— February 29, 2012 —
In this column Dean Mayo Davies asks creatives to reveal how music has enriched their work and shaped their identity
Alison Mosshart Courtesy of Domino RecordsThe Kills are celebrating their tenth anniversary this month. Alison Mosshart is jetlagged, having just returned from playing the US with bandmate Jamie Hince.
"It was incredible," she says, fatigue lifting for the briefest second. "One of the best tours – it feels like we’re really on it right now. I’ve never been more energetic, more flexible; the music has never sounded better; the rooms have never been fuller. All that stuff kind of fell into place – and now I’m doing radio shows at 9:30 in the morning," she laughs.
The sublime video to The Last Goodbye, directed by Samantha Morton, crowns their decade; a song bigger than the band, like the most beguiling natural phenomenon. "It's been a beautiful story," Mosshart considers. "I’ve talked to a few people who say they're touched or affected by that song. And that’s really the goal when you’re an artist or musician, that you make something to give to the world and it makes sense to other people; they can use it for themselves and it can become whatever story they need it to be. That's kind of what music's done for me my whole life, so any chance to give that back is a really big deal. I feel like I'm standing next to it rather than its owner. The video is shockingly stunning, it's another realm – almost an anti music video."
Not that there aren't great promos in their back catalogue – Last Day of Magic is a powerful sketch of combustible dynamic. "That was one of the toughest videos to do," she remembers. "Exhausting! The ones we've done with Sophie Muller push the boat out. We have notebooks full of stuff; cameras, look, the way we want it to be. Then on the day we make it up as we go along – we did that with URA Fever, Cheap and Cheerful and Last Day of Magic. All we have is a location and on every single one fun things happened that were unexpected. You go on an adventure, they're almost like little Kills records."
"My Hedi Slimane-designed gold boots have taken me all over the world, they've been on a thousand stages..."
The band met in London over a decade ago, whilst Alison was playing in another group. "I was staying in a flat and Jamie was living above," she remembers. "I always heard him playing guitar – we met because I was fascinated by the sound I was hearing, it was like nothing I'd ever heard. We got talking and he leant me a four track to write my own songs. I'd make all these tapes on the road and I'd send them to him – he felt like my secret team mate. Some of them were crazy: just me talking for an hour, weird sounds of child's toys. I was doing this 12 hours a day! Eventually I said 'Fuck it, I'm gonna move there.' He didn't believe me..."
A week later, Mosshart showed up. With 500 dollars to her name, she had nowhere to live and didn't know anyone else in the city. "Eleven years later, I'm still here," she deadpans. "Jamie came back and after two years we played our first show." The sound of The Kills? Stripped back and spiky, evolving to dark, twisted school playground chants.
Their alter-egos VV and Hotel came before the band even had a name. "Out of a drunken conversation," Mosshart explains. "I mean we haven’t retired [them], it’s other people who talk about it – which was the kind of purpose in the first place. They've been hijacked by our fans which I think is really cool."
Growing up as a skate kid in Florida, Mosshart loved anything "playing on a boombox near a ramp." Fugazi was her favourite band at the age of 11 and at 14 she began performing. High school kids would feed her mixtapes but never bother with the tracklisting. "To this day, every once in a while I hear a song and I'll be like 'what the fuck is that?!' Then I realise it's a missing link to a tape I played to death. It's incredible when that happens, the weirdest feeling."
How artists dressed on sleeves, in fanzines and magazines has always been crucial. "If you were at the record store and you saw somebody that excited or scared you – or just did something for you – you knew immediately you wanted the record," she says. "It's instinctual, a marker – are these my people or not?"
For the past few years, nothing has come between Mosshart and her Hedi Slimane-designed gold boots. "I have so many pairs of them! I've got enough for all of us," she jokes. "And I've worn through all of them so they're not even gold anymore. I kept buying them until they stopped making them. Of the six I had, there's one pair I've never worn, as well as a silver pair still in their box. The rest are so fucked, brown, hard as a rock, with duck tape over them. They've taken me all over the world, they've been on a thousand stages... Maybe one day I'll make a weird sculpture out of them."