Music

The Kills’ Alison Mosshart: “I have a really fucking super crazy job”

In the lead up to The Kills highly anticipated new record Ash & Ice, and JULES LEFEVRE chats to Alison Mosshart about its long creation, its difficulties, and how it became a triumph.

In 2013 Jamie Hince slammed his finger in a car door. Painful yes, but at that moment not debilitating. A doctor gave him a cortisone shot, which instead of healing it quickly caused a bone deep infection that nearly caused Jamie to lose his hand. Jamie endured multiple surgeries: they had to open up his hand and drain the infection, which quickly revealed that his tendon was rotten and so they had to go about the incredibly painful process of transplanting another tendon from a different part of his arm.

So what was a relatively mundane incident became a nearly career halting moment. It’s the main reason why there has been a five year wait between 2011’s Blood Pressures, and Ash & Ice. And it definitely is the reason why, through its palette of tight drum tracks and snarling guitar lines, it feels like more of a triumph than anything else.

It’s been a long break since Blood Pressures, what drew you back together for Ash & Ice?

Well basically we had another record to write, and we’d been on tour for close to three years. We would have done it a lot sooner had Jamie [Hince, bandmate] not injured his hand so terribly. We had to wait for a year and a half, and had to cancel a bunch of shows and wait for him to get back up and get better. There wasn’t really a moment where we thought “okay we’ll make another record now”, we were always going to do that – it just took a lot longer.

He obviously injured his hand quite badly, was there ever a point where you thought that you couldn’t make another record?

No, there wasn’t. We just knew it was going to be a process. He was going to have to have a lot of surgeries. It was going to take time.

You recorded Ash & Ice away from Benton Harbour where you usually record and set up in a house in LA. What was the thinking behind that decision?

“Every record you do you want to be different from the last one”

Well we had recorded two records in a row in Michigan – and we just wanted this one to be different. Every record you do you want to be different from the last one. And for us part of that was to go somewhere new and try something new, be somewhere different, see different things, be inspired by different stuff. So that was pretty much the thinking.

LA is kind of like – this is going to sound a bit boring – but LA is a great place to record. You can get anything at any time, there’s a million great people that play there, there’s brilliant engineers, there’s gear everywhere. I mean there’s a reason why people record in LA – it’s just one of those cities that facilitates that very well like New York.

When we were recording in Benton Harbour it was awesome, we were all tucked away – but if something broke it would be like a week to get fixed, and we would have to trek to Chicago. It would take a lot of time. In this case it was just so much easier [laughs]. Easier in that things could move faster if we needed them too, that was a nice feeling.

When did you start tracking the songs?

I don’t remember the exact date, but we were in LA for two and a half months. Then we did some shows actually, then went to Electric Lady Studios in New York for about three or four weeks to finish everything off. Then it was just mixing and mastering, which took a long time.

My favourite track at the moment is ‘Hum For Your Buzz’ – such a great timbre and melodic line. Can you talk about how that came together?

Yeah that track came together incredibly easily. That was a song that I wrote when we did a couple of weeks together in Michigan… way back. Like right after Jamie started to get better we went to Michigan for a couple of weeks and I wrote that song in about the time it takes to play it. Thankfully I recorded it as soon as I wrote it, in a little back room. It’s pretty much exactly the same as it was, there’s nothing different [on the record] except for the fact that Jamie plays guitar on it. That song kind of wrote itself, definitely an easy one.

There’s a feeling of triumph on this record. Did this one mean more to you, because of all the problems Jamie had with his hand?

You know… I don’t know. I can’t say. Every record means more than the last one – it just always feels like such a feat to finish a record. It’s a huge undertaking, it takes all the emotional, physical… every part of you. When you’re in the middle of it you don’t ever think “well this one is harder, or this one is easier” – it’s always just everything. Finishing it is just an incredible feeling, and it coming out is an incredible feeling… I can’t wait.

There are these real points of sadness too. On ‘That Love’, the last thing you say is that “love is a fucking joke” – where did that come from?

“You can’t shock anybody by saying “fuck” anymore”

Jamie wrote “fuck”, and he got me on the path of just using the word “fuck” – because the song had been different before. It just feels like the way we talk, right? It’s the way everybody talks. It’s not shocking, but just feels incredibly normal. You can’t shock anybody by saying “fuck” anymore, it’s like saying “glad”, or “happy”. [laughs]

You’re pretty far into your career, you’ve made so many records – what motivates you now?

I just love it, it’s what I do. I wouldn’t do it if it was boring to me or unexciting or not challenging, or not difficult. It’s all of those things, all the time. It’s a really fucking super crazy job that I have, and I’m thankful that I get to do it every day.

What is the biggest difference between Blood Pressures and Ash & Ice?

Five years. [laughs] Five years of life. I do, I think everything naturally evolves – if you asked yourself what was different about you in the last five years, you would be hard pressed to say exactly why, but you know you are. You know that a lot of things have changed. A lot of things have happened, a lot of life has been lived. Every time I do a record – and this is probably different to what Jamie feels – I personally feel like it’s a document of the time. It’s a document of the way that I’m feeling at that point in my life, and also my way of communicating with everybody else. And trying to capture what everybody else might be feeling as well. Having some kind of conversation.

You’ve said that you and Jamie are completely different, but also exactly the same person – what did you mean by that?

I think we complement each other in the way that we work. Creatively, our processes are pretty wildly different. He’s very interested in the production side of things, will very happily sit in front of a computer, or a piece of gear, for two straight weeks trying to figure it out. I would have thrown it in the trash a long long time before that. I don’t have that kind of attention span for things like that. I write in the far more traditional sense: with an acoustic guitar and my mouth. He tends to approach things from the backend, from the rhythm side of things…

oh fuck my phone won’t stop beeping, I’m going to throw this thing away I swear to God

…anyway. But that makes us very good partners in this, and in songwriting. He completes my songs, and I complete his, in a pretty natural way. The stuff that he gets stuck on is the stuff that’s easy for me, and the stuff that I get stuck on is the stuff that comes naturally to him. It’s always been like that, and we recognised that in each other, from the beginning when we wrote our first song. It was a natural thing to work together. We weren’t stomping on each other’s toes, we needed each other.

There’s a lot more live drums on this one, what was the instrumentation like?

There’s a lot of lives drums in it – but there is also a lot of drum machine and programming, a lot of times you’re hearing both. There’s a lot more keys as well. We were trying to round out the spectrum of frequencies a lot more than we generally do, to make something that sounds warmer and fuller and more soulful. I mean, The Kills is guitars and vocals, and the rest is Jamie’s vivid imagination.

Do you have a favourite track on there?

It changes all the time. My favourite track is determined by how it felt on stage and how it felt in front of the audience – what kind of energy came back and what sort of crazy place did we take it?

How has the material been going on stage?

Great, seriously incredible. We’ve been playing a few songs in our set for a few months now and everyone seems to know the words – which is a little weird, I don’t know how they know the words but they do. The reception is fantastic – it’s giving us endless amounts of energy to go up on stage every night, five, six, seven nights a week.

Have the songs altered at all since you’ve been playing them?

They have a little. But there is a backing track, as per usual. We can’t go off on a wild west spree and change the songs out of all recognition because it will get lost and get fucked up and then it’s all over. So it’s like walking a tightrope, by playing with what’s on the backing track – but there is room to move.

What are you proudest of about the record?

I feel like it’s a totally complete body of work, down to the artwork and everything that comes with it. It’s really solid, I don’t feel like I gave in anywhere. I don’t feel like something wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. I’m really happy with the way that every single song was executed. I don’t have any regrets about it, I think that’s what I’m proudest of.

I think with most records we’re lucky enough to feel that way because we don’t generally let anything out in the world unless we’re very very very pleased with it. But sometimes you do have those moments, almost like a relapse, where you want to go back and do it again – and I haven’t felt like that about this record. It has been recorded for a long time, if you add in all the time to master and mix – and four months the record labels wants too, to do whatever they do. So it’s been around a long time and I still feel like that, so I think that’s a triumph.

The Kills’ Ash and Ice will be released on Friday, June 3 through Domino. They’ll be in Australia in July to play at Splendour in the Grass plus sideshows at the Forum Theatre in Melbourne on Saturday, July 23 and at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre on Tuesday, July 26. For ticket info head to www.frontiertouring.com/thekills

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