Bands in the ’60s and ’70s were more interested in art. Today, it’s all about merchandising. People focus on sales when those older bands were cherished for being interesting, not popular.
story by Derek Wright
Jamie “Hotel” Hince is inside what seems to be a stone warehouse in Birmingham, England. “I can’t fucking hear a fucking thing,” the British half of The Kills says as he hops back on his cell after it dropped the first call mid-conversation. “This place is so fucking loud. Everything is echoing, and my tour manager is running around trying to set up more fucking interviews, and the connection is fucking quiet and sounds like shit. I can barely hear in this fucking place.”
Suddenly, the guitarist pauses to collect himself, takes a breath, and his tone returns to being as tempered as it was before this brief outburst. “I’m sorry,” he says, sounding almost embarrassed. “I just want to make sure you get what you need. What was I talking about, again?”
For the past 15 minutes, the songwriter had been discussing the slightly altered direction of the new Kills album, Midnight Boom, which landed stateside in March to a slew of warm reviews. Although the bluesy duo — comprised of Hince and Alison “VV” Mosshart — didn’t make a drastic leap structurally on its third LP, sonically the dozen tracks are crisper than anything in the band’s 8-year catalog. Boom’s cleaner sound is a point of contention for Hince, who insists that it contains the same energetic bursts as his previous material. And while it is underscored by the same sensuality as 2002’s Keep on Your Mean Side, with hints of the anger that No Wow channeled two years later, this captivating third release does so with a far less voyeuristic feel. The band’s first two records oozed an accidental sexuality, the kind of beauty that lurks in seedy motels beneath the smeared eyeliner and dangling cigarettes of heroine-chic models. If the band’s previous records reeked of hangovers and strutted along in a broken high-heel with unkempt morning-after hair, then Midnight Boom is the “before” photo: starry-eyed, gorgeous and ready for a night on the town.
But the dropped call offers a chance to switch topics and gives Hince the opportunity to step back from defending his latest output against those who might label it as being too corporate. It’s a fresh start to the conversation, and the moment of pause is similar to the way in which The Kills have dealt with confusion throughout the band’s career — as evident by how one band member handles poor cell connections. There’s the knee-jerk snap reaction, followed by a calm and then the acceptance of realizing that some misunderstandings are out of their control. By no fault of their own, Hince and Mosshart have long been victims of accidental association. The Kills’ debut was released the same year as those by (and I’m not shitting you here) The Thrills and The Stills. This was also right around the time that a band called The Killers started to experience some success. Which would have been a hard enough distinction if the blues-rock duo wasn’t already having to tackle an even stronger association to the male-female pairing of The White Stripes.
Hince’s voice is cautiously strained when discussing the perception of Midnight Boom, as if he should be guilty for the less-challenging output. Yet as the conversation switches to the April 19 “Record Store Day”, which took place a few days before the interview, the performer perks up with an energy reserved for people who feel like they’ve done something right. As part of last month’s global promotion to bolster sales and appreciation for independent outlets, The Kills slated an in-store performance at Manchester’s Piccadilly Records. Though it was canceled due to sound concerns, the convictions that drew the London-based duo to participate in the event were evident.
“It feels like that’s in my blood to support that,” Hince said. “Where I came from, all the music that I grew up listening to was the DIY of bands like Fugazi and Bikini Kill. That is what I grew up wanting to be a part of. Keeping the independent spirit is one of the reasons we signed to Domino and wanted nothing to do with a major label. There were only two labels we wanted anything to do with, and the other was Rough Trade.”
As it stands, the group has a May performance scheduled for the Rough Trade building as a follow-up to the ill-fated Piccadilly gig. It will give Hince a chance to bask in heart of indie aesthetic, not to mention stump for the upcoming photo book which chronicles more than two years of the band’s travels. But when Chicago Innerview finally secured a good phone connection with him, he still had a few questions to answer about his newfound pop sensibilities…
Chicago Innerview: Are you tired of answering whether this is your ‘pop’ album?
Jamie Hince: No, I’m not tired of it. I’m interested in it, in a way. The album is kinda revealing itself to me over time. People are asking why it’s more accessible or whatever, and they want to know if it’s a move to a commercial record. But I think The Kills is a band that needs to be judged over eight or ten records. I’ve said this before, but I take people calling this a ‘commercial record’ or ‘more accessible’ as an insult.
Chicago Innerview: Because that implies you sat down and calculated these songs with sales in mind? Just saying that these songs might appeal to a broader audience isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Jamie Hince: I don’t want this to sound arrogant or whatever, but I just don’t care about that sort of thing. It’s not in my blood, and I don’t have that part of my brain to support that. It’s the same way that I don’t care about money; that part of my being never developed I guess. I can’t get excited about finances or thinking about anything other than just creating.
CI: But without making some money, you can’t afford the time to be creative. It’s a trap.
JH: That’s the record company’s job. That’s the way they work now. It’s all about bottom line and making a profit. That’s just the way the world is now. People want an immediate return on things, instead of allowing bands time to grow and explore things besides music. I wish there was more time for other projects, to do more profound things that have a lasting impact.
CI: Without the notoriety of being in The Kills, would those other projects get noticed?
JH: I know my place. I’m a musician first. If [people on the street] ask what I do, I say ‘I play in a band.’ I don’t say, ‘I’m a musician and a photographer and an actor and an artist and a filmmaker.’ That’s a bit pompous. But even if The Kills aren’t a band, we’ll keep working together creating something. It’s about all types of ideas.
CI: Like Andy Warhol’s Factory? A collective of projects?
JH: That was always the motivation behind our band. I love that scene, and you couldn’t talk about that art scene without talking about The Velvet Underground. Even though they were a band first, they always were connected with that artist movement. Bands in the ’60s and ’70s were more interested in art. Today, it’s all about merchandising. People focus on sales when those older bands were cherished for being interesting, not popular.
CI: So it’s about retrospective perception?
JH: I’ve never really been into ‘bands of the moment’. Where I came from [a small village outside rural Newbury, England], no bands came through. We learned about music from our sisters and our sisters’ friends. At school, you’d see a guy a few years older, and you’d think, ‘oh my God, what is he listening to?’ So all the music I loved as a kid was always three or four years behind what was happening now. Most of them already had broken up. It created a sort of myth about them and built to the legend. When you hear these current ‘amazing’ bands, most of them are disappointments. Or if you do hear a good band, they’ll probably sign to Sony and become a con six months later.
The Kills :: with Telepathe :: Metro :: May 9.