.
FW: Do you guys like the White Stripes? You guys get compared to them a lot. Do you think it’s a valid comparison?
Jamie:Yeah, we love them. They kicked the door open for a lot of other bands. It’s a good comparison. That’s how people write. Validity is not necessarily what you want or pleasing. It’s relevant and that’s what people write.
FW: So you guys were formally married as well?
Jamie:I don’t really mind it. It gets in the way of what we want to do. I’m sure there’s a ton of people who write us off because of the comparison. I’m sure there are people who listen to us because of the comparison and then are disappointed. People like to compare bands to other bands. It’s hard to describe music. It’s always “a cross between ‘blah blah’ and ‘blah blah blah’, mixed with a little bit of Pink Floyd.” Or “it’s Patty Smith and Richard Hell’s love child.”
FW: Your voice often sounds a lot like PJ Harvey, which is wonderful. She’s one of my favorites. Are you a fan of her? Is there anyone you don’t like to be compared to?.
Alison: PJ Harvey is amazing and so is Patti Smith. If anyone said that I sound like Patti Smith, I would die because I think she’s incredible. I’d like to think that I could stand apart, like any band wants to.
Jamie:I think it’s always easier getting compared to bands that are way in the past than it is getting compared to bands that are around now.
Alison: Right, because people will say “You’re the new PJ Harvey” but she’s still alive. So I can’t be.
Jamie:PJ Harvey is one of the reasons I ruined my life with music. When I heard the first PJ Harvey record I knew that’s what I wanted to do. She turned me on to a lot of music I listen to now. Listening to her made me listen to [Captain] Beefheart, which made me listen to Howlin’ Wolf, and then back to Charlie Patton. Then she brought out “To Bring You My Love” and I thought “What the fuck? This is unbelievable.” It made me interested in Suicide.
FW: What was it like playing with Franz Ferdinand? Any crazy stories come out of that?
Alison: The tour was really good, actually. It was really fun getting to know them. It was a long tour so we went through all kinds of things. We had this bus problem – someone’s bus would break every day. We’d end up being on the same bus with Franz.
Jamie:We had a single-decker bus and it kept breaking down so the company sent us a double-decker bus, which is insane for a band of two people. So we had this double-decker bus and we said “look at all this room!” Then Franz called us and told us their bus had broken down. They said ask if they could stay on our bus and we said “of course, we have a double-decker.”
Alison: Paul [Thomson] would bring his portable record player everywhere so we’d have these little parties every night. It was really, really fun. It was strange playing to an audience that had never heard of us and were quite young. They were really waiting for Franz to come out on stage. It was like they were looking at their watches waiting for the band they came to see.
It was so challenging. You can easily become depressed think there’s just no way to handle it because people do not care about you. Something happened to us, something evolved. We started to play very intensely – redirected our energy at the audience because you get lost in a room full of people who aren’t supporting you. That tour made us so strong. We learned how to cope with that. We learned how to make it ours and make it fun. We got stronger and stronger and stronger.
FW: Do you guys often get mixed up with the Thrills or the Killers?
Alison: That’s one of the most irritating things actually. It drives me crazy, especially with the Killers. I want to hit and punch anyone who makes that mistake.
Jamie:We received treatments for the video for our song The Good Ones and we were sent one that said “THE GOOD ONES BY THE THRILLS!” It was in the bin immediately. I like those bands; well I don’t know those bands too well. The Thrills are really good songwriters, but it’s not my thing. The Killers are one of those things I just don’t get. This seems to be one of those times when there are these really huge bands that no one will admit to liking.
Alison: We were talking about that the other day. In America it seems like music isn’t really for the public. It’s so corporate and over the top. People end up not getting what they want, but what corporations think they want.
Jamie:America is the hardest country to just be a great band. It’s hard for people to love your band and for you to do well because of just that. It requires so much more than that. It seems so mathematical and calculated here. It seems to operate outside of kids going to shows and freaking out.
FW: Most of the bands I’ve interviewed recently have a totally different perspective on the music industry than bands used to. I can’t imagine that Sonic Youth would have agreed to be on The O.C. back in the 80′s. But now it seems like pretty much any band would do it. It seems bands today are more busy savvy. Is there anywhere you would draw the line?
Jamie:I don’t think playing on a TV show is wrong, but commercials are different. We get offered commercials all the time, in fact we were offered a commercial yesterday by Volvo.
FW: Are you going to do it?
Jamie:No, we’re not.
Alison: We’ve been offered insane amounts of money. It’s funny. I think the last thing you want as an artist is to be branded with a product. It’s really a horrifying thought. I love the idea of being on film soundtracks, even TV shows. That doesn’t bother me. I don’t find myself offended by that.
Jamie:I don’t really feel offended by music in commercials. The only time you know where your priorities are is when you get offered something like. We thought about it for about five minutes and said no. We thought what we could do with the money, but my instincts told me no. But if Sonic Youth played on the O.C., I wouldn’t say “oh they sold out!” Things have really changed. We live in a world where gossip magazines are the new pop art. You can’t apply the same rules or politics that applied to music about 10 years ago.
Interview by Robert Lanham and Jason Bell
WANNA SEE THEM PLAY?
> 3/18 + Austin, TX @ SXSW @ Emo’s
> 3/21 + San Diego, CA @ The Casbah
> 3/22 + Pomona, CA @ The Glass House
> 3/23 + San Francisco, CA @ Independent
> 3/25 + Seattle, WA @ Crocodile Caf√©
> 3/30 + Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
> 3/31 + Milwaukee, WI @ Mad Planet
> 4/1 + Chicago, IL @ Double Door
> 4/3 + Newport, KY @ Southgate House
> 4/9 + Hoboken, NJ @ Maxwell’s
> 4/10 + Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
> 4/11 + New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
> 4/13 + Washington, DC @ Black Cat
> 4/30 or 5/1 (TBA) + Coachella