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.

One Big Holiday: A Detailed account of My Morning Jacket’s 2014 Mexican Festival Fiesta and a Look Ahead at Next Year’s All Star Lineup

This past week My Morning Jacket announced that they will return to the Hard Rock Hotel on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera for a second installment of their epic and idealistic rock n roll getaway known as “One Big Holiday”. From  January 31- February 4th, MMJ will curate their south-of-the-border festival joined by friends and favorites Dr. Dog, Dawes, Band of Horses, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The War on Drugs and special deejay sets from the lovable Biz Markie. For ticketing and more details, go to http://mmjonebigholiday.com

As we get ready for the first great festival of 2015, let’s look back at the magic that came with the festival’s premiere earlier this year………

photo 3They planned ahead and they planned right. They came from all over. Many narrowly escaped the sub-zero temperatures of their hometowns and every one was somehow able to put a temporary hold on all the trials and tribulations of their typical workweek and head for old Mexico to attend a festival trying to encapsulate an ideal world within a song. This was My Morning Jacket’s “One Big Holiday”.

Many months in the making, the newly unveiled Hard Rock Hotel on the Mayan Riviera played host to a four-day fiesta curated by MMJ. A rock and roll destination vacation for the adventurous, the all-inclusive stay-and-play festival was exclusive only to those who had booked the total experience. You could come and go as you pleased, but no one from the outside was allowed entry.

lj-1A strange and magical trip indeed, the Hard Rock seemed like a well-guarded fortress for great music. The event began on Sunday, and while My Morning Jacket was the only band scheduled to play that day, it didn’t mean the evening would be light on entertainment. Tearing through two sets totaling 2.5 hours, the show marked the band’s first show of the year and their first performance since Neil Young’s Bridge School benefit back in October.

Suspense built as the crowd gathered, and the dream became a reality as My Morning Jacket opened with the summoning song “Circuital”. Jim James took stage wearing south-of-the-border garb looking like some sort of Peruvian mystic. Stars filled the sky as the breeze from the ocean blew the band’s long hair horizontal like some sort of wind machine.

mmj-1-14“First Light”, another song from Circuital transitioned into the much older and now classic, ‘The Way That He Sings’ followed by a stellar and strange early-set cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”. “Heartbreakin’ Man” and “Evelyn Is Not Real” gave fans a sweet taste from the debut record while “Masterplan” was re-worked with a sinister alternate beginning. The epic “Steam Engine” ended with a comedown of shimmering keys and the drum blasts of “Smoking from Shooting” rang out like gunshots.

mmj-1-2After a brief intermission, the band returned and laid the groundwork for a more mellow mood with the tracks “Wonderful”, “Welcome Home” and “Slow Slow Tune”. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, a figure emerged from the shadows. It was Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead looking like a sun-soaked Samuel Clements (or Mark Twain if you prefer).

mmj-1-4The band had met and performed with Weir on last year’s tour with Bob Dylan and began in suit with “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” before running through two classic Grateful Dead tunes, “I Know You Rider” and “Brown Eyed Women”.

While My Morning Jacket refuses to understand their association with jam band culture, moments like these make it hard to ignore the connection. And I mean that in the best way.

lj-1-4After bidding farewell to Mr. Weir, the band ventured into a truncated take on their 24-minute track “Cobra”, merging it with a crowd-pleasing rendition of Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” and ending their 20-song performance with an especially fiery version of “Mahgeetah”.

mmj-1-3Excessive sun and open bars have been known to lead to arguments and general poor behavior, but this wasn’t your ordinary festival setting. Unlike most festivals, everyone was here for the same reason, to see a band that prides itself on peace and love and leads by example. It was Night Two and all was well.

Opening tonight’s show was a show-sharing favorite of MMJ’s– the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Performing as an 8-piece, the multi-generational New Orleans ensemble set the mood with a 15- minute ode to their fair city. With two tubas, a trumpet, trombone, clarinet, drums, keys and a saxophone, the band was dressed to the nines accessorizing with infectious smiles and an unmatched benevolence as they danced their way through their set and into everyone’s hearts.

mmj-1Ending an hour-long brass-wailing set, the PHJB brought out special guest Bob Weir who had played with the band years and years ago. Adding a guitar to the mix, they merged jazz and blues, and you could tell that the players were having as much fun as their audience.

My Morning Jacket was next, and while the night before had been filled with epic surprises, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that they could continue to blow the minds of the masses. A true treat for fans of the early records, the band began with “The Dark” and “Xmas Curtain”, “The Bear” and a special treat, a cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man”. Unbeknown to some, “Rocket Man” was actually released as a teaser to their first record on a Little Darla Has A Treat For You compilation back in 1999.

lj-1-8After the fun yet sinister, falsetto-fueled “Evil Urges” it was back to the old days again with “War Begun”, “I Will Sing to You” and the ever-evolving “Phone Went West”.

Returning from a set break it was back in time with a devastating solo rendition of “Bermuda Highway”, “Old September Blues” and an extended version of “Picture of You”.

Fans of classic MMJ covers were then treated to the Velvet Underground’s “Oh Sweet Nothing” which was best played at Neil Young’s benefit with an all star cast on the day Lou died. Tonight’s, however, was nothing short of amazing as most of the crowd knew the words and sang along.

lj-1-6Bringing out their friends from Preservation Hall, MMJ continued with the creepy, mysterious “Holding On to Black Metal” and the robotic, disco-dance, omnichord-powered “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream”.

lj-1-5If you thought you’d seen the last of Bob Weir, you were wrong. Still in town from his shows last week he came out one last time and began with a chilling version of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”. A true, true highlight, the song perfectly toed the line of evil and innocence. After Jim said that he’d been snorkeling with Bob earlier that morning Bob replied somewhat seriously, “Some of my best friends are fish.” Perhaps it was a pun.

From here on it was party time again as PHJB, Weir and My Morning Jacket continued the covers with nods to Chuck Berry’s “Never Can Tell”, Al Johnson’s “Carnival Time” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”. As the special guests left the stage, the Jacket ended Night Two with “Gideon” from the album Z.

lj-1-9Night Three was an off day for My Morning Jacket, but they handpicked a wallop of entertainment. Mariachi El Bronx, a southbound detour and sideproject of the LA punk band, The Bronx got things started playing their first ever show in Mexico. Singing primarily in English, the backing instrumentation was the perfect compliment to an evening in ole Mexico. The horns blasted in a triumphant fashion while the deep-bodied guitarron hit the lows as the violin hit the highs and got the night’s mood in full swing.

mmj-1-10The Flaming Lips were up next and, as always, were a spectacle to be reckoned with. Changing gears from their confetti and crowd surfing in a plastic ball of positiviity, the band’s new stage presence has a lurking evil within it. The guitars were more piercing, the bass more bone-rattling, the visuals are more terrorizing, and yet the Lips still deliver that transcendent understanding. Flying the freak flag, Wayne took a jack-in-the-pulpit climb upon a mini-mountain with LED arteries flashing lights like rainbow blood flowing through the veins of the stage.

mmj-1-8Always gracious and constantly asking for the audience’s reassurance, Wayne dressed like an early spaceman, equipped with true Moon Boots and hair like a helmet. Merging new tracks with highlights from Soft Bulletin the band even dipped deep down rehashing “Unconsciously Screaming” from the vaults. The covers continued as Wayne dedicated David Bowie’s “Heroes” to Bob Weir.

mmj-1-7The Lips foraged on, and the focus was again directed toward the Beatles as the band belted out an especially psychedelic “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” followed by an especially dark and weighty ‘She’s So Heavy”. The emotional rollercoaster ended with the Lips’ signature majestic existentialist anthem “Do You Realize?”

mmj-1-11I’m sure Night Four must have been epic. Three days in and My Morning Jacket had yet to repeat a song– a true testament to their versatility and longevity. There is no filler. It’s all part of the whole. The total experience, from the friends to the fans, shows just how far the band has come. They’ve changed creatively and stylistically, never dismissing where they came from and never questioning where they’re headed.

As for this reporter, I wouldn’t see the final day. I didn’t question where I was headed either. I was headed back to Boston and back to reality.

FL