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|Masters of No Wow
The Kills' Alison Mosshart discusses the stripped-down appeal of creativity,
live performance and seclusion in upper Michigan
by Ashley Graham
Transatlantic duo The Kills tried something new with their most recent album No Wow. After finding themselves unable to write on the road, they decided they needed to place themselves in a restricted environment to get the job done properly. They locked themselves away in a secluded town in Michigan for three and a half weeks and focused on creating the album they’d been looking to make for years. Through a process in which members Alison “VV” Mosshart and Jamie “Hotel” Hince aimed to constantly out-inspire one another, the duo approached the music with a fresh perspective.
“It was kind of an experiment,” Mosshart said on the phone from London. “We toured and toured and toured and toured and just didn’t write anything and then it got to the point where we really wanted new songs to play…We felt like if we’re as good of a band as we think we are then we should be able to write an album in a day. We wanted to give ourselves two months to do it and then wanted to do it in a month and then ended up doing it in three weeks.”
But making that second album can be the most daunting of tasks for any band. The first may have gotten great reviews, for The Kills’ Keep On Your Mean Side comments like “infinitely better” than The White Stripes, and “remarkably solid.” The second is pressured then to perform at an equal or better level. Possible? Yes. Easy? Nowhere near. The Kills, however, weren’t about to allow that pressure to get the better of them.
“We were just thinking about how we should do it and trying not to think about what people expected or what people wanted. We pretty much confined ourselves to a little bubble, a total mental bubble,” Mosshart said. “We wrote it really, really quickly. It was probably a lot like being in jail when your imagination just gets so overactive.”
That overactive thought process created No Wow, an album more electronic than The Kills’ previous efforts but still honest to their original sound and seemingly effortless unity. With elements of previous songs and albums that the band isn’t necessarily pleased with in their catalogue, No Wow seems to be their greatest personal accomplishment so far. And, they’re always looking to continue.
“I wouldn’t change anything about this [album] the same as I wouldn’t change anything about the other one. I can’t wait to do the next one, it’s just that kind of thing. I think like that. You can’t do anything about what you’ve done, so there’s no point in thinking backwards.”
The ambition and drive for something fresh isn’t new for The Kills. They’ve had great reviews for all of their efforts and their live shows receive accolades for their originality and intensity. Not bad for two people who “didn’t really intend to be a band.”
“We were like a two person social group,” Mosshart said recollecting the band’s earliest days. “We were just best friends. We met each other and we had everything in common, we were living parallel lives a thousand miles away.”
When those parallel lives came together they joined into an artistic force. Mosshart and Hince make their own films, take photographs and, most noticeably, create music. Mosshart describes it all as a lifestyle rather than occupation or hobby.
When the idea of a band came into focus for the duo, their initial reaction was to get more members, but those thoughts soon gave way to their overwhelming desire to stay true to the dynamic between them as individuals together.
“We’ve always stayed just two people because we couldn’t really bear the thought of having someone else, even though maybe in some ways it could have been easier and more interesting, but I don’t know because this is my entire life. When we found each other it was that once in a lifetime thing – ideas are building and things are focused and people’s goals aren’t different and you don’t have the lazy member of the band to yell at. That can be artistically really unsatisfying and we just wanted something else.”
And staying true to instinct seems to serve The Kills and their audiences well. Finishing off their U.S. tour later this month in support of No Wow, the band heads abroad for more dates through May.
Mosshart describes the art of The Kills’ live show like a first time performer still getting backstage jitters and that’s likely because she still claims a “fear” of live performance. But she’d have it no other way.
“There’re things you do in life because you feel like you should,” she said, “but the master one you can’t really describe because those are just your needs and you have to fulfill them.”