…..or at least half of them. Karl Wareham chats to Alison….
The Kills are an enigma wrapped in a missile. It’s a missile with a live payload aimed primarily at a mainstream media that has hitherto largely ignored them, except to dismiss them as “…a darker version of the White Stripes”, which is, of course, utter nonsense perpetuated by those whose ability to judge music is closely linked to their ability to count the number of people in the band. That’s all about to change, however, as new album, ‘No Wow’, is a dark, stripped down rock ‘n’ roll minimalist nightmare of epic proportions that couldn’t be mistaken for the happy sounds of any other two piece. The Kills are about to blowup.
It’s something they might not entirely be prepared for. The cover stars of January’s edition of style bible Dazed and Confused have come a long way since their debut at the 12 Bar Club on London’s infamous Denmark St, where they played even before the band’s name had been decided upon. VV (Alison) and Hotel (Jamie) have dropped their odd pseudonyms for this outing but the band’s mystery remains. They’ve played in bands before; Alison was the vocalist for Discount while Jamie played with Scarfo, whose claim to fame is limited to a support slot with Ash. But all that is about to change.
With a tour, that included a sold out night at London’s Camden Electric Ballroom, under their belts before their new album was even released, The Kills are going to find themselves under the media spotlight more than ever before.
In true rock ‘n’ roll globetrotting style, I caught up with Alison Mossheart just as she returned from New York and that Dazed and Confused cover isn’t something that she feels entirely comfortable with. Although she accepts that “it’s part of what you have to do and it’s something that I enjoy looking at when it’s other bands, it’s not me. When I see it when I go buy cigarettes I don’t recognise myself”. She pauses: “But it’s part of that whole chronicle thing; the way bands progress and change their image. It’s cool to think that those pictures will still be around and be iconic in thirty years time, but I don’t think we’ve got an iconic image or anything just yet.”
The cover boasts a heavily Gothicized Alison that bears no relationship to her real persona – the scrap of energy that exists in the live setting, where The ‘real’ Kills exist, and Alison is quite explicit in her preference of the live environment. “Being in the studio’s OK, but it’s live where the real songs come out, when it all comes together and you actually create something, nothing beats that.”
The Kills on stage are an engine of intensity. The drum machine that holds their sound together dominates the stage and the two of them create a thick atmosphere of sexual intensity and repressed violence that seeks solace through the often pitch black lyrics. It’s difficult to imagine any other band of their ilk singing a line like “Fuck the people”, let alone sounding as though they meant it, and there’s something downright disturbing about a line like “lost a lot of blood, lost a lot of cool, cool”. It’s a cut-up and paste technique which gives their songs a unique feel and make The Kills possibly the last pure ‘art band’ in terms of aesthetic and approach. The video that accompanies their latest single, ‘The Real Good Ones’, takes place in a fashion shoot-cum-modern art gallery and was shot by French director Rojo. It’s a masterpiece of style, loaded with substance and flair; something you’d utterly expect from someone whose bedtime reading is a collection of paintings by Jackson Pollock.
For The Kills, art and music certainly go hand in hand. ‘No Wow’ was recorded in New York but written in the relative seclusion of Benton Harbor, Michigan – one of the coldest, most northern States. It’s as insular as it is close to the Canadian Border and this seclusion gave the band time to collect their thoughts and decide which direction the album was to head. It’s quite possibly the only album in which cigarettes were used to torture guitars to produce the odd squeals and twisted metal noise that punctuates the album. “We thought we were going to record the album in Chicago”, Alison recalls, “we were shocked when we got to Chicago and just kept going and going. It was a tiny town with huge blacked out buildings all around, but it was cool and I’ve got lots of relatives in Michigan.” She laughs at the suggestion that the bleakness might have found its way onto the album. “No, not really, we wrote the whole thing on the road, just collecting ideas and notes.” Once installed safely in Michigan, they covered the walls with snapshots and went over the lyrics they’d been collecting over the previous year and ‘No Wow’ was born and recorded in just two and a half weeks. The title comes from the idea that everything’s been done before, there’s no exciting movements like there has been in the past. With ‘happenings’ such as punk and the pop-art movement of the sixties relegated to the history books, it goes some way to explaining exactly where The Kills stripped down approach comes from. There’s an ideology at work with this band and that’s one of the things that makes them such an attractive proposition.
Although they’ve been quoted as saying that the words “down to earth” are not in their vocabulary, Alison strikes you as a very normal person with perhaps abnormal obsessions that find their expression through the music. She spends her money on the usual things, like cigarettes and “…getting my boots fixed”, but she laughs when I ask where she buys her clothes. “All over, some of my favorite clothes I’ve had since I was fifteen and I still wear them. New ones I just pick up from all over; second hand stores, thrift shops and other places. It takes a while to adjust to new clothes.” It’s this sort of pick ‘n’ mix and reusable approach to fashion that, strangely, finds it’s echo in the music, both lyrically and musically. The latest album sees words and phrases repeated at various times and it’s this that makes the whole thing such a satisfying, whole experience rather than just a collection of songs and some singles.
Control is obviously an issue for a band with an eclectic approach and this is also something that Alison feels strongly about on a personal level. One of the things that annoys her the most about the world is the issue of control over people and the abuse that it can lead to. This was highlighted on her trip back from New York and a rather too common ‘bad’ experience with jobs-worth airport security. “I always cry at airports. Every time. I just don’t like the whole security experience. The idea that someone with no real power apart from a uniform can just treat you like shit. It’s the control thing. Why can’t people just be nice to each other? I mean, I don’t care about peace and all…” she trails off.
It’s not the sort of sentiment you’d expect from one half of the darkest duo in rock, but The Kills are full of surprises and this next period of their career will be interesting. Forget the cartoon antics of the Doherty’s of the music world, the dark sexual tension of The Kills is where the real fascination lies.