SONIC REDUCER "So ... what kind of drugs inspired the record?"
"What kind of drugs?" Allison Mosshart of the Kills has to puzzle only briefly over that question. "Mmm ... none. No, we didn't take any drugs when we were writing the record. None. No, ate a lot of kale, drank a lot of coffee, made cocktails if we were getting bored, but no ... "
Mosshart thinks I'm totally high. But I'm not: I'm just going ever so slightly deaf thanks to all those Marshall stacks I've cozied up to over the years and those songs I can't stop cranking to 13. And it doesn't help that I'm feeling a wee bit hungover, and that the SF-UK phone connection this way-too-early Sunday morning is somewhat linty. So instead of hearing Mosshart sincerely explain that for the Kills' latest album, Midnight Boom (Domino), she and bandmate Jamie Hince "didn't listen to music, so we did things like read books, and watch documentaries, and cut out pictures from magazines, and type on typewriters, and take photographs, and do drawings," I semi-consciously absorb all of the above as well as a tantalizing " ... and do drugs." This is your brain on too many sidecars and Sazeracs.
That's not Mosshart, though. "You know how when you're trapped in a building and you don't ever go outside for a long time?" she says of the CD's recording. "It's quite important that you don't eat like shit so you don't go mad."
Yet that inspired madness, the classic creative negativity of rock 'n' roll romanticism the kind one might find in the nicotine rasps of Jennifer Herrema, hooked on the Stones as filtered through a jillion crappy boomboxes, or in the tattered valentines of Berlin-era Lou Reed, gloomed-out on jet-set trash is just what the Kills seem to mainline. I witnessed as much at the sweaty, sizable hotbox of a Domino showcase at this year's South by Southwest fest, where the pair entered silently and quickly, noisily conjured the outta-hand spirits that most definitely don't virtuously devour kale or read good books. Hanging on to her mic stand like a lifeline in roiling waters, swaggering with a familiar rock pirate insouciance, and sporting big-cat spots like a lady who wanted less to drink from Keith Richards' "Loving Cup" than to be the Glitter Twin himself, Mosshart sang, swayed, and spat. Her eyes were hidden behind midnight bangs, as if daring you to gaze at anything else.
So the vocalist-guitarist's bare-faced honesty and earnest willingness to analyze the Kills' work comes as a refreshing surprise. For instance, of the press literature that accompanied Midnight Boom, which pointed to Pizza Pizza Daddio, a 1967 documentary about inner-city kids and their playground songs, she complains good-naturedly: "I wish I could rip that press release up because every time I do an interview, every 15 minutes someone brings up that same thing." Mosshart and Hince merely identified with the "simplicity" of the subject matter, saw its similarity to what they were doing, and liked the juxtaposition of "these seven-year-old girls singing with these huge smiles on their faces, and the songs are really dark. They're about murder and domestic violence and alcoholism."
More than anything, she says, they wanted a third album which includes beats and additional production by Spank Rock producer Alex Epton that "sounds like now. The other two records [2002's Keep on Your Mean Side and 2005's No Wow (both Domino)] are quite retro, y'know. The first one sounds a bit like a Velvet Underground record, and the second one sounds like a SuicideCabaret Voltaire kind of record."
So the Kills hunkered down at the Keyclub studio in Benton Harbor, Mich., far from the distractions of London where the twosome is based.