Mean Streets

The Kills journey to the dark edge of sound

Lone lovers are singing bluesy tunes, reeking of wanton lust and residue. They've got their mean streak on. Outlaws lurking, Hotel and VV are on the prowl. "Get the guns out, get the guns out," they sing together on "Love Is a Deserter," one of the highlights from No Wow.

Living in London, alone together, a black leather pair suckin' on liquor in a paper bag, the Kills do rock and roll. But, hell, they think what they do is more electro.

"I don't really understand what rock and roll means anymore," says Alison Mosshart, a.k.a. VV, who is currently out on the road somewhere in the U.S.A. "We relate more to an electronic band musically because of the drum machine and the minimal aspects. But all those music terms get kind of crazy and, somewhere down the line, they just lose their meaning."

As the Kills, VV (left) and Hotel morph from rockers to electro heads
Kenneth Cappello
As the Kills, VV (left) and Hotel morph from rockers to electro heads

Fuck the terms. Only the credo matters.

"Yeah," she adds. "But do all those bands deemed örock and roll bands' really have that attitude?"

The Kills recently released No Wow, the end result of Hotel's search for a legendary mixing board tailored for Sly Stone. Once he found it in a warehouse in Benton Harbor, Michigan, he and VV promptly decamped there throughout all of the album's writing and demo sessions.

But their ferocious 2003 debut, Keep on Your Mean Side, should be noted first. Making rock for the reductionism age with raw guitar that sounds like shotgun blasts and discreet drum machine handclaps, Jamie Hince, a.k.a. Hotel, and VV's voices blend into a melee, softly battling in harmonic pushing and shoving like love gone sour. "Ugh, ugh," VV carnally moans on "Cat's Claw." "You got it if I want it you got it if I want it you got it if I want it ..."

No Wow still has the jagged tough guy/girl attitude of their debut and exudes an unmerciful feeling of lonely woes and despair, with track titles such as "Love Is a Deserter" and "I Hate the Way You Love (Parts I and II)." But something's missing. That initial, spontaneous oomph of instinct, anger, and nihilism on Keep on Your Mean Side has waned and given way to a slightly tame and more conscious result. Meanwhile No Wow gets even more minimal from a production standpoint, pulsing ahead with a repetitive drum machine programmed by Hotel and creating an electronic sound that, while admirably tense, seems less organic and more dull.

The Kills sang 'bout booze, sex, and murder. It was the mindset, the provocative lyrics, the unremitting guitar thrusts, and brittle but throbbing beats. In and out. Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick ... Keep on your mean side.

We're all bad boys and bad girls, the Kills make clear. The devil's in all of us.

But now the band is more popular. And, as we all know, real bad-asses can only shine for so long in the limelight before the monstrous vacuum of fame and entertainment swallows them whole. Hence the big front-page spread in the January 2005 edition of UK culture bible Dazed & Confused: "VV & Hotel on the Road to Rock and Roll Nirvana."

Ha.

It's not as if the Kills are losing their edge, despite No Wowbeing something of a notable disappointment. But now people are reading about them and getting to "know" them through splashy magazine profiles and fashion spreads. It's no surprise, though, that the hipsters and indie-rock kids love them and identify with the defiance in their image (the so-called "independent" ethos), the romanticism of two loners doing it together, the pragmatism of the pain/beauty tug of war that lovers wage, and the no-frills blues stomp in their attitude. But really, their setup seems rather, um, trendy.

Nonetheless, it works. The boy-girl harmonies, the cool-misfit eroticism, and the roiling rock grooves relate to other duos in the spotlight such as the Raveonettes.

"I don't know, the more people like you, the harder it is," says VV. "The more interviews you do, the more information is out there, the less mystery there is. The only way to maintain [it] is to reapproach what you started with." That would mean her and Hotel's mutual Nostalgia for the Factory era, Warhol's muse Edie Sedgwick, and the bohemian Velvet Underground. "There's a lot of anxiety to go around," she says, "and as long as we turn that into adrenaline and strong performances, we'll be fine."

But you don't need to know about Hince and Mosshart's personal lives. This is a story about VV and Hotel, who record together as the Kills. The music speaks for itself. Love and death are all that count.

"Bands want to have things and become comfortable. We work really fucking hard and only have a day off every fourth months or so. We're definitely not öcomfortable,' but it's fucking fun, so who cares?"

 
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