“You have to give it everything you’ve got. It’s life or death out there.” – Jamie Hince.
“The Kills is a lifestyle and partnership for us…[We] would be doing it with or without a record label. It’s our life. It’s what we do.” Jamie’s words are aired with an honest fathom – like a person’s unalterable belief in the celestial – during our ten minute conversation over a muffled phone line. He speaks with a broken middleclass eloquence, often pausing for thought and reiterating points of expression and beliefs with conviction.
Their first meeting was a chance encounter at a gig in South London around the turn of the Millennium: Alison Mosshart was on a tour of Europe with her band at the time, Discount, a punk rock band from her home state of Florida. As the story goes, Jamie – who had recently disbanded with his group Scarfo – watched Alison’s performance with beguile.
The connection that was made that night was of love, lust and desire, but not of a libidinous nature; however, it was one that wished to procreate music, a scene, a lifestyle, a sense of understanding and unity: something new.
The two exchanged details and began their transatlantic correspondence: letters, artwork, tapes (of their music; of themselves musing in solitary conversation), and the occasional phone call was sent. What was received marked the beginning: The Kills.
A relationship was formed over a platonic harmony, understanding and infatuation for – amongst other things – the likes The Velvet Underground, Warhol’s Factory scene and modern revolutionary movements. Alison packed her effects and few to London to live with Jamie in his flat in Gypsy Hill. Together, their shared beliefs and philosophies lived in close proximity as their musical renaissance began to mature.
“I’m currently sat in a pub working out how to get to Northampton,” Jamie coyly admits as I finally get through to him after thirty minutes of trying, “its not far is it?” I ingratiatingly search for train times and road directions on the internet as he begins to divulge his reasons behind his tardiness and recent events.
“I over slept and the tour bus left without me. We played at Koko in London [last night]. It’s a weird event when you play in London; you build it up so much and make yourself nervous….”
It’s hard to comprehend the likes of The Kills getting nervous before a gig. Their nonchalant and imperturbable rock and roll demure resonates from magazine interviews, aesthetically artistic photo shoots and aurally reconstructive sound that has reverberated since their conception; they are literal bellwethers of ‘Indie Cool’.
Recording with Liam Watson at Toe Rag Studios in March 2002, the pair – answering to the monikers of “VV” (Mosshart) and “Hotel” (Hince) – released their rough-edged, blues-rooted four track debut Black Rooster EP via Domino Records that summer. Lo-fi in music, aesthetic and style, little was known about the pair as they shunned interviews and the draw of music industry hype in favour of their hybrid beliefs and punk manifestos.
Much had been made of their raw, subversive live performances: the pair stood facing, gazing into each other’s eyes in an introverted manner, paying little attention to the crowds that had gathered before them as their name began to spread with humble underground utterances and acknowledgements.
The tension that they built-up on stage was of artistic value; to watch them play for the first time in 2003 at the Carling Leeds Festival was a bewildering moment for one’s self. Their unrefined stage demeanour, Parisian-kitsch attired and emancipated aural extractions had left their mark.
“You have to give it everything you’ve got. It’s life or death out there,” Jamie commented with an aggressive intonation as we began to talk openly, “I knew from a really early ages this is what I wanted to do.
“I got into obscure punk bands like Flux Of Pink Indians – bands that made a lot of noise and just band an attitude,” he continued to reminisce with a childlike zeal. “They made it easier to think that you didn’t have to be any good. You could just hit a guitar and shout about something that you believed in.”
This raw mind-set has bequeathed The Kills in their approach towards making music. Their first two studio album releases, Keep On Your Mean Side and No Wow, rattled with a boundless artistic integrity, devoid of any obvious influences. Their own artwork and photography graced the covers, exerts from the tapes that they had sent each other of nonsensical mumblings sat perplexingly amongst metronomically structured drumbeats, warbling vocals and guitars free from restraint. The Kills had something to say: they were devotees.
“[With Midnight Boom] we wanted to get to a point of making a record that never really had any form of overt influences upon it. We banned music from the studio and stopped listening to other people’s and just played our own stuff. What we were left with were just the influences that were in our blood – like The Velvet Underground and ESG – stuff that we cannot shake.”
Jamie begin to divulge about their obsession for an 18-minute documentary film called Pizza Pizza Daddy-O, an anthropological study set in inner-city LA, it examined the games played in the playground by young Black girls in 1968. In the film, groups of girls gather playfully singing, clapping and dancing; but the contents of the songs are of darkness, death and the brutal truths of growing up in such a time and heritage.
The children’s repetition of phrases for emphasis and chant-like call and response style were adopted and placed upon the new albums maelstrom of contorted effects and cathartic spats for incantational results of artistic integrity and dexterity.
“I don’t really pay much attention to the reviews and stuff; I’m always a bit baffled by that part of it,” Jamie admits before he continues humbly and with a quiet honesty, “but the new tracks have been going down well.”
We continue discussing the presses impact on a musician’s career and what his expectations were touring the new material for the first time: “We’ve often wondered why we go down so well in Europe, but it differs from country to country. It’s weird and completely different how some get it and some don’t.
“England is tough because of how the press works. The NME is so important because it’s a weekly and forever churning out new bands, making and finding scenes.” There is a lamenting tone to his voice as he persists with his retort, “Many [bands] get abused and left to one side. It’s [the NME] a flagship for new music and I don’t know why people seem to put so much trust in it, like it’s the be all and end all.”
His riposte is one of discontent, the sound of a wounded soul that would perpetually fight for his artistic expression; empowered and impassioned. “It makes the attitude to music so different. So influential. It’s like Heat Magazine for a different generation,” he finishes, trying to jest-away his cathartic release.
We continue to talk about powers that be and whom they affect most, the artist: “Most record companies seem to be happy with getting a band to write a record, record the record, promote the record, tour the record, and that’s the life of most bands; but there are so many things outside of that that I wish labels would help you with.”
Jamie begins to explain in endearing terms how good their relationship is with Domino Records and its “collective spirit” and “unity” amongst the bands: “They’re a purely independent, unique label, and we signed to them for that reason. Laurence [Bell, Domino’s founder] has a great taste in music and has become a really good friend.”
He begins to describe the label as a “modern Motown, one of those classics that just had all the best bands,” and how they have helped them achieve not only inside the music industry, but has also encouraged artistry further a field.
“We have just finished exhibiting a thousand Polariods and a video installation in the Baltic Gallery which is now moving to Brussels. Our life is consumed by the arts.”
We talk about the future and life outside of the band: “The Kills is a life style and partnership for us,” he explains unbegrudgingly, “we rarely get a day off.”
“We’ve got two or three songs for the new record but that could all change. I’ve toyed with the idea of working outside [The Kills]; I’d like to do something with Jason Pierce [Spiritualized] and Scott [Patterson of Sons and Daughters].”
Our time together draws to a close, but there is still one question that we really wanted to ask: The Smoking Ban. Discuss.
“It makes me so f**cking angry! It’s pointless! Why can’t we have just a room to smoke in like normal?” he explodes with sorrow, “They say it’s for the health of the workers, but that’s b******t! They have tried to dismantle all the Trade Unions – they couldn’t give a f**k about them!”
Jamie’s pugnacious retort exemplifies The Kills’ militant stance and infiltration into the music industry: reincarnating aloof evocations with avant-garde audacity and impunity. Midnight Boom maintains this, transcending sincerity, angst, artistry and pretension with lustful effects. In the same vein as their all inspiring predecessors The Velvet Underground, this may not be the band for all adhere towards, but this is a band that represents a movement and declaration to those who wish to be inclined.