April 2011

Power of Two

With a deceptively lo-fi sound and a bluesy-punk vibe, indie band the Kills is, well, doing just that

LORRAINE
ALI

HEDI SLIMANE / TRUNK ARCHIVE

Guitarist Jamie Hince and singer Alison Mosshart of the Kills are the last two you’d expect to find at band camp. The duo are a pastiche of cool—he’s jagged, messy and dates supermodel Kate Moss. She wears Jackie O sunglasses and plays in the Dead Weather with Jack White. Their sound has been described as “nouveau-garage.”

But to draw inspiration for their highly anticipated fourth CD, Blood Pressures, Hince found himself exploring that bastion of geekiness, the high school band. “It was this beautiful, fragile thing,” he says. “The notes were vulnerable and weedy. I also sampled the school drums and percussion—they were all rattly. Normally, bands spend hours trying to get rid of that in the studio. I spent hours trying to capture it.”

The bum notes and a million more carefully arranged mistakes can be heard throughout the CD. The Kills’ trademark fuzzy guitars, deadpan vocals and drum-machine minimalism are all there, too, but bumped up to a new level thanks to stronger song structures. Make no mistake, Blood Pressures is still characteristically sparse, but it’s also highly nuanced—no easy blend considering the two play everything save for the tuba. Hince says their songs used to be about “attitude first...until we just got better at writing.”

Being an indie duo on the rise presents unique organizational challenges, as the 30 days after our meeting require that the band gear up for a showcase at SXSW, a live spot on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic and a set on the Coachella main stage. “I just need two extra arms sewn in the side of my body, and everything’s gonna be fine,” Mosshart says with a smile.

Hince concurs. “I love the idea of two people struggling to make an orchestra of it. It could fall apart at any minute—and on numerous occasions, it has,” he jokes. “The music I’ve played—and the music I love—has always been a triumph of idea over ability.”

The Kills got their start when Mosshart, who hails from Florida, met British guitarist Hince nine years ago while on tour with pop-punk band Discount. “He was a roommate of a friend, and we were crashing at their apartment in London,” she says. “We’d be sleeping, and I could hear Jamie playing guitar. I thought he was the coolest person alive.”

Hince, who’d been in several indie bands, encouraged Mosshart to start writing, and the two exchanged tapes until she moved to London. In 2003, the Kills released their first album, Keep on Your Mean Side.

The band has amassed a following thanks to years of dangerously cool music and tours with such indie luminaries as Telepathe, the Childballads and the Horrors. Their songs have appeared in everything from the Friday the 13th franchise to a Fendi perfume ad to the NHL ’09 videogame soundtrack.

HEDI SLIMANE / TRUNK ARCHIVE

“The reality really sinks in when you’re on a flight, see a terrible movie and your song is playing,” says Hince. “It’s like, Jesus, did we agree to this?” But for Mosshart, such surprises are welcome. “It’s not easy for a band like the Kills to get on the radio,” she says. “I don’t cringe when I hear my music on Cops. When they’re chasing a crackhead through a backyard and my music’s in the background, I feel proud.”

More unintended exposure? The British tabloids, which obsess over Hince, the “rocker beau/party animal” who is planning a lavish June wedding to fiancé Moss. “If you take all that tabloid stuff seriously, you end up with a plate full of self-disgust,” says Hince. “It’s ironic, because I’ve always had this natural desire to stay underground. It helps preserve the music. Bands like Fugazi, Sonic Youth and the Cure are a story that unfolds over long periods. Those are the bands I adore—the ones who made their music a life commitment.”

NOW HEAR THIS

SONG: “Luv of My Life”
ARTIST: DJ Quik

“The Compton beatmaker’s latest CD, The Book of David, shows none of the desperation that can go along with a “comeback” tag. He didn’t even learn to pronounce Dom Pérignon. With easy rhymes, crystalline drums and a groove that’d work well on a Sade record, this track hits the summer-jam sweet spot jus lyke old times.”  —Andrew Barker, music editor, Variety

*******

SONG: “Still”
ARTIST: Gretchen Parlato

“A tricky beat and a lyric hook push this tune into your instant-memory bank. L.A.-born Parlato, now a New Yorker, wrote the poetic words, acoustic-guitarist Alan Hampton the hypnotic melody. He sings harmony with the last choruses of her honey-grained vocal. Her voice touches your heart even as she has you dancing.”  —Tom Nolan, music author and critic

*******

SONG: “Toro”
ARTIST: El Columpio Asesino

“The Spanish punk outfit’s single, from the CD Diamantes, is all thunderous drums and ’90s lo-fi guitar fuzz—as if Sonic Youth were let into the bulls of Pamplona. But it dissolves into indie bliss when Cristina Martínez shouts, “Te voy a hacer bailar toda la noche (I’ll make you dance all night).” Disaffection rarely sounds this dance-worthy.”  —Monica Herrera, news editor, Billboard

*******

SONG: “I Got Love If You Want It”
ARTIST: Steve Miller Band

“A true guitar master even to this day, Miller learned directly from family friend Les Paul and the real bluesmen—from the age of five. This catchy cover of Slim Harpo’s classic, from Miller’s new album Let Your Hair Down, features some of the tastiest guitar work you’ll ever hear.”  —“Uncle” Joe Benson, 95.5 KLOS radio personality