Arriving on the scene way back in 2002 with the gritty Black Rooster EP, The Kills took the garage rock aesthetic and beat it down, creating a skin and bones strut that stank of sex and cigarettes. In the following years, The Kills haven’t strayed too far from their original lo-fi blues/rock blueprint, yet still manage to pull some fresh moves with each consecutive release. Hitting a critical high with third album Midnight Boom, one of Webcuts’ favourite albums of 2008, The Kills continue to deal out good vibrations. With a new single from Midnight Boom about to be released, (the beautifully downbeat “Black Balloon”), we dig through the Webcuts vaults for this interview with the irresistible Alison Mosshart recorded last year by our own Chris Berkley of Static while the band were on tour in Europe.
You holding up alright?
Yeah I’m good. The gigs are alright and we’re looking after ourselves as best as we can.
That’s good to hear, because last time you were on tour in Sydney you came in here to talk to us and nearly sliced your hand open.
Oh yeah – I put a bottle through my hand. That wasn’t really my fault. I was wearing these really slippery shoes and was walking in the street and I slipped.
So you’ve learnt to wear more sensible footwear these days?
I’m actually wearing the same shoes right now (laughs).
Alright, well you watch where you tread today.
The Kills have had a few more adventures between then and now. You had some in getting the album, Midnight Boom, made as well. There was some sort of aborted attempt to do it in Los Angeles in 2007 wasn’t there?
Yeah, it was definitely aborted. We went there, we hated it and we left pretty quickly.
Had Los Angeles ever been good to The Kills before that?
Los Angeles is really good to The Kills, it’s great for gigs, and we always have a great time playing there. But Los Angeles is a place to go on holiday it’s not really a place to put your head down and work. Not for us, it’s just not really a Kills kind of place. It’s really laidback, in my experience. People are quite lazy. They really like to lunch for four hours, then go to dinner for five hours and then the whole days just gone and you didn’t do anything.
I thought LA had quite an industrious history of making great records.
Maybe it does have an industrious history, but this is the future. And I think something bad has happened.
So were you guys literally sitting on your hands trying to make a record and nothing was happening there?
It was incredibly frustrating. There were a loads of days of Jamie and I sitting in our hotel room waiting for this guy that was supposed to be producing. He was from LA, and he lasted about four days. It was a bunch of waiting around. It was really, really boring.
I heard that your solution was to take off and go to Mexico?
We did end up going to Mexico at one point, after six or eight months of work. We just kinda lost the plot there, we had to go away.
I guess you did end up getting the record made, because uou reconvened in Michigan and did it with Spankrock collaborator, Alex Epton. Was that kind of a strange collaboration on paper? Who thought that up?
We finished the record before Alex came in. He was there for the last ten days in the studio. It wasn’t the collaboration I think everyone wants to believe it was. It was good because we were working with drum machines and samplers that we’d never used before and he’s a real genius at that. So we called him in to listen to what we’d done and help us move things around on the computer because we’d never recorded on a computer before. It was great working with him. He’s really spectacular at what he does.
Was there a desire to make Midnight Boom more of a beats driven record? Parts of it like “U R A Fever” are real foot-stompers?
We never really had any idea of what kinda record it was gonna be. We just wanted to make a really honest record, and I think we went into it, making it, writing it, feeling like we wanted to take as much time as we needed to come up with something completely different. I think it’s important not to repeat yourself and so that’s what we did, and that’s what we came up with really. We wrote forty songs and came up with three records in that time and there were some really obvious tracks that stood out, that were completely different from anything we’d done before and that’s what Midnight Boom was.
Did it also feel like a bit of a sharper record? The handclaps on “Sour Cherry” and the chant on “Alphabet Pony” are a pretty sort of precision point, which might not have been on previous records?
I don’t know. We cared about the production of it quite a bit, especially since we fired the producer at the beginning, so we had a lot to do. We wanted it to sound modern. The other two records, the first one we wanted to sound late ’60s, like it was a record that had been lost and then found, and then second one was kinda the late ’70s, and we thought maybe we should do one that sounds like now. So, I guess in doing that, we used a computer and we used the things people use now and tried to be experimental with them.
I also heard that not necessarily just music influenced Midnight Boom, but there was some documentary that you guys discovered which was on playground rhymes?
Yeah, it’s this thing called “Pizza Pizza Daddy-O” which we found in the studio, and I think it was more of an inspiration for something that we felt we related to, with these girls clapping and singing. It’s a normal playground thing which happens in every school across the world, but the thing that was so amazing about it was that the lyrics were so dark. They were about murder and abortion, and people being drunk and dying, and all sorts of really morbid shit for 7 year old girls to be singing about with smiles on their faces, and that was kinda cool. We sort of related to it because I think that even though some of the music’s quite upbeat and we had such a great time making it, but the lyrics are still typically Kills dark sort of lyrics. But we just got really into, it’s a really great film.
A lot of kids music is pretty dark. “Itsy Bitsy Spider”’s not a pretty song.
No, none of them are. It’s all really quite beautiful.
And it’s even better if you can sing along to it and make it a catchy song and wrap it up in some dark lyrics.
Well, I guess so. Maybe, I don’t know. We’re not really accomplished songwriters to think of it in terms like that. We don’t play our instruments very well. We don’t understand song structure. More than anything we just try to capture the energy and the attitude and the space between Jamie and I. Whatever that is at whatever given time. That’s what The Kills are about.
It also sounds like Midnight Boom is another one of those great portals into The Kills own world, which I know we’ve talked about before. It’s exemplified by the cover shot for this record, where you’re both sitting on a bed surrounded by records and books and other paraphernalia. Does it still feel like that?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m sure we’ve talked about this before, but The Kills are a lot more than a musical group. We do so many other things all the time. For the cover, when we were thinking about what we wanted to do. We felt like trying to include as much of those other things. We felt that the artwork and making a twenty-eight page booklet was trying to say that stuff is still really important and still really precious, and there’s a lack of preciousness today with music and art and theatre. I think that’s kinda what the cover is about, really. We took it ourselves. You can see on the front of it, there’s this string-like pump and the camera is twenty feet away and we actually took the picture ourselves. No-one was with us.
So it was an elaborate photo shoot then?
Yeah, it was quite elaborate, it was pretty comical actually, but it came out nice.
Has that world of yours felt threatened at all in recent times, as Jamie’s become more of a public figure due to tabloid intrusion. Has things shifted at all?
Well for him I’m sure it’s quite annoying. But no, we’re stills The Kills, we’re still the same. We still work every single fucking day, so no, nothing’s changed.
Does it make you worry about his well-being, or anything? Is he handling it ok?
He’s fine. He’s strong, he’s a man. He’s going to be fine. He’s not like a 17 year old kid being thrown into a world of weirdness. He’s totally fine.
I guess it must make it easier now that the two of you are on tour. You can roll into different cities every day and have those kind of Kills adventures away from London in some ways.
It’s always fun to get out of London. London’s quite full-on.
I vote for more road adventures like the one in that DVD for No Wow, when the two of you were getting pulled over by the cops in the middle of the USA.
I’m really looking forward to a tour in the US that’s just coming up. I absolutely cannot wait. Europe’s been fun but we’ve been here a month and now we’re kinda ready to go to a different country.
Well, you know you’re always welcome to come back here as well.
We will, we promise.
First broadcast on Static on 08/04/08. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).