The Kills: “Why should hip-hop be future-forward and guitar music always looking back?”

The Kills: “Why should hip-hop be future-forward and guitar music always looking back?”

The Kills have spoken to NME about ‘00s tabloid infamy, indie sleaze, working with Beck and the need to push guitar music forward.

Seven years on from 2016’s ‘Ash & Ice‘, the duo’s forthcoming sixth album ‘God Games’ marks an exciting evolution for the duo of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince. It was the first they began writing on a $100 keyboard rather than guitar, and the experimentation involved resulted in a very contemporary and organic rebirth record – exploring everything from gruesome hip-hop, future-Siouxsie voodoo, insidious gospel, flamenco noir, junk store balladry and beyond.

“It changed everything about my songwriting,” Mosshart told NME. “We could do rhythms that were completely different, I was vocalising in a different way, melodies were coming to me that I don’t think would if I was just strumming away on an acoustic guitar. All of a sudden, I could be playing a grand piano and I’m like, ‘How cool. This is awesome. I can get in that headspace now’.

“It really freed up writing for us both. Once we realised that was happening, then that’s when it becomes intentional and you’re like, ‘OK, let’s keep going with this crappy little keyboard because it’s totally working.”

We caught up with Mosshart and Hince to talk about their new direction, famous friends, indie sleaze and their legacy.

NME: Hello Jamie and Alison. Does it feel like guitars are a bit old hat now?

Mosshart: “I don’t think guitars are old hat. Electric guitar is my favourite sound on Earth. But I think for writing it was good that we didn’t use it. Jamie, for the first time, didn’t start on guitar either. And in fact, didn’t put any guitar on the record until the very end. It was almost like doing the vocal. It just sounds really great and it’s very alive.”

Hince: “I did feel like that when we started. I felt like it was an albatross. I was listening to Dean Blunt and MF Doom and Kanye production and all this stuff and the guitar did seem like this old wooden thing. I kinda fell out of love with it because we’d been doing festivals where we’d turn up at noon, we’d be playing at 10 and we didn’t hear a guitar all day. You just start to feel like people didn’t give a shit about the guitar. That’s really why I wanted to start without it. Then I absolutely fell in love with it again, I think it’s vital.”

M: “I’m really enjoying seeing that lots of young bands are playing electric guitar again. It’s very exciting to me.”

H: “I think it’s helping that a lot more girls are playing guitar, because they don’t have that fiddly-diddly-widdly thing which is not my vibe at all. There seem to be a lot of girl players that are making it making it fresher.”

The Kills, 2023. Credit: Myles Hendrik

What are the ‘God Games’?

H: “I wrote the song ‘God Games’ and it’s just something that came out of my mouth. It just came out and I liked it because it was during the pandemic and it did feel like some kind of higher power, something in the universe was fucking with us. Religious or not, atheist or not, everyone had that feeling that the universe was turning on them. I Googled it because I loved it so much I wanted to know where it had come from. And I found out that it’s a sub-genre of video games where you play god, basically.”

M: “Which neither of us have ever played.”

H: “It fit into everything. I love that thing where you have one idea and you open the lid on that and then a thousand more come out. What does it mean? Everything.”

You worked with Beck on album closer ‘Better Days’?

H: “We started a few ideas with Beck, because he lives so close to me. We asked him to pick a couple of songs to work on and that was one of them. He was really obsessed with ‘Better Days’. So it made me suddenly have confidence in it. We only did a week and then he went on tour. We just needed someone to loosen the lid on the jam jar a bit, and then we’d get going. He kept saying it was flamenco Calypso, which I liked. Every time I see him now the first thing he says is ,‘We’ve got to finish ‘Better Days’. It’s the song that Keith Richards wishes he’d written!’. I’ve got a feeling he’s said that to a lot of artists.”

‘Wasterpiece’ appears to be about the experience of stardom, or being very near it: “You’re VIP in the hall of fame, I’m RIP on the walk of shame”?

M: “It’s about cliches.”

H: “I was in quite an unbalanced relationship in that way, in my past [Jamie was the partner of Kate Moss from 2007 and the pair were married between 2011 and 2016], so that’s kind of what that’s getting at. Being in that fucking world.”

How do you look back at your tabloid days?

H: “I can’t remember to be honest. I’m glad to be out of them. I love being really honest about everything but I don’t want to explain that song. That one’s for me.”

How does it feel to be one of the few ’00s survivors still evolving your music?

M: “I’m really proud, but when we started we decided to make this band into our lives, and our lives into this band. We just believed that it would always happen. Very seriously, and we believed it was very possible because there was just two of us, we could do anything artistically that we wanted to do. This band could become anything, change on a dime, or whatever we wanted to do. We were not gonna restrict it. So I’m not surprised but I’m very proud of us that we’ve made it this far and we love it this much still. As an artist, it’s a soulful thing to want to constantly reinvent.”

H: “When you’ve been a guitar band for 10 years or more, you’ve seen how it was flatlining at one point and it seemed like it might be over, it might be like jazz. We were really trying to push it forward. The hip-hop production that’s so inspiring to me – why should that be future-forward and guitar music always be looking back to the ‘70s or the ‘90s? The [Arctic] Monkeys are like that, where they just feel like they want to find a new space age way of doing it.”

What do you make of indie sleaze?

M: “I don’t know what it meant. Alexa Chung asked me to write something for the Financial Times or something about it and I was like, ‘Alexa, what does it mean and why am I part of it?’”

H: “Somebody forwarded me a post a couple of years ago and it was a picture of us and because I’m older I thought it was one of those piss-take things. ‘Indie sleaze? What the fuck is this?’”

M: “I must’ve been asleep during that whole time. I don’t think it’s a great presentation of a time that I was actually there for and remember.”

H: “I’m interested why they put sleaze on the end of it. Maybe post-iPhone it’s trying to be symbolic of a time when not everything was captured on fucking camera. It was pretty grim, people were doing things because it was being done in secret, maybe that’s where the sleaze thing comes from. Drugs.”

M: “I think we’re just defining teenagers and young adults who were just having a good time. I feel like there’s a lot of incredible, smart, hard-working people in this scene that we’re talking about that took it really fucking seriously. I think of it in such positive and exciting terms, not in a waster, fucked up way. It was so serious. I took this music, this band, so seriously.”


What do you remember about those days?

M: “They were the most exciting thing ever because everything was a first. We were spending a lot of time in New York living at the Chelsea Hotel and it just doesn’t get better than that.”

H: “We loved it at the Chelsea Hotel so much that when Rough Trade were trying to sign us in America. We said we’d only do it if they got their office at the Chelsea Hotel, and they fucking did it! They started their office at room 103, next to my room at the Chelsea Hotel.”

M: “We had a really short commute.”

H: “It was literally next door. Opposite Sid and Nancy’s room.”

M: “I would not have spent my life in any other way. I was pumped at all times. I remember all these people offering me a place to stay, all the friends putting on shows for you if you were coming through town and you needed a stop, everybody getting together, showing up. Your whole audience would just be bands, a lot of ‘em.”

H: “There were about 35 people at our show in Detroit.”

All artists?

M: “The White Stripes, The Detroit Cobras, The Soledad Brothers. I was thinking the other day about this time we were driving through the country in the Saturn on our very first tour and there was a big massive three-lane highway with a big ravine in the middle of it. Jamie was driving and he was driving very fast.”

H: “There was a cop coming the other way and she went, ‘Slow down, slow down!’ And I went , ‘Why? They can’t do anything?’ She said, ‘He’ll have a radar’, and I said ‘They can’t do that with a radar gun coming the other way’. They fucking could.”

M: “So they went through the ravine, down the other side, and started chasing us. Jamie decided to run away! All the things I’m saying no to, you’re doing. We pulled off the highway onto a dirt road in Ohio, going through cornfield, cornfield, cornfield, dust, we couldn’t see anything behind us. I was filming all this and we’re all kind of excited. Finally we stopped because we think there’s no way, they’re gone. Then BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG on the window…”

H: “Took me to jail. But there were so many beautiful moments that aren’t really stories, like the first time we were doing things. We didn’t even drink then.”

What’s The Kills’ legacy?

M: “We have so much more to do.”

H: “Art was the most important thing, the most life-changing thing for us. That’s what we wanted to encapsulate and be involved in. I hope that’s what we embraced and that’s the kind of legacy we leave.”

The Kills release ‘God Games’ on October 27 on Domino Records. The band will also play a special Halloween album launch show at PRYZM in Kingston, London, before a lengthy 2024 US tour

The post The Kills: “Why should hip-hop be future-forward and guitar music always looking back?” appeared first on NME.

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