A View to The Kills

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The Kills, shot for SPIN at Don Hill's in NYC on January 28, 2011 / Photo by Nick Haymes
WRITTEN BY
Steve Kandell

In the three years since their last album together, Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince have been making sweet music with other, bolder names.Now, with their most accessible album yet, they're ready for their close-up. [Magazine Excerpt]

Since the mesozoic year of 2002, when they intro-duced themselves as, respectively, VV and Hotel to a chorus of are they or aren't they? whispers and White Stripes comparisons, Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince have been all too happy to cultivate a little mystery. Nine years, three albums, and several modes of omnipresent social media later, that's harder to pull off -- Mosshart has spent the past two years making Jack White the second-most magnetic person onstage every night with the Dead Weather, while Hince has become a British tabloid fixture thanks to his live-in superdupermodel, Kate Moss.

"It used to be that you could walk down the street and the world wouldn't know what you were wearing an hour later," sighs Mosshart, 32. She is pecking out a note on a white typewriter in the tony lounge of Manhattan's Bowery Hotel and not drinking her glass of too-sweet mulled wine. The fireplace rages while the rest of the city digs itself out from a foot of fresh late-January snow, lending the room the cozy feel of a well-appointed Swiss ski lodge. In 1964. "It's all absolute rubbish," adds Hince, 41, plopped beside her on a plush sofa, futzing with a vintage Super 8 camera and jotting a note in a soft leather-bound journal. "It's a form of bullying, but whatever." If you have forged any image of the Kills over the course of their career, this tableau likely fits: downtown high-society with a thing for analog tchotchkes, 40 years too late to be the house band for blues night at the Factory. (All that's missing presently is the cigarettes -- when antismoking advocates worry that kids may think smoking looks cool, Alison Mosshart is what they're talking about.) Among the published rumors Hince claims no knowledge of until hearing them repeated back is that he was planning to busy himself during Mosshart's extended Dead Weather sabbatical by forming a band with Moss on vocals.

"I'm not interested in a group of my own," he says, shaking his head, though he does admit some frustration over not knowing precisely when Mosshart would be returning to the fold; she hitched a ride with White to Nashville for a spontaneous recording lark after a 2008 Raconteurs-Kills tour snowballed into an album and a tour, then another album and more touring, during which Mosshart thrashed and vamped in front of a new audience. Meanwhile, Hince was at home in London, playing guitar and proposing or not proposing to Moss. (He finally did, for reals, three days after this interview. Guess my pep talk worked.) "The hardest part was that [the Dead Weather] unfolded so gradually, I could never plan what would come of it," says Hince. "But the experience gave her such great confidence."

Conventional wisdom suggests that all this newfound attention, wanted and otherwise, will translate into more eyes and ears trained on the new Blood Pressures, which seems built specifically to accommodate them. Still present are Hince's thick guitar riffs intertwined with Mosshart's come-hither-but-not-that-hither vocals (played onstage to prerecorded rhythm tracks), now augmented by fuller, almost tribal percussion and choral backup vocals, but no less carnal and dramatic now that the duo's relationship status has publicly moved on from "it's complicated." (Fun fact: Mosshart dated Jefferson Hack, father of Moss' daughter, whom Hince now helps raise.)

"There are times when something happens between albums that makes the new one feel like an event," says Laurence Bell, founder and owner of Domino Records, who signed the Kills in 2002 after receiving a three-song CD-R from Hince's neighbor, an employee of London's famed Rough Trade record shop. "Their stock seems to have risen a huge amount, and it does feel like the time is now."

It could also be presumed that the fleshed-out sonics would be a result of Mosshart spending the past two years in front of a full band of humans rather than a boom box, but that's not exactly the case. "I've enjoyed being in the middle and having things be really loud around my head," says Mosshart, "but it was really Jamie who wanted to make the record bigger."

Once the Dead Weather finally wound down last spring, Hince and Mosshart decamped to producer Bill Skibbe's home studio, a former boarding house for sailors, in the western Michigan town of Benton Harbor (population 11,000), where they demoed 2005's No Wow and recorded 2008's Midnight Boom. Both arrived hungrier and with more pent-up creative energy than before, if fewer fully formed songs. Hince and Mosshart slept in the dorm rooms upstairs, came down for breakfast, spent the morning writing, with occasional bike-ride breaks to go antiquing, then recorded at night.

"Jack [White] makes records fast, and Alison came back from that bursting with ideas," says Skibbe, who also worked on the Dead Weather's Sea of Cowards. "The last record was so beat-oriented, like making playground songs, while this one is more about songwriting. We wanted to make sure there was a different mindset from Dead Weather, because the Kills aren't a 'rock band' in that same way. There's more of a sophistication to them."

Of course, sophistication means different things to different people. Says Hince, "I wanted everything to crunch and be like broken glass."

Read the complete feature in the April 2010 issue of SPIN, on newsstands now.

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