It’s an incredible thing to find. We’ve both been doing these things all our lives and never found that thing you’re looking for. I don’t know if it’s in the back of everybody’s mind, but you’re always trying to find somebody that’s perfect to create art with.
story by Jay Gentile
photo by Shawn Brackbill
We’ve all suffered through the unjust experience of being forced to listen to loud guitar music pulsating through our ceiling and creeping its way down from the dwelling of some annoying neighbor in the apartment above us – invading our own little space below unannounced and uninvited. Such an experience has driven many men and women into uncontrollable fits of rage. But for Alison Mosshart, such an experience changed her life.
As the story goes, Mosshart, a Florida musician on tour in London with her band Discount in the late 1990s, checked into a room directly below that of British rocker Jamie Hince from the band Scarfo. She heard him playing guitar from his room, and actually dug what she heard. “We met each other and we spent a long time talking,” Mosshart told Chicago Innerview. “We talked about books and films and we sat around his house, making microphones and fixing broken four track machines. Just kind of getting to know each other. He’d play me loads of records.” She realized they shared nearly identical artistic tastes as well as a mutual dissatisfaction with their current places in the music scene. “We were living these parallel lives 4,000 miles away. It was really incredible.”
So they exchanged numbers and began collaborating via mail after Mosshart returned to Florida, sending tapes across the Atlantic. The frustration in the slow pace of the mail combined with Mosshart’s disdain for Florida’s sunshine and disillusionment with America aided her in her decision one day to book a one-way ticket to London, where she was reborn as VV. She started laying down some tunes with Hince, who was re-named Hotel. While the names themselves didn’t really mean anything (Mosshart said they came up with the idea while hanging out in their room drunk), the fact that they were being re-named did represent a mutual fresh start. Together they became the Kills, a super lo-fi, dirty, sexy, dark blues-based rock duo that quickly caught the attention of the British press and several record labels.
Minutes before stepping on stage for their first U.S. appearance in support of the second Kills full-length No Wow (Rough Trade/RCA), Mosshart (a.k.a. VV) expounded on the collaboration: “There’s just a freeness about him that I think he found in me, where we just showed each other all the things that we hadn’t showed the people that we had been in bands with. The stuff that we’d worked on quite secretly. We both opened up instantly and shared all these things. I’m making it sound smaller than it is. It’s an incredible thing to find. We’ve both been doing these things all our lives and never found that thing you’re looking for. I don’t know if it’s in the back of everybody’s mind, but you’re always trying to find somebody that’s perfect to create art with.”
But don’t mistake this for your classic fairy tale. On stage and on record, this boy/girl duo torment and taunt each other in a raunchy battle of the sexes catfight full of dirty tricks and seedy underpinnings. Their raw, simple, stripped-down sound is the music that they apparently felt was missing from today’s world – having titled their new release No Wow in reference to what they perceive as a lack of wow factor in today’s arts as compared to the ’60s and ’70s eras which they venerate. The album was recorded in just a few weeks spent holed up in Benton Harbor, Michigan, where the Kills traveled to track down a rare console/drum machine that used to belong to Sly Stone and was reportedly cursed.
It is tempting to write off the Kills since they rely so heavily on their image, as their shtick (not to mention their lyrics) can become redundant and seem a bit contrived. Yet while neither No Wow nor its predecessor, Keep on Your Mean Side, offer much in the way of innovation or thematic depth, the records do have the capacity to unleash some pretty damn good no-frills rock songs. And that seems to be exactly the point.
Creating a full band sound with just two members can be daunting, but that is the only way the Kills would have it. The entire band is in fact a documentation of their lives together, and bringing in another person would blow the whole experiment/experience apart. Mosshart is often compared to P.J. Harvey or Patti Smith (a comparison Mosshart finds flattering but off the mark), while Hince (a.k.a. Hotel) in his finer moments brings back shades of the classic Keith Richards guitar lick. But, according to Mosshart, none of this was intentional – not even the band itself.
“Maybe a year or two after I’d been there [in London], we played our first show, but it was by accident,” explained the 26-year-old Mosshart. “Someone just found out we’d been working on music and got over-excited and offered us a show. We didn’t know what to do with that. We didn’t have anyone else in the band, we didn’t have drums, we didn’t have anything. So, Jamie just taught himself how to play drums one day and we recorded it and we used it as a backing track and played with it. It sounded really cool, so we just did it and after that we’ve been on tour ever since. It’s kind of been a bit of a whirlwind.”
While Mosshart cites Velvet Underground, Suicide, Sonic Youth, Cabaret Voltaire and Patti Smith amongst her favorite artists, comparisons to Detroit’s boy/girl garage rockers The White Stripes appear inevitable. They also share the whole “are they/aren’t they?” sexual mystique. The Kills are reportedly not romantically involved, but that’s hard to tell from their entangled stage antics – and they don’t seem to particularly mind the confusion. Yet the Kills are neither as talented nor as musically diverse as the Stripes, and they don’t aim or pretend to be. Mosshart said that while she recognizes that Jack and Meg “kicked the door open for loads of guitar bands” and that the two bands are friends, “we’re not coming from the same place.” She cites the Fiery Furnaces and LCD Soundsystem as some of the most mind-blowing acts of today.
“I think that things are good for music right now,” Mosshart continued. “There are amazing bands coming out that don’t sound like each other. But generally there are loads of bands that sound like each other that are probably doing better than those bands. It just depends. From an artist’s perspective, as far as bands to play with and going to shows, this is the first time in a couple of years, especially living in London, that I want to go to shows again. It’s not like this huge garage sensation where every band sounds exactly the same and for ages, we were lumped into that. And when that doesn’t exist anymore in London, we’re not lumped into anything. We’re standing in the street by ourselves and I prefer it.”
It is too soon to tell what will become of the Kills in the end. But in the meantime, if you prefer an edgy, Velvet Underground meets Bonnie & Clyde-style tribute to seedy rock and roll, the somewhat voyeuristic experience of watching the duo threaten and entice each other on stage might just be the thing for you. They seem to want to fuck and fight at the same time, and they’ve even got a song about it.
The Kills :: with Scout Niblett :: Double Door :: April 1.