The Kills

FLOWERS IN THE DUSTBIN

“Hi, can I please speak to Barry Hansen?” I ask the man over the phone.
“Barry Hansen?” the attendant replies with a thick Mexican accent. “Just a moment.”

A few seconds later, Jamie Hince, one half of The Kills, is on the line sounding pleasant, but tired in his Mexico City hotel room. Since getting married to Kate Moss in July, traveling under a pseudonym has become an unfortunate reality for the British guitarist who has been tracked in his hotel room by tabloid journalists, seeking quotes for their attempts at newsgathering.

“Yeah, I’ve had tabloid journalists who knew where I was staying, call up to my room and start asking stupid questions,” he says with some embarrassment. “It’s too bad.” But aside from the rather rock-and-roll intro I have had with this man, Hince is a humble (and excited) musician who dearly adores the band and the chemistry that he shares with singer Alison Mosshart. Hince met Mosshart at a flat in London more than 10 years ago, where she was staying on the floor below while on tour from the US with her punk band, Discount. Mosshart remembers those times well.

“I was touring England quite a bit with my first band and it happened that he had two roommates who lived downstairs below him,” Mosshart recalls. “One was Ben and he drove vans for bands and worked at Southern [Records] in London. The other one, Sean, who worked at Rough Trade, he booked punk tours. So we all knew these people and they brought us over and I stayed with them on the floor. Ben drove us, Sean booked the tour and Jamie lived upstairs and always played the guitar.

He’d come down and have coffee and toast with us in the morning and we became friends that way. But I would hear him playing guitar all the time and he was just the coolest fucking person I had ever met. And he had the weirdest style of guitar playing I had ever heard. It was awesome and I loved listening to it.”

“I was making music and playing guitar all day and I didn’t know that she was sitting on the steps outside my window listening to me play,” Hince says. “She finally plucked up some courage to come talk to me and that was it.”
This spark of a relationship that ignited over music, coffee, and toast in that London apartment is obvious in their songs, but has become almost tactile in their visceral live shows, with Mosshart feverishly crooning to Hince’s bluesy, texturized riffs and the steadfast drum machine beating in the dim background.

So who wears the proverbial pants in this relationship?  “I think we share the trousers,” Hince answers diplomatically. “But in the studio, it’s definitely me. I’m a fucking nightmare in the studio. Sometimes I get brutally manic about writing songs and sometimes I’ll get really low about it. It’s pretty unhealthy stuff. But you go and watch us play and she’s definitely wearing the trousers on stage.”

Mosshart has a different answer. “It’s hard to say,” she says with a laugh. “We really complement and balance each other. Like, I’m a lot more organized than him.” This balance that they bring to their lives and their music is what makes The Kills work so well together. Mosshart is a little more spontaneous, wearing her heart and emotions on both sleeves and Hince, while genuine, seems to be more interested in the devil that’s lurking in the details, the quantifiables of day-to-day business.

“Jamie’s really secretive – he doesn’t show anyone anything that he’s written except for maybe me,” Mosshart says about songwriting. “I’m not throw-away about stuff, but I’m also not precious. He’ll hold onto a song for a really long time where I will play it for somebody.”

“He needs someone like me to be like, ‘Play me the fucking song. Please, I want to hear it,’” she continues with a laugh. “Meanwhile, he’s behind a locked door in a soundproof booth, rocking out.”

“It’s much easier with two people. I’ve been in bands with more than two people before and there’s always a case of trying to reach a consensus – I think it can water the music down,” Hince says.  “I think you have to be an anarchist in politics, but you have to be a fascist in art. When Allison comes up with a song, then the bits missing from it, I’ve always managed to have those parts. There’s times when she’s written half the song and I’ve written half and they’ve just fit together perfectly. I don’t know where it comes from. I suppose you just know when you’ve met the right person. I’m grateful for that all of the time.”

Although The Kills’ sound may not be for everyone, their songs are lacking in pretention and are accessible to almost everyone because of what inspires them. Both Hince and Mosshart have an interest in taking the normal, the taken-for-granted of everyday life and finding music in that. “Some days you walk along the street and you see pavement and chewing gum and just bits of litter,” Hince explains, “And then some days you walk along the same street and you see the chewing gum in the shape of a heart – you see beauty in all of that. That’s the thing that twists everyday things into inspiration to write something. It’s the flowers in the dustbin that inspire me.”

“I tend to write about people and their interactions with each other,” Mosshart adds. “And confusion too. Like, people not knowing what the fuck to do. That endlessly inspires me because I’m exactly the same way. I write about normal, everyday things.” On stage, the duo shares the same mindset as well.

“I lose my mind,” Hince says. “Those are my favourite gigs when I can’t really remember. It’s times when just before we go on, I’m really nervous and I start thinking, ‘What’s the second note of Heart is a Beating Drum?’ I cannot think of it. And then I get on stage with a guitar and it’s just natural – there’s just an instinct for it. My favourite gigs are when I’m not thinking about anything and I’m just lost in it.”

Mosshart echoes her bandmate’s sentiment. “I don’t really think too much on stage – it’s the last place to think. If I’m thinking on stage, something is wrong. Like, something’s breaking, something sounds bad, there’s something weird in the air or I’m really tired and I’m thinking, ‘How the fuck am I going to do this next song? I don’t know.’”

It is this conviction they have in each other and their songs that appears to be the compass in the band’s unmapped journey. It is this rooted confidence in spontaneity of music that makes their shows so exciting and even led to them to picking the moniker they now both perform under.

“We sat opposite of each other with typewriters, a dueling-typewriter thing, and we’d tap away in a stream of consciousness, coming up with different names,” Hince describes, like it happened that afternoon. “After a day of doing it, ‘The Kills’ was the last thing on the sheet of paper and I showed Allison. She said, ‘Yep, that’s it.’”  Ever since the typewriter duel, Mosshart says life has been good.

“I couldn’t live without it. I don’t want to,” says Mosshart, who also sings and plays in the Dead Weather with Jack White. “It can be really hard sometimes, really frustrating and really tiring, but it’s the most exciting, fulfilling most wonderful thing as well. Every time I go on stage or I go on a tour bus, I’m reminded that this is what I get to do with my life. It’s so cool because I have a way of expressing myself, I have a way of doing art and communicating with the world.” She pauses to think about it a little more. “That’s really hard to do – to find that thing, you know?”

 

photos by Alan Chan

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