Between duties with Jack White supergroup The Dead Weather and volatile trans-Atlantic duo The Kills, Alison Mosshart has managed to write, record, tour and release four albums in four years. The Kills’ Midnight Boom in ’08, The Dead Weather’s Horehound in ’09, The Dead Weather’s Sea of Cowards in ’10 and The Kills’ fourth studio LP, Blood Pressures in ’11. By modern standards that’s somewhat excessive but the 32 year old Florida native assures us she has no intention of slowing down. Last week Pedestrian caught up with Ms. Mosshart to discuss why time apart from Jamie Hince was a positive, the main differences between The Kills and The Dead Weather and why their latest album is also their most interesting.
Hi Alison what have you been up to today? Today I’ve woken up. That’s all I’ve today, wake up. I’m just here in a hotel room in Paris.
Good morning then. Now I know you guys have been playing a few shows recently. What’s it like getting back together and sharing these new songs with everyone? It’s exciting. We’re figuring a lot out again with these new songs. We keep playing them to audiences who don’t know them yet so it’s really interesting like “bear with us everybody”. Yeah, we’re just working out these new songs so it’s really fun and it’s really different. There are a lot of new instruments there and a lot of new things to contend with.
I feel like you guys really cover more ground on this record sound-wise. Was that a conscious decision going into the writing and recording process? I don’t know. I think the music tells you what to do really. It was one of those things where we were writing songs that were quite melody heavy. That was more of a focus or it ended up being more of a focus. The songs had melodies and they felt like more complete bodies of work. They weren’t just drums. I mean I think “Midnight Boom” was really drum heavy and there’s hardly any guitar on that record. But this one there’s a lot more guitar, there’s mellotron and various kinds of keyboards and real drums that have been sampled and cut up so I guess that’s why it has a different feel.
Obviously you took some time off with The Dead Weather last year and the year before that. I spoke with Jack White last year and he talked about the spirit that’s present when the four of you are in a room and instantaneously making music together. Did any of that bleed through to what you guys do with The Kills I think you have different things with different people, you know? It’s incredibly special in The Dead Weather when the four of us are together. It’s hard to put your finger on it. I don’t think you meet a bunch of people like that and sit and without even saying anything write simultaneously. And ta-da there’s a song. God knows where it came from. That’s a pretty crazy thing. I’ve never experienced that before. I’ve never been in a band that lends itself to that before. With Jamie it’s a really different thing. I mean there is something so incredibly special between us. We’ve been together for twelve years, we’ve known each other that long and we’ve lived out of each others’ pockets. We play music together. We’re hooked. It’s something beyond family. And whatever it is I’d hate to try and describe it. I can’t describe it. So the writing process is quite different. Jamie and I, we both write. We both write a lot. And we bring each other what we write like you’d giving someone a present. Then we finish each others’ songs. That’s kind of how we work. So yeah, that’s the main difference between The Kills and The Dead Weather.
So the process is more laboured with The Kills? Yes. And that’s for one reason only and that’s because we use drum machines and programming drums takes a hell of a long time. And so it’s weeks and weeks and weeks of that. And as soon as you try and put a song to it you have to change it again. So I’d say that each song has drums that have been worked on for a week and a half each. That’s a long time. That’s really labour intensive for Jamie because I don’t know how to do that stuff – that’s just all him. It gets to the point where every time you want to change something it’s a big deal (laughs). It’s a really different process. It’s like you’re building and building and building. It doesn’t leave itself open to moments of magic so much except for when you do a guitar take or a vocal. That’s the challenge of The Kills I think, is capturing those moments even when you’ve been working on something for so long or you’ve heard it so many different ways.
You mentioned before that you and Jamie had lived out of each others’ pockets for so long and you have this relationship you can’t really describe. And I feel like each Kills record is a representation of the both of you in a particular time and place. But on this one you didn’t see each so much of each other in the lead up to recording, how did you compensate for the distance in your day to day lives? As you said there was kind of a gap there because I ended up doing two Dead Weather records that I didn’t even know I was going to do. But as soon as we got back in the studio it was kind of like…there we were working. It wasn’t too much of a question it was more like “Is the sound working?” “Are we gonna do this song or that song?” It was kind of like that. I hate to make it sound boring but being in the studio is kind of a test in that way.
Do you know what I mean though? Like, being together all the time must have informed your work in some way and not that it’s a good or bad thing but that same energy wouldn’t have been present this time around… Yeah maybe it does or it doesn’t. I mean I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Because we did spend time away, I was doing other things, he was doing other things and we came back kind of nervous about just that. Is it going to work? Are we on the same page? Do we both want to do the same thing? Because usually we totally want to do the same type of thing because we’ve been around each other all the time. And I don’t know if that works to our detriment because I have to say this record, to me, is the most interesting thing we’ve done. Because I feel like when I walked into the studio I was more American than I’ve ever been before. He was more English than he’s ever been before. It was ridiculous. And you could look at that in a negative way but I immediately didn’t and I just said “I think it’s going to be the most interesting record we’ve ever done” because we hadn’t been listening to the same music every single day, doing the same things everyday. We were both bringing a wider spectrum to the studio, we were coming from two different places and what would be fantastic is if we butt heads and recorded it and see what happens. And I’m really thankful for that now because it wasn’t a problem at all. For me it’s just going to make this record stand out in an even bigger way.
Was it hard to reconcile those differences initially? We don’t really fight over music, you just have to do what’s best for the songs. It gets to a point where you have to leave yourself out of it. The song works the best this way, this is how it’s meant to be. When you play a song that works you can tell immediately – it just floors you. You play it the wrong way and it feels like something’s itching you, it feels really strange. You might think “I like this sound because I like this style of music but when we play it something’s missing.” Something’s not right. I think the music makes its mind up for you. We kind of trust it to do that.
Did you ever have to convince Jamie that The Kills was your main focus? Did that conversation ever take place or was it kind of beamed telepathically? It seems silly and quite childish doesn’t it? And for a second I thought “Oh no maybe he’s upset” (laughs) but we’ve known each other for so long and that stuff is kind of silly. I don’t know. It’s like when you’re a kid and you have one best friend and then you grow up and you have two friends. Everybody still gets along. It’s OK (laughs). It’s all good.
And what does the rest of the year hold for The Kills? We’re going to be touring our faces off.
Are you sick of the road? I mean touring four albums in four years must be taxing. No that’s the part I like! I’m sick of a lot of other parts like talking about myself all day. At the moment I’ve kind of hit a wall with that and I’m ready for that bit to be over. But I never get sick of playing I think that’s the honest job of the musician. Going out on the road and playing for people, new people and having that experience. That’s when you’re really putting your life on the line, that’s the scary part, that’s the real part. You can’t rewind it if you fuck up. It’s like “it’s really happening”. It’s the point of all this, I think. That’s the part I never get sick of. I mean of course you get tired and it’s exhausting but it’s never tired like “I hate this” it’s tired like “I just need a nap and I’ll be cool” (laughs).
What have you learned about playing live going from a band that uses a drum machine to a band with an amazing drummer and back again? I’m finding now that I want everything really loud in my monitors because I’m so used to having crashing surround sound hitting me from all sides in The Dead Weather. I mean, I need monitors everywhere now I really have noticed that! Whether that’s because I’m going deaf I’m not sure. Again I think the bands are so different. One’s a spontaneous adventure and the other’s like walking a tightrope. And they’ve both got their charms.
Thanks for your time Alison, hopefully we see you guys play in Australia soon. You definitely will. We’ll be down later this year for Splendour In The Grass.
Blood Pressures will be released in Australia via Domino April 1st 2011.