When you think of The Kills, the words “pizza, pizza, daddio” don’t readily come to mind. Maybe they should. Maybe that’s the problem.

At present, Jamie Hince (aka “Hotel”) is animatedly clapping his hands and singing a playground song to me, and it goes a little something like this: “What happened to your Uncle?/He died/How’d he die?/He’d died drunk!/He died drunk!”

That he is doing this at a hip hotel’s restaurant crammed into a snug bistro table during happy hour on Manhattan’s West Side makes the moment all the more significant. Despite his posh David Bowie-esque speaking voice, and the icy, aloof vibe he and bandmate Alison Mosshart (aka “VV”) can project on stage, they are anything but.

Let’s back up.

When I arrived for our scheduled chat, they were ordering cocoa (for her), and red wine (for him). Nevermind that the initial cuppa had a marshmallow that more closely resembled buffalo mozzarella than its intended presentation atop delicious hot chocolate, and nevermind that I, just moments into meeting them, ingratiate myself by pointing the culinary oddity out, to which Hince offers a deep chuckle and investigates the marsharella himself. Together, we dissect the foamy marvel, as Mosshart looks on and says, “ewww!”

The story surrounding Midnight Boom, the duo’s third—and arguably best—record since signing to Domino Records in 2001, involves playground songs, aborted studio sessions in Los Angeles, a hasty trip to Mexico during hurricane season, near-heart attacks, going broke, going for broke, and finally, a soul-saving return to Benton Harbor, a nowhere town in Michigan, where Hince and Mosshart found their bliss at the Key Club, a studio owned by Bill Skibbe and Jessica Ruffins.

“They’ve got dogs, and we’re obsessed with dogs, so that always helps. I can cuddle dogs at all hours!” Mosshart says. “It’s a really cool place, because you can work 24 hours [a day]. You live there, cook there, [and] don’t need to leave for any reason, and you kind of don’t. You can stop doing music and start doing collages, or you can go do this or that…everything is just really immediate. You become well-roundedly creative.”

“It’s the way it looks, the way it smells. Just the energy and excitement, like when you’re a kid and having sleepovers,” Hince offers.

“You start cutting your hair, dying your hair, or making outfits…you just start having fun. Even when you’re working, it doesn’t feel like working. It’s a really, really good thing. Dance parties at night. I recommend it to anyone,” Mosshart adds.

Collages, dogs and dance parties? Is this really The Kills I’m talking to? As it turns out, Hince and Mosshart are not only warm, kind and easy to talk to, they have no air whatsoever of the ascribed haughtiness that can drown bands of their caliber. When you’re this “cool,” as they have been so flagged for years, and when your male lead is dating one of the most famous women on the planet, manners can die in favor of pretension and mystique. No so with these two. They even finish each other’s sentences.

“With Midnight Boom, we went back to where we started, which was trying to find our feet and not think too much about how it’s going to sound, [and] just make the most honest record we could,” Hince says. “We wanted to make a record that was really not retro. We always talked about how envious we were of Velvet Underground, and how everything always seems to gravitate back to the 60’s, with Captain Beefheart and the Velvets, [and] the Rolling Stones. Velvet and Beefheart were always forward-thinking bands, same thing with punk, they wanted to kill everything that happened before. I wanted to make something really modern and now.”

The Kills began writing Midnight Boom in January 2006, thinking the entire project would take about three months. But despite their love of 60’s bands and the punk aesthetic, Hince and Mosshart were dismayed when they found themselves with notebooks full of folk songs.

Early sessions in Los Angeles did not have the “right direction, or the right environment,” as Mosshart puts it, to lay the desired foundation for the record. The Kills lasted only a week there, but their opinions and feelings about the experience run deep.

“We were frustrated out there; it’s just a weird place to be. I personally don’t find myself very creative when I’m [there]. It’s not that it’s not fun, [but] working there on a daily basis is not my personality. If I don’t love it, and I don’t constantly get lost in what I’m doing, I’m feeling like not only am I distracted, but everybody else is distracted. The whole city is an enormous distraction,” Mosshart remembers.

“Without a doubt, the area, the city, the town, wherever you would record the record in, it makes its way onto the record. If you’re in L.A., and there’s a dude in a waistcoat and shirt and tie-dyed trousers, it’s gonna affect the way you behave! It’s gonna affect the way the session runs. In LA, things are very laid back. The minute you get in there, people are already working out where they’re gonna eat their fucking ying-yang lunch,” Hince says.

Though quick to mention that they love performing for the L.A. crowds, The Kills have certainly had their fill of being told to “relax,” talking about celebrities, yoga, and what to do with their “energy.”

“Constantly people were talking to me about what I should do to be happy, and what I should do to give out and receive good energy. I’ve never spent more time with the most miserable people I’ve ever met!” Hince says.

From there, it was on to the Key Club in Benton Harbor, Michigan, where The Kills recorded No Wow, a bluesy minimalist masterpiece that put the leather-loving Londoners under the same garage-rock umbrella as The Strokes and The White Stripes. Along with cuddling dogs and being creative, Hince and Mosshart found that time as a measurement had no meaning, and began working chiefly late at night, which Mosshart prefers because, “It’s like you have a big ol’ mess of secrets, and it’s really exciting. There’s nothing going on, so you can get away with anything at that time of night, and no one’s paying any attention.”

“Six, seven or eight months in, we got to the point where we were doubting ourselves. We got cabin fever from being locked in the studio. Going out to Michigan and doing sessions, writing and recording…we just kind of lost it. We were totally broke. We were losing our minds. We were paranoid, we were turning on each other,” Hince remembers.

Off, off to Mexico they went, hoping for salvation and clarity. What they found when they got there eerily echoed their own inner maelstroms. It was hurricane season, sandbags were everywhere, and they had nowhere to go but back inside, back to the trenches, and back to the drawing board. Luckily a song, “M.E.X.I.C.O.C.U,” “which is about running away,” came out of the ordeal.

Once safely ensconced again at the Key Club, Hince and Mosshart wanted a different set of ears to twiddle the knobs, so they called upon SpankRock producer Alex Epton (aka Armani XXXchange), who aided production and lent drums to “Cheap and Cheerful” and “M.E.X.I.C.O.C.U.”

“I loved that record that SpankRock did. He (Epton) came in for a few days and listened to some stuff, helped out a bit. It wasn’t easy with him. We come from really different musical backgrounds, and so we kind of hit heads a bit. But it was worth fighting, and we came to Brooklyn to record a few more songs, and he was in on that as well,” Hince says.


(The Kills at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, February 2008. Photo credit: Carrie Alison)

“I think because we’re in the kind of band that we are, and he’s in the kind of band he is, we were more interested in the things he was doing, and he wanted to do stuff that was more like us. So it became this thing, we wanted to go over there, and he wanted to come over here. It [got] a bit complicated, but I think it turned out really well,” Mosshart adds.

Though they profess love for SpankRock’s dirty beats, the most overwhelming influence on the record was a 1960s documentary about inner-city school children called Pizza Pizza Daddio, which explored the songs kids sang while jumping rope on the playground.

“The themes of them…it’s an exploration of the social system: birth, death and abortion, domestic violence, in all the lyrics. Really dark. There was one about ‘Mary Had a Tummy Ache’ or something, and she goes to the doctor and has a dead baby inside her that [they have to take out]. It’s so my kind of thing! Not the dead babies stuff, but it’s got an Edgar Allan Poe [vibe] to it. Really dark, morbid, but in a sort of cheerful way. It’s always been a part of us that we’ve always pushed out,” Hince says.

When I ask Hince and Mosshart if they feel listeners en masse don’t “get” their band, they quickly agree. The early tongue-in-cheek leanings of their early work, even the 4-track songs they recorded in Hince’s bedroom years ago, have a dark humor to them. Hince knows that music fans think The Kills are “dark and mysterious and weird,” and Mosshart loves when their musical output is “charming and weird.”

With the sound of playground-esque “handclap rhythms” and Poe as their guiding light, knockout tracks like “Sour Cherry,” “Alphabet Pony,” and “Cheap and Cheerful” came tumbling forward, with the latter being the key song that sealed Midnight Boom’s direction. A killer bassline and a dirty groove with pronounced drums and Mosshart singing, “I want you to be crazy ‘cause you’re boring baby when you’re straight,” and “It’s alright to be mean,” the mission is accomplished.

The album’s first single, “U.R.A. Fever,” a dial tone-laden, sliding zipper-augmented, boom-crash smash was born out of Hince feeling “beaten up by Americans” and hiding out in his “English Room” at the studio, where he displayed Rolling Stones album covers and the Union Jack. Working with a MPC-60, and experimenting with sound effects, Hince recalls being “embarrassed to play it for Alison, and she was pleading with me, because she could hear the vibrations through the window. I played for it her, and she was like, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever heard!’”

Of “Tape Song,” a beguiling, slinky, sexy early highlight on Midnight Boom, Mosshart offers, “That was the first song we did for the record, and the one where we felt, ‘Oh, we’ve got a record. We’re writing a record!’ I just really love that song. It’s a bit about hopelessness, but some things don’t ever change.”

“Getting Down,” one of the finest tracks on Midnight Boom, is a perfect introduction to The Kills of 2008: funky grooves, dark lyrics and a melody line that won’t quit. Hince almost went to the hospital while writing it.

“I got really paranoid when I was in the studio, because there was so much other stuff happening. We were in this bubble, and had our lives back home, and my [only] connection was through the telephone. My relationship was breaking down badly, and we were getting mentally ill recording. I was getting so paranoid, I thought I was having a heart attack,” Hince remembers. “For four days I thought I as having a heart attack. I was thinking I couldn’t tell anybody, because they’d make me go to a hospital. It was just over the top. My therapy was to write ‘Getting Down,’ which was about all the terrible things happening around me, and [wanting] to put them in a song and dance to them.”

That he was clutching his chest and nearly into an ambulance is not shocking for Hince, who claims he plays guitar like a drum, and gently admits, “I’ve got a sort of spazzy sense of rhythm, and I like that. I like the spazziness of it. It’s in tune with my being. My heart beats spazzy, and my moods are spazzy.”

Both agree that their favorite song on the record is “Goodnight Bad Morning” a bleary-eyed, folk-tinged, maudlin ballad that Mosshart wrote after being awake for two days, and of which Hince has been told is their most Velvet Underground song, although he sees it as somewhat of a back-handed compliment.

Another thing they agree on—not that there is a limit to such cohesion between them, (they even live together in London)—is how to describe their working relationship in a word. Hince looks at Mosshart and smiles, saying, “It depends. I could do it, yeah, but it wouldn’t be accurate. Not one word, though.”

She thinks for a beat, corrects her posture, leans forward, and sweetly adds, “I could do two words. ‘The Best.”

www.thekills.tv

–Carrie Alison, Photo by K. Capello

 
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