When WE interviewed the Kills’ Jamie Hince last week, we had no idea we were conversing with a missing person. According to reports discovered after the fact, Kills vocalist Alison Mosshart had put out a call on her Facebook page earlier that day, asking if anyone had seen or heard from the guitarist since the band’s Montreal gig the night before. They were just hours away from showtime in Toronto, and Hince was nowhere to be found.
Groggy and tired-sounding, Hince didn’t seem like a man on the run when we spoke over the phone in the midst of his 16-hour disappearing act. He blamed his rusty pipes on the non-stop action of New York City, where the Kills played a couple of shows before Montreal. He admitted that New York shows are, for him, the most anxiety-inducing. “The record industry people come, and that makes me nervous,” he says. “They’re not the kind of people I like at my shows.”
The kind of people who do frequent Kills shows are often described as too-cool hipsters or fashionista types — an audience the band has willingly cultivated from the beginning. The Kills’ high-energy blues-rock is gritty and sexy, but also slightly art-school; during their first few years of fame, Hince and Mosshart often copped to wanting to recreate Andy Warhol’s Factory.
Hince proves to be funny, sweet, and unguarded throughout our interview — a different man than the one depicted in the tabloids as the on-again, off-again arm candy of supermodel Kate Moss, or by music journalists who seem fixated on portraying the Kills as tough-as-nails, arty intellectuals who ooze sexual tension with their “Are they or aren’t they?” stage presence. Hince shrugs it off as best he can.
“I think it’s a hard thing, writing about music,” he says. “It’s not an enviable job. Vocabulary’s so small these days, you’ve got bands described as a cross between this, that, and something else. It’s hard to describe music without falling into that category of talking in clichés. There’s not that romantic writing anymore that’s gonna be seen in a frame behind glass or as art in a museum piece, as it used to be.”
Making art is all the Kills have ever wanted to do, an earnest declaration that’s been applauded and mocked since the band’s 2003 debut, Keep on Your Mean Side, which is just now being re-released with five bonus tracks. That will have to suffice as a bridge between 2008’s Midnight Boom and the band’s next album, which likely won’t see the light of day until 2010. Hince explains that even though the duo don’t write songs on the road, that’s where the creative process starts.
“What we do is write loads, take pictures, paint and draw and take photographs, and at the end of it we have this huge collection of odds and sods and all sorts of different things,” he says. “Then that becomes a weird sort of journal that starts the next record. It always starts with an aesthetic for us.”
Hince’s voice becomes fully animated. “I think if you come up with something really true and original, it will sound a bit nasty, it will sound a bit ugly,” he says. “I think Picasso said something about that, like you have to run faster than beauty. We did that with Midnight Boom. I was sick of these ’60s and ’70s guitar tones and drum sounds. I really went overboard to try and make a sound that was not like a beautiful guitar sound, but really harsh and ugly.”
The current tour is likely the last push in support of Midnight Boom. When it’s over, Mosshart will spend some time performing with Jack White of the White Stripes in their new side project, the Dead Weather. Hince also has a few other music-based ventures in the works, but he declines to go on record about them, citing “superstition.” He will, however, confirm that he and Mosshart are already working on the Kills’ fourth album.
“I’ve written a couple of songs, but we write songs in so many weird ways,” he says, laughing. “Most of the time it’s on a one-string guitar, with some vague ideas, and you never really know until you get to the studio what sort of style it’s going to be done in. That’s when I sort of go all funny and stuff.”