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A Walk in the Woods with The Kills

Ahead of the release of their new album, The Kills’ Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart talk Hollywood, healing and how to revive guitar music

TextBen OlsenPhotographyTimo WirschingPhotographic EditorHolly Hay

When The Kills played their first shows back in 2000, they performed under stage names and with “little ambition other than being an underground band”, says British guitarist Jamie Hince. Four albums later, the garage-rock duo he formed with American singer Alison Mosshart have become festival favourites and seemingly effortless style icons. But, a couple of years ago, a broken finger and subsequent complications left Hince thinking he might never play again, delaying any plans to record a follow-up to 2011’s Blood Pressures. And with Mosshart recording and touring with The Dead Weather as well as hosting her own art exhibition in New York last summer (“I feel the same rush painting as I do when I’ve got a great melody,” she says) this hiatus showed little sign of ending.

Rather than dwell on this setback, Hince built his own studio and embraced music software to give him greater control over the band’s creative process. Meanwhile, a 6,000-mile journey across Asia on the Trans-Siberian Express allowed him the space to write lyrics and experiment with ideas that were traded with Mosshart to form the basis for a fifth album once his injury finally started to heal. The result is Ash & Ice; a comeback record that – despite its difficulties – Mosshart claims was “really fun” to make, Hince’s new-found production nous adding a slickness to a sound that is still unmistakably their own. With the album out in early June, AnOther met the pair (plus Hince’s dog, Spooky) to discuss an eventful 15 years together as a band.

On creating Ash & Ice... 
Jamie Hince: “This was the first time that I’d been inspired by producers. I had been listening to lots of Lee Scratch Perry and J Dilla, which I think comes through on the record. There have been leaps and bounds made in hip hop and electronic music but guitar music is constantly looking backwards. Even guitar bands I like can be very referential, so I started thinking about moving it on and making a record that wasn’t retrospective.”
Alison Mosshart: “We recorded the album in a house in LA and there was no way for that not to infiltrate our brains and our songs. So there’s a sense of ‘dark bright’ – or, however you’d describe Hollywood and what it does to you after three months.”

On finding inspiration...
JH: “Alison can sit there in Nashville and songs just flow out of her, while I’m always searching for something. I panic when we’re on tour and feel the world can leave you behind. When we finish touring I feel like I’m running to catch up and find out what’s been happening.”

On the album format...
 “When you go into a studio and record an album it becomes an all-consuming thing. I like the fact we’re presenting a complete body of work.”
JH: “I don’t feel like the album format is sacred anymore, and things have got to change. I don’t listen to music in terms of albums anymore. I’ve got a short attention span.”
AM: “I do listen to albums – I like to put on a record and listen to it all the way through. I listen to music in the car and I might have a record on for three weeks’ straight. [To Jamie] You’ve notoriously been the guy that puts on a record for 30 seconds and then changes it. It drives me insane!”

On their creative process...
“It’s evolved and we’ve always said that we’ve filled in each other's gaps. I get excited by being in the studio and could never get burnt out in there. But Alison would probably say exactly the opposite and it’s on stage where she comes into her own.”
AM: “The rush of performing is the motivating factor for me. On stage you feel like you’ve got better balance, you’re faster than usual and you can dance for the first time ever. I love going to that strange and wonderful place for an hour and half every night.”

On creating their own sound...
AM: “When we play older tracks they don’t feel old to me as they’re being transformed all the time. What’s strange to me is playing something off the first record alongside a new song. You get something totally different but they still fit. It makes me feel that we could do any kind of music and it’d still sound like us.”

On the band’s legacy...
JH: “I find these things interesting to think about but awkward to talk about. Being in a band is not about reality – it’s a bit of a fantasy. I can’t go on stage as my ordinary self and just play – I’ve got to become my ‘superhuman self’.”
AM: “I find it incredible that I’m still surprised by shit all the time – I still have loads of firsts, which after 15 years you’d think wouldn’t be the case. It’s all still endlessly exciting and were still endlessly curious so, in that respect, nothing’s changed.”

Ash & Ice is out on June 3. Watch Doing It To Death here