Days of Why and How: An Unedited Interview with The Kills

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When the Kills were first introduced to the world in 2002, they quickly seduced the rock n roll realm with their sexy swagger and an intimate onstage chemistry. What began as a transatlantic, tape-trade collaboration between newfound friends has since grown into world-renowned force to be reckoned with. The thundering pulse of programmed drum machines and an avant approach to electric guitars elevates the sound of a boot-stomping blues and stripped-down garage rock taking it to new creative heights. With five solid records,  (the fifth, “Ashes and Ice” released this past June), Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince continue to evolve, and while their core dynamic remains in tact, some things have changed.

While Mosshart spent her downtime returning to the studio and stage as the lead singer of Dead Weather, Jamie Hince spent his time soul-and-sound-searching on the Trans-Siberian Railroad and on the island of Jamaica while trying to mend the tendons in his hand. When these two separate paths led back into the studio, the duo brought very different batches of songs to the table. I caught up with Jamie Hince the week before the released of the latest record. The following is the unedited interview with exclusive live photos taken at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. Enjoy.

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Hello is this Nolan. Where are you?

Im in Boston and we are finally haven’t a nice week of weather. Last week seemed a bit wintery.

Really? Oh god, I wish I had this interview the other day before I felt London, because I was trying to work out what to pack. It’s so odd when you’re going away for a month and going all over the place. Do I need a warm jacket? Do I need raincoat? I got this straw colored raincoat and now I wish I had packed it because it rains in Boston.

Where are you right now?

I’m in Atlanta. I woke up really early and went wandering around and I thought, “oh gosh, I really love Atlanta.” It’s great. I really like the vibe and right near my hotel there are three places that I’m really excited about going for food at already.

With the new record, did you come into the studio with songs individually or did you write the songs in the studio?

Yeah, we came together with songs. That’s always, at least since “Midnight Boom” and “Blood Pressures,” it was the same thing where we’ve come together with songs we’ve written separately and we’d get together when we thought there were nearly enough songs for a new record. Normally the way I work is I will come up with a load of things and just discard lots of them and concentrate on the ones I think really work and slowly develop them. When we got together I had about 8, 9, 10 songs and Alison probably had 38 songs. She writes in this beautiful explosion where she just puts herself in front of a mic and writes whatever comes out. Sometimes she goes through a stage where she’ll have 5 Neil Young ballads and then there will be 3 Krautrock songs. So it’s really good to sift through things like that. We sort of met up in LA for the first time and played each other what we had. We never really had a break from each other, but LA was the place where we sort of auditioned our songs in front of our engineer. Alison said “Oh we have lots of songs, let’s go,” and I sort of depressed everybody by saying “I don’t think we’ve got a record yet. I think we need to keep on writing.” So that’s what we did. We kept on working on about 8 of the songs that were going somewhere and then kept on writing.

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Did you find that when you came together you were bringing similar stuff, or was it so different that you had to hone it in?

It was really different. It was to the point that I was frustrated to be honest. I’m always going in search of something and trying to find the things that’s like “oh my god, this is it.” I always think I’m going to be super excited about trying to find a sound, find a blend… finding a secret almost. I’d literally, physically gone in search of it and that’s what going on the Trans-Siberian Railroad was all about, or going to Jamaica. It’s always about physically going in search of it. Also, when I’m physically in the studio, I’m desperately hunting for the things that going to be the theme for me. Much of my rhythms were inspired by dancehall and digital dancehall, dub and R&B sometimes. I wanted to make a record that was really forward thinking and not just a retro bizarre record– and then I met up with Alison and her songs were very traditional—bluesy, Neil Young ballad kind of things and it was frustrating to me because, “You’re not doing what I want.” And then it kind of dawns on me that because it’s my job to make these things work and make both of our things to sit right in one place– it kind of dawns on me that that’s what the Kills really was– my lunacy about trying to reinvent the wheel and trying to take guitar music somewhere else, and it’s Alison’s absolute confidence and how sure she is about whatever snapshot is in her life at the moment. Not having crazy changing influences in the moment like I have, but having influences rooted in the Velvet Underground, Charlie Patton, Captain Beefheart– the things she’s constantly inspired by. And that’s the blend, her consistent inspirations and my ever changing, crazy, whirlwind ones.

How was the Siberian Express? Was it as romantic of an idea as movies suggest? Did you bring anything back from it?

It’s like a working train really. It’s not like the Orient Express. It’s like a pedestrian train and there’s a lot of military on there returning from Moscow to their various Siberian villages. Gentry people going to camps and villages along the way. I would say a tiny percentage of the train were taken up by people like me who were doing this TransSiberian journey. I think there’s another version of it you can do on another train, but it takes about 3 or 4 weeks and you stop at places and you have a guide that takes you places and shows you what to do. That wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted to ride this retreat where I didn’t feel stuck or stagnant and I was constantly moving.

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Did you get anything out of it?

Yeah, I mean I always go by that adage– I think it’s Flaubert… “You have to drink an ocean to piss a cupful.” It’s really true. I think he was talking about writing history, but it’s true with my writing. I don’t just write lyrics to a song. I always just write pages and pages and pages of stream of consciousness and that turns into prose which turns into poetry and then it goes back to stream of consciousness, and at some point I find things that I like and they jump out and I’m inspired to finish a song. And of course “Siberian Nights” was written on that train.

Did you guys do anything differently in the studio?

Our whole approach was completely different. We rented a house in LA, which was different because we used to just hide ourselves away in the middle of nowhere in Benton Park, Michigan. In LA we were excited to make a record in the chaos and noise of LA. I wanted it to be a change as life went on. I wanted to bump into people and have them come over and play… which happened, you know. We had Carla from Autolux play some drums and we had Homer who played on Amy Winehouse records. As opportunities arouse, we made the most of them.

How is your hand doing? Is it fully recovered?

No. I have about ten percent movement in my middle finger on my left hand, so I don’t use it to play guitar. It just hangs out stiff, flicking everyone off while the other three go change the dozen.

Were you or are you nervous that you’d never be able to play guitar again?

Yeah I was. One of the things that came out of it– one of the most impactful things– is I realized I’m really fucking positive. I just thought, “How am I going to make this work?” And part of that was considering I may not be a guitarist anymore. So I immediately started putting a studio together. I bought myself a 1968 Neve mixing desk, which was my dream come true. I knew I wanted to make a record using dub production, so I bought lots of gear like that: reverb units, echo. I just made myself busy by building a studio. I thought maybe I’ll just be a producer.

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So is your studio in London?

Well it’s a mobile studio. My mixing desk is a 10-channel desk that wraps up in a flat case and I have all of my compressors and stuff in another unit. Right now they’re in LA, but I always wanted it to be that if I to decide if I wanted to make a record in Jamaica, I could just fly my studio out there.

Would you say this record has taken on a more introspective feel? It seems to have a more tender feeling and the lyrics a little less wrapped in metaphor, maybe?

Yeah. It’s less cryptic. Being cryptic is easy because you can blend meaningless rock n roll clichés with code that means something and people will actually never know which is which, but they might hopefully confuse clichés for something meaningful. I’m not ripping up what we’ve done apart, I’m just obsessed with the way rock n roll music is gong and where electric guitar music is going. I’ve been obsessed with why it’s so retrospective and why it’s so referential and why its so stuck in the 90’s or the 80’s or the 70’s, but never trying to invent something new for itself like hip-hop and R&B, you know. One of those things was maybe I had too much time on my hands because I only had one hand, but I started thinking about lyrics and I wanted to write a guitar record that spoke to people in a language that I was proud of, that I understood, and that other people would understand– and not dip into the skulls and devils and that kind of shit, which has been a sort of staple industry for rock n roll music in one way or another.

Would you say the general dynamic of the Kills has changed?

Not really. I mean we’ve never really had a mission. I remember saying that in 2002 when we were doing interviews that I don’t think its really smart to make a mission statement or have a plan because when we started a band it was at the beginning of the cyber revolution which changed the fucking world. And it changed it so much that it was apparent even then that to have manifesto you were going to have a cult that was like the dinosaur. You know? It changed so much, capitalism was going to implode on itself back then and a new thing was going to work out. I think we’ve always just changed with what’s going on. People have always told us that we’ve done our own thing. Well, it doesn’t feel like that. It really doesn’t. It’s always when you look back and say, “Fuck, I always think we’re hindering ourselves by doing this and not doing that,” but I guess we’re proud of what we’ve done.

The single is a song called, “Doing it to Death.” You obviously don’t think you’re beating a dead horse when it comes to the band?

No, I don’t think that. It’s not a song about the band; it’s about constant pleasure-seeking. It’s about partying and addiction and having so much fun that it’s boring. You get so high that you’re low. That sort of shit. That’s “doing it to death.”

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The Kills live vs Recording? What do you have the most fun doing?

It’s funny because we always used to say, “We like them both.” One was a good anecdote to the other. These days the studio is my domain and it’s what I’m most excited about and the band’s moving forward in terms of writing new things. That’s what I’m most inspired by—that’s where my heart is… making new things. Also I’m the King in the studio. I’m the king of the Kills. I’m the boss and I like it. When we play live I’m completely usurped and Alison is the King or Queen or boss. That’s her domain. It works really nicely like that I think. I get more out of the studio, and for Alison, her place is the stage.

Do you guys still tour with the drummers in the background?

We have a different setup now. We have one drummer and we have Scott who is playing bass, keyboards, sub-bass and reverbs.

Would you say it’s a more live band set up?

Yeah, I guess. But we’ve always got heavy drum machine and sequencers. I never want it to be live where there’s no sequenced drum track. That’s what I love about it– it doesn’t speed up or slow down.

You guys seem to have an affinity for Boston. Last go around it was one of your only US dates, and this time you’re doing two shows in one week.

We always say that. The last time around we got really superstitious about Boston because the last couple of times it’s been the show that has completely woken us up and turned it up a gear. I don’t know what it is. I have no idea, but this time around, because we sold the first show out, we wanted to do a second night. There were bands playing the next night, but we were so superstitious and concerning that we decided to come back a few days later.

Jeff Bridges Abides: The Unedited Interview

ww-1-2With the recent release of his new movie, “Seventh Son” and his strange series of zany zen-like internet ads advertising his “Sleeping Tapes,” it seems to be the perfect time to share this unedited interview with the one and only, Jeff Bridges.

Most of us already knew Jeff Bridges as the coolest, most humble mofo in the movie industry, but then he went and added to that image by proving he’s a great musician and songwriter as well. After playing the tragic country music hero and winning an Oscar as Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart,” he soon after presented the world with a stellar self-titled country/folk album. A positive collection of well-constructed songs, Bridges teamed up with producer T. Bone Burnett and proved that he had even more to offer his fans. Hot on the heels of the recent movie, “The Giver,” Bridges somehow found the time to take his band of Abiders on the road this past fall. The show was immensely entertaining and if you were already curious about just how damn cool Bridges is, lets just say that in addition to performing his own songs, he covered Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live is To Fly,” “Looking Out My Back Door,” by Creedence, and sat down at the keyboard for an emotional rendition of a rare Tom Waits song from the “One From the Heart” Soundtrack. Not even Tom plays that one anymore. I was blessed to talk to Mr. Bridges over the phone just a few months ago to ask him about the music and more. Included are exclusive photos I took at his recent performance at the Wilbur Theater in Boston. Ladies and gentleman… Mr. Jeff Bridges….

ww-1JB: Hello. Jeff Bridges here. Hey Nolan. Is this Nolan? Hey Nolan, how are you doing?

NG: I’m doing all right. How about yourself?

I’m doing alright.

Gearing up for the new movie I assume?

That’s right. We’re doing a lot of press for that. And we’re prepping for the next tour which is coming up.

When did you start making music? Was it something you did before movies and did you ever have to choose between movies and music? Or was it something that came after?

I’ve been playing since I was 13 or 14, and as far as a time when I wondered if I wanted to go into that, I seriously questioned and asked myself whether acting was going to be my path. And as I grew older it became the path of least resistance. I took that path with the most energy, but the music has always been part of my life. I have a little studio and I like writing music and playing with my friends.

Tell me about the timeline of your self-titled album and your role in “Crazy Heart”. Which came first and did one inspire the other?

“Crazy Heart” came first and it certainly inspired my record. T-Bone Burnett and I have been friends for a very long time and I met him, oh about 30 years ago on “Heaven’s Gate,” and we played a lot of music on that. And that in a way gave birth to “Crazy Heart”. And after “Crazy Heart” was over, I became deep into the music and kinda restarted my musical thinking there and I thought if there was ever a time to live my teenage music dream, that would be the time. So I called up my buddy T-Bone and gave him a bunch of songs that I thought would be good and he liked them and that was that.

 What kind of advice has T-Bone given you over the years that has helped you along the way musically?

He gave me some great advice during “Crazy Heart” that stuck with me through the album as well. T-Bone really likes to make a universe that comes from an alternate universe. When we did the music from “Crazy Heart” he didn’t want to copy anyone’s style, he wanted to make music that was fresh, familiar, but different. He didn’t want it to sound like anyone else. He made me a list of all of the guys that my character Bad Blake would have listened to while growing up in Fort Worth. He knew what he was talking about because that’s where he grew up. He said “you’d be listening to Merle Haggard, Hank Williams and those guys, but you’d also be listening to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Beatles.” I asked if I’d be listening to Captain Beefheart? And he said “Oh yeah! You’d be listening to Ornette Coleman too.” That was also for the idea for the Jeff Bridges album too. It didn’t have to be a pure country album or a pure anything.

You were also on “Heaven’s Gate” with Kris Kristofferson, and he was someone who went the opposite way—from music to film. Did you learn anything from him? Did he have an impact on you? Was he someone you looked up to that merged the two careers?

He’s a big inspiration as a songwriter. He’s just phenomenal. Getting to act with him is just wonderful and he’s just great in that movie. We saw each other not too long ago at the Austin City Limits 40th anniversary and we had a great time together.

I read somewhere that when you envisioned the Bad Blake character you envisioned him. Is that true?

That’s not true. He’s certainly one of the guys. I didn’t model it after Kris or anything. Our director Scott Cooper said that Bad Blake was the fifth Highwayman. You know, Willie, Johnny Cash, Kris. Merle Haggard? No, not Merle.

Waylon?

Yeah Waylon! Waylon was it. He was a great, great one.

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Bad Blake plays a character who has a rough, rough life and that’s where his songs come from. And I feel a lot of great country musicians get their inspiration from that as well. I don’t want to assume, but I feel like you have a pretty great, relaxing, exciting life. Where do you get your inspiration from? Do you feel the blues? Where do you get your songs from?

Well, I think everybody suffers man. You know, that’s just a part of life. I just kind of pull things from my own life. And things don’t always have to be about struggle. They can be about happy things. I also like working with my friend John Goodwin (misheard as John Goodman for obvious reasons). And we bounce stuff off each other. And things don’t always have to be about struggle. They can be about happy things.

So John Goodman helped you with your songs?

Well no. It’s not John Good MAN, It’s John Good WIN. Yeah those are two different cats.

So how long were these songs in the making? Were they written all at the same time? Were they culled from all over your life?

What songs? From the Jeff Bridges album? Yeah, I don’t remember all the songs on there, but a lot of the songs are older songs that I wrote in the past and I think I did some John Goodwin songs. There’s a song I wrote with T-Bone on the album. I was trying to write a song for Bad Blake, but it didn’t quite work for Bad Blake or that album. It was called “Slow Boat”. I did the lyrics and T-Bone did the lyrics for that.

ww-1-5Were you upset in any way that they didn’t use any of your original songs as the theme to “Crazy Heart”

No, not really. They use a lot of really great songs.

Your first record was very different then your most recent self-titled record? What changed in your songwriting and how do you see the overall change in style?

Well, there are some songs that I wrote on the Jeff Bridges album that are from the same period as the “Be Here Soon” album. With that album a lot of the difference was in the casting of the album. I produced the album with my dear friend and current musical director of the Abiders, Chris Pelonis and Michael McDonald. And both of those people influenced the record quite a bit. And with T-Bone, the band that he uses often became the sound of the Jeff Bridges album. For the “Be Here Soon” record, it was an eclectic mix, it wasn’t any of the people in the Abiders except for Chris. But there are some similarities, but overall the tone is much different on those albums.

Do you remember your first show and what year was it? How old were you?

My first show? The first thing that pops in my head is probably a hootenanny at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. It was with my buddy David Greenwald.

Were you in anyway nervous? Was there a feeling different than being onstage acting?

I find most often that I’m most nervous right before I get on stage and while I’m on stage I’m kind of relaxed. I’m kind of in character.

You’ll always have this place in people’s heart as the “Dude” and I was wondering if that gets old or if you relish it. Then I saw that your band is called the Abiders and realized you must find joy in that.

Hahaha (laughs). Yeah I’m very proud to be part of that film. It’s a wonderful movie. It would be one of my very favorites even if I wasn’t in that film. The Cohen brothers… they’re nasty.

ww-1-3Speaking of the Abiders, do you always tour with the same band or does it change over time and become about who is available?

It’s pretty much the same. Occasionally I tour with T-Bone, with the “Speaking Clock” tour, I toured with Elton John, Leon Russell and Elvis Costello among others. We toured a bit. But I love playing with the Abiders. They’re my homeboys. They’re the cream of the crop.

How many are in the band?

Five all together.

Do you have a favorite person you’ve felt blessed to shared the stage with?

Ah, yeah. A couple come to mind. John Fogerty invited me onstage at Sturgis– you know the big motorcycle festival. That was great. And then I did a movie with Bob Dylan and got to do stuff with him, which was fun.

How do you compare film and music performance? With film its almost like you put it in the oven and see what develops, while with music you get an immediate response. What do you like about each? Do you prefer one over the other?

In a way I look at performing sort of like doing an improvisation with the audience… like we’re working on something together. If the audience enjoys the music it makes me enjoy it more. And vice versa, We feed off each other like that. And that’s like working on a scene with somebody. Because that’s my realm, the acting realm, I think of it in those terms. But it is great to get that immediate feedback.

You’re obviously not Bad Blake in real life. Who do you think most resembles you in a role you have played?

Well, gee I think physically, between movies I let my hair grow and my beard grow because I can always cut it off—so physically it would probably be the Dude. Inside, gee you know I think about the ethics and myself parallel to the character I’m playing. There’s an element of myself in every character. If there are things that are unshared in between me and my character, I kind of kick those to the curb.

You’re playing the Ryman and pretty amazing places like that. Do you feel like you’ve been accepted by the country and folk communities, or do you not even care about that?

I have in my mind been accepted. People I admire dig my stuff. I’m not sure about the whole community. I try not to think too much about that. I try to enjoy myself and have fun.

Is there anyone you’d like to sing alongside that you haven’t been able to yet?

I don’t really don’t think in those terms really. There are so many wonderful artists that I like and respect. I kind of take it as it comes. I’ve been talking to Judy Collins. She’s invited me to sing on an album of duets that she;s putting out.

You’ve been in Boston a bunch for movies. Are there things you like to do while you’re in town?

Boston, oh wow. Boston’s a wonderful place. Unfortunately on tour we don’t have much time to hang out, but there’s that wonderful little park. I’ve made a few movies there. They have swans. It’s not too big a park. I dig Boston a lot. Even when I was making movies I didn’t get to tour around as much as I would have liked to.

So, I read the William Hjortsberg biography of Richard Brautigan…

You read that whole thing. Wow! [Note it’s 864 pages].

So you are mentioned in that book a few times as being part of the Montana Gang when Brautigan was hanging out with the Fondas, Jimmy Buffet, Harry Dean Stanton, Warren Oates and a lot of notable people in Montana. Since I may never get to talk to anyone else who has met Richard Brautigan, I wanted to ask you what he was like.

He was such a great talent. Man those were some times. I met my wife during that period.

What’s your favorite of his books?

I really love the Tokyo-Montana Express. I feel like he fits so much into just a few words and simple sentence structure.

Oh yeah, that book is like poetry. He was just such a great talent. I always thought me and my brother would make a movie out of “Hawkline Monster,” but we might be getting too old at this point.

Ok, last question. I have to ask… What are your true feeling about the band the Eagles. Do you really hate the f**king Eagles?

That’s not me. That’s the dude, man. I ran into those guys at a party and those guys gave me a lot of shit. I said don’t take it personally man. It’s a movie man. The Eagles are fine. I dig Creedence too.