Ash & Ice
“It’s about Vladimir Putin,” deadpans Jamie Hince, exchanging a sideways smirk with a visibly amused Alison Mosshart. “With a homoerotic vibe. I wanted to imagine him as a tyrant that’s got a bit of time off. He’s with this man, and he just wants the warmth of a masculine body. They’re cuddling and he says ‘Look, we can get back to being tyrants tomorrow. I’ve got needs, but no-one understands. I love all these people – I even love Pussy Riot – but why don’t they love me?’” he grins. Alison tries, and quickly fails, to stifle a laugh.
“It’s a sweet, sensitive, homoerotic fantasy,” Jamie adds, embellishing further still. “Not my fantasy! [Putin’s] fantasy. I don’t know who his mate is that he wants to cuddle,” he concedes. “Probably Tony Blair.”
It’s a typical interaction between the two. Jamie will happily muse endlessly on any subject, meandering vaguely between topics. Alison, meanwhile, interjects with the odd wry comment, delivering concise summaries with killer comic timing. It’s an innate chemistry that has formed the basis for The Kills since they first paired up around the turn of the Millennium, and sixteen years on, that duality is slap-bang at the sizzling centre of their fifth record, ‘Ash & Ice’. Blazing fire meeting frosty water, black fizzing against steely white. They’re the very definition of chalk and cheese, these two, and yet together, they’re one magnet-bound whole.
“It’s kind of gross actually!” laughs Jamie, recalling the inspiration for their new album’s title. “I chucked my cigarette in a glass of ice. It’s also quite life enhancing, isn’t it?” he asks rhetorically, miming holding the two objects with gusto. “A spliff and a drink!”
‘Ash & Ice’ is a bit like The Kills in spirit, then. Like so many magical artistic duos they’re vocally fascinated by – the stained-glass loving, suited-and-booted eccentrics Gilbert and George, the shock-tactic sibling art duo Jake and Dinos Chapman, the list goes on and on – it’s a project that depends entirely on the dynamic of two opposing people, pushing for the precise same thing. “Yes,” snorts Jamie. “We’re sort of like muddy water.”
“It’s a relationship. It’s a type of relationship,” agrees Alison. “You usually gravitate towards people who have things that you don’t; that are the things that you’re not. You find the whole spectrum, that way, this feeling of completeness. With art, that’s a big thing,” she nods. “It’s really big to have that.”
Like all brilliant creative accidents, The Kills first met by fluke. Alison was over on the other side of the Atlantic on one of her usual spontaneous whims, crashing with a mate, when she heard Jamie mucking around on his guitar through the ceiling. She set out on a mission to find the owner of the strange sonic squalls, and soon afterwards, on another of her drop-of-the-hat impulses, she packed up the contents of her “shithole” flat in the States to form a then-nameless band with Jamie in London. Following their first ever gig together at London’s 12 Bar, Alison got the show’s date (14th February 2002) etched in tattoo ink on her left hand – a fairly fearless statement of commitment if ever there was one. The Kills instantly knew that what they had together was one in a billion.
“We both signed this imaginary pact of commitment, with faith that we would do the same thing,” remembers Jamie. “We would join forces for this creative thing, with double the punch.”
Everybody needs good neighbours
Jamie: I’m spending more time in America. It’s a trial. I still hang out with British people there though! Miles Kane, Alex Turner, Mike from Royal Blood – they’re my neighbours.
After a two-and-a-half-month stint at their new studio in LA, The Kills found themselves with thirty-odd contending songs, and chewing at the bit to finish ‘Ash & Ice’. After dangling microphones out windows to sample whirring police helicopters, and recording ramshackle vocal takes while crouched on the bathroom tiles, Alison and Jamie headed towards yet another of the polar opposites that shape this album. It took them to the decidedly legendary Electric Lady Studios in New York’s Greenwich Village. Once the stomping ground of Jimi Hendrix, it wound up being the place where The Kills put a full stop on ‘Ash & Ice’.
“It was the perfect antithesis to recording in a house,” Alison explains.
“They did tell us: Jimi Hendrix lived there, in the house we rented in in LA,” realises Jamie, suddenly. “Then obviously we went to Electric Lady, which was his studio. That’s only just dawned on me,” he adds.
“He was throwing lightbulbs at you,” Alison says, without stopping to clarify that she’s referring to the ghost of Jimi, here. Obviously. “Lights were literally falling from the ceiling. Really bizarre.” Hendrix’s spirit, The Kills agree, found its way onto ‘Ash & Ice’ too – in yet another of their strangely coincidental turns.
“I would never in my life have considered using a wah-wah pedal,” says Jamie. “Apart from the fact we were at Electric Lady, and I just thought, ‘Come on, let’s do it!’ I haven’t heard a wah-wah pedal on a record for such a long time, and I still don’t think it’s ready.” The pair burst out laughing. “I think it’s too early for that shit to come back,” hoots Jamie. “But I thought, fuck it! I’m going to do it!”
“Just an itch,” grins Alison.
Though they might be a truly transatlantic band – frog-hopping between continents depending on their mood – The Kills have always been open about one of their main inspirations. Following Alison’s brazen first show tattoo, when the time came to settle on a band name, the pair chose The Kills because it seemed timeless. Both are huge fans of Velvet Underground, in particular, and in early interviews, The Kills often spoke of doing an Andy Warhol, and locking themselves away in a tinfoil coated, self-contained music factory. Unwilling to compromise, the band was born as a place where Alison’s painting, Jamie’s photography, and their collective musical output could all come under the same umbrella. Far from being a nostalgic goalpost, though, Velvet Underground just happen to be an example of that being possible.
On it like a car bonnet
Jamie "Hotel" Hince
02 – Heart Of A Dog
03 – Hard Habit To Break
04 – Bitter Fruit
05 – Days Of Why And How
06 – Let It Drop
07 – Hum For Your Buzz
08 – Siberian Nights
09 – That Love
10 – Impossible Tracks
11 – Black Tar
12 – Echo Home
13 – Whirling Eye