Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart have been recording delightfully heavy electro-blues as the Kills for 15 years. And while their fourth LP, 2011’s Blood Pressures, sold itself on its varied influences and dense arrangements, the strongest part of Ash & Ice, out Friday, is its intentional step back to the more minimalistic fare of early Kills albums.
EW recently caught up with the duo to discuss their enduring partnership, the future of rock n’ roll, and how the advice of a certain Russian photographer kick started the whole collection.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s been five years since Blood Pressures released. When did you begin working on this?
HINCE: The Blood Pressures tour just kept going and going—we were still playing shows for that record right up to 2014. But what I’d come to realize by the end of 2012 was that I hadn’t written a single thing that I wanted to use for a new record. I started to feel like my whole writing process needed a shot in the arm and that I’d have to take myself off somewhere, like a writing retreat or something.
I’d been talking to a brilliant Russian photographer, Nikolay Bakharev, one of my favorite photographers of all time, about doing some sort of project on the Trans Siberian Express and I guess it fired me up, this idea of crossing Siberia on a train, and all the paranoia and romance and claustrophobia that went with it. So I decided to take the trip and use the time to write. That was the start of the record for me, Siberia. I just took a guitar and some notebooks and cameras, and started writing and writing and hatching a plan for the new record.
Alison, when we last spoke you said that the goal whenever you and Jamie record is to have it be nothing like what you’ve made before. This many albums in, is that getting harder?
MOSSHART: I suppose we always try and move into an uncomfortable realm at first. Something that seems teetering, a physical space or a genre of music we’re not well versed in—some idea, some color, some mood, something we haven’t tried ourselves. The beginning always feels like going for a run with your shoes on the wrong feet—to figure out a different sense of balance and normal. You make it hard until hard gets easy.
Inspiration comes from everywhere. I don’t ever run out of it. Sometimes I loathe what some things inspire, but there’s room for it all. Traveling around, doing this job, films, music, people, relationships, conversations, cities, highways, views out the window—ideas come from everywhere. If you’re open, you receive a lot more than you know what to do with.
Does that apply to discovering new themes as well?
HINCE: I like to trick myself into thinking I have specific goals when I start a new record, even though I know it’s going to end up somewhere entirely different. That’s important to me to get the thing rolling. Like with the production, I had these ideas of it sounding as if Lee Scratch Perry or King Jammy had made a rock n’ roll record, set in the future! I know that sounds kind of idiotic, but it was important for me to stick a flag in the ground like that when I was getting started.
With the lyrics, it’s more a case of finding my way, really gradually. That’s the hardest part for me. I guess I always feel like I’m operating above my actual ability, so I have to work really hard at getting to that level with lyrics, to make something I believe in, that I can stand listening back to. Part of that was to get rid of cliches and all that lazy rock n’ roll imagery and find a language that meant something now, in 2016. I punish myself quite a bit with lyrics. It drives Alison mad, actually. I think she thinks I’m self harming my own brain or something.
Were you surprised by any themes that emerged?
MOSSHART: The themes that emerged were really human, really real—far less imaginary or dream sequence than past records. I think that is partly because we took ourselves out of the middle of nowhere and wrote and recorded most of this record in a big, bad-ass, bustling, happening city: Hollywood. We welcomed the world in rather than shutting it out, which we haven’t done in quite a few records. The aim was to be open and we pushed ourselves to write in a way that could be understood and mean something to other people. Human topics and feelings, love, joy, pain, loss, confusion, and those moments of feeling wildly, wildly happy and inspired beyond any sense of reason. The classic stuff! It’s an honest record.
What do you hope for people’s listening experience once this album comes out?
HINCE: I hope they can see that electric guitar music is the future! That it’s not stuck in the past, or nostalgic. I hope it makes them want to dress up and start a guitar band. And join our gang.