The process of making this LP saw Hince battling hand surgeries, which forced the 47-year-old Brit to re-learn to play guitar with a permanently damaged finger. Seeking inspiration, he boarded the infamous Trans-Siberian Railway for a solo voyage, while Mosshart penned poetic Ash & Ice lyrics from her current Nashville home. Thousands of miles apart, the pair reconvened to record in a Los Angeles rental home and NYC’s iconic Electric Lady Studios alongside co-producer, John O’Mahony (Metric, The Cribs).
The creative partnership between Mosshart and Hince has always made The Kills an outfit of striking juxtapositions: tight and mechanic, yet fearless and ferocious—a true reflection of their unbalanced personalities and processes. While Mosshart leads a disciplined life, her songwriting is noticeably organic, which she exercises through The Dead Weather, as well. Though Hince naturally engages in more unruly everyday habits, he becomes a regimented perfectionist in the studio.
For Ash & Ice, these nuances settled nicely into a 13-track effort that folds Mosshart’s rippling vocals into Hince’s clean, artificial production. The project’s guitar-dripping lead single, “Doing It To Death,” offers a perfect introduction to the newly revamped Kills, with “Heart Of A Dog” further establishing the slinky, sludgy sound they’ve been carving out for half a decade, now.
BULLETT recently caught up with Hince at the Bowery Hotel to pick apart his experience of making The Kills’ forthcoming LP.
I interviewed Alison Mosshart about the new album right when it was being mastered, so I’m excited to hear your perspective now that it’s complete.
It’s good that it worked out like this—that you’re talking to me now, because I’m so involved in the production right up to the last minute. That’s why I don’t sleep and I’m just getting emails all the time, changing the mix right to the last minute and then having a panic going, ‘No, the other one!’ It’s good when I calm down and I can just stay away for a few weeks and listen to it again—try to be an audience member and listen to it like that.
Do you feel like you can enjoy the album now?
Yeah, I really do. And I have to say, without sounding self-obsessed, I really enjoy listening to it. I can’t say it’s been like that for all our records. I mean, no one’s going to hear it as many times as I am—nobody. I think about the amount of times I’ve played the songs, from writing to recording, to listening to the mixes—hundreds and hundreds of times. So it kind of surprises me that I’m still interested in it.
This has been a five-year-long process, which is a crazy amount of time.
I think people generally judge and punctuate things by record releases, so I’ve heard it a lot: ‘What have you been doing for the last five years?’ But we’re not a band that has radio hits, and that really helps [make] bands’ touring cycles a lot shorter when they have hits. We’re just a touring band, underground band—we tour and tour and tour. I’m kind of surprised it didn’t take longer to make this record in a lot of ways.
When you first started making Ash & Ice, did you anticipate it turning out this way?
I didn’t sit down and think about the album five years ago. It was the first time when we finished touring Blood Pressures, which was probably for two years, that I sat down after and realized I hadn’t fucking written one thing while we were on the road. It kind of scared me a bit, and then I thought, ‘I just can’t be partying and being an idiot—not really working on my craft.’ So I sat down and said, ‘I’m gonna to turn it into something positive. I’m gonna start thinking about what kind of record we’re gonna make.’ I knew I wanted to make a dub record because that’s the music I love the most [and] I wanted to make a Rock ‘N’ Roll record as if it was produced by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.
What are you like working in the studio?
I find it really hard to know when to finish. I’ve been taken into a corner and told quite strictly by Alison, ‘You’ll go mad, you’re ruining your health and your mind, you’ve got to stop.’ Alison’s songwriting is so chaotic and spontaneous, and when she writes a song it’s done—that’s it. But her life is so regimented and disciplined. For me, it’s the other way around; my life is just chaos [and] whirlwinds, but with songwriting, I’m really disciplined. It’s got to be this, it’s got to be that, but [songs go] on and on and on. I always need someone to tell me [to stop]. It’s how I work, but it’s painful that there’s no end to it. I’m running away from being ordinary, I think. That’s my big fear.
What elements of The Kills’ classic sound are present on this album and what’s new?
In a sense, because I fucked my hand up, I didn’t think I’d be able to play guitar again, so I started putting a studio together with really amazing gear, and my writing changed. When you’re just writing with a keyboard and programming software, it’s much more sonic. I was experimenting. When [Alison and] I brought our songs together, they seemed miles apart. Alison’s are quite Dylan-esque, but I was trying to find a new sound for rock ‘n’ roll. It kind of irritated me, at the start, how different our songs were, and then I realized, that’s kind of The Kills sound—finding a way of bridging those two things. Alison deals with the past a lot more. She’s proud to be retrospective. I’m proud to try to do something futuristic.
How did hand surgery affect you mentally?
The mental effects were quite good, really, because it made me realize how positive I am. I didn’t know that before. I just got on with it. They told me I wouldn’t be able to use my hand for nine weeks, so I’d do something else. I’d write lyrics. There was one moment where I felt sorry for myself, but I think I was lucky in a way, because I’ve never been the most orthodox guitar player, and I’ve always operated with the notion that ideas are more important than ability. So in that sense, I just adapted my ideas. It didn’t really affect my ability.
Did you do any side projects during this time?
I’ve been doing this project with Azealia Banks for a while. We meet up every now and then, and write songs together. It’s really fucking great [and] not how you would think it would be at all. Her singing voice is fucking heart-stopping. It has been a bit of an eye-opener, doing stuff with Azealia. I got so used to writing with Alison, [so] it’s interesting hearing a different take on something. It’s refreshing [and] refreshes your palette.
You and Alison recorded much of Ash & Ice in a DIY LA recording studio. Were there certain challenges with this?
It was really hard—one of those things that at the time, you think ‘never again.’ Then afterwards, you start looking through rose-tinted spectacles, ‘it was really great,’ but it wasn’t. ‘t was necessary, but it was fucking loud, there was no sound-proofing, you were constantly shouting to be heard, there was a baby there. The main thing was, we turned up and everyone was ready to record this record, and I said, ‘I don’t think we’re ready. I think we need to do more writing.’ I think Alison thought I was doing it to wind her up and be mean to her. I didn’t think we had a good enough record, but in the end she said, ‘Okay, we’ll re-write it.’ And I’m so glad we did.
Alison has said The Kills is a difficult project for her because it’s just two people. Do you agree?
She really needs The Dead Weather. I think it’s kind of boring for her being in The Kills [and] in the studio, because I do take too long and she doesn’t really understand why I’ve been programming drums for ten hours. She thinks it’s absolute torture. That’s unfortunately what I’ve really wanted for my band, I wanted to be like The Cramps or The Stooges when we play live. And then when we’re in the studio I want to be like Massive Attack.
Every album in The Kills’ discography is slightly different. Is sound development important to you?
I love those bands that just carve out a sound and then they do the same thing every album. The Cramps, they’ve got a sound, and they just keep doing it, and I love it. I just can’t do that, I’m not confident enough. What excites me about bands is when they make a punk rock record, and then the next record could sound like some crazy, experimental dance thing.
I love the “Doing It To Death” video—this campy, theatrical interpretation of a funeral march.
I love a lot of our videos, but it’s different watching a video when you’re in it. I would say that out of all that, there are only two videos I can comfortably watch and ‘Doing It To Death’ is one of them. The other is ‘U R A Fever.’ I never thought of ‘Doing It To Death’ as death, it was more like relentless life. I suppose it’s a testament to how strong the video idea was, and credit to Wendy Morgan for that. When people talk about the song now, they’re basically talking about the video.
Visuals have always been key to The Kills, haven’t they?
When I was growing up, that’s how I found music. I lived in a shitty little town. There was no radio, so I would just go into the record shop and buy music on the strength of the album cover [and] what bands looked like. That’s how I got interested in style. You’d be able to work out what bands sounded like based on how they presented themselves. That’s absolutely stuck with me.
What was your main goal in creating this album?
I felt like there was some lazy, faded rock ‘n’ roll imagery in our songs—a theatrical part that didn’t have much substance to it sometimes. We’d be on tour playing songs about devils and highways that don’t speak to me, so I wanted to make a record where we were really saying what we meant. I think rock ‘n’ roll music is so retrospective and nostalgic and kind of doesn’t speak to anyone really. Even new bands, when I see kids that are like 19 years old and they look fucking fantastic, but they sound like they’re from the ’90s and they’re singing about things they couldn’t be meaning.
How’d you go about executing this?
Alison has this piano song [on Ash & Ice] called, ‘That Love,’ which was originally called ‘Death Row’ and it kind of went, ‘It’s over now, it’s over now, your love is death row.’ It had impact and was really dramatic, but I was just thinking, ‘What do you mean? You don’t mean it’s death row, that’s just you using a lazy cliché.’ I’d say, ‘Do you mean your love’s fucked up? Say it.’ So she went back in and just blew me away with, ‘Your love is a fucking joke, your love is fucked up.’ It’s important to change our language away from faded, rock ‘n’ roll clichés.