On paper, Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince -- a.k.a. VV and Hotel, the co-conspirators behind the U.K. duo the Kills -- appear to be heirs to garage-rock royalty. Thanks to a howling mix of seduction and stripped-down guitars, the Kills snagged an overseas opening slot for N.Y.C. bohemian kings Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and queens Yeah Yeah Yeahs, then received a rousing endorsement from retro's crown prince, Jack White, in a recent Rolling Stone piece.
Yet, during a phone interview from a tour stop deep in the heart of Texas, it's obvious that nothing irritates the American-born Mosshart more than having her band lumped in with the rest of the rough-hewn revivalists currently infesting major-label A&R departments, Urban Outfitters' spring line, and MTV.
"It doesn't have anything to do with us," she says briskly. "I don't think [the garage-rock movement] really exists. It already happened. It just means something else now, and it's hard to explain -- it's sort of an industry thing. I couldn't ever be excited about that. It's just not even a thought."
Mosshart's annoyance is valid: Keep on Your Mean Side, the Kills' full-length debut, released April 1 on Rough Trade, oozes with a sleazy intensity only dreamed of by trust-fund-grunge glamour-pusses. From the grubby opening chords of "Superstition," the pair concocts a bewitching brew of greasy blues and lo-fi guitar drone. "Kissy Kissy" lopes along with country-picked laziness; "Fuck the People" is a stomping barn-burner; "Monkey 23" and "Gypsy Death and You" are facsimiles of the Velvet Underground's dreamy moments.
Although Hince chimes in vocally to add darker shading, Mosshart's passionate vocals take a commanding lead, channeling the rawness of early PJ Harvey and the whiskey-soaked wisdom of Lucinda Williams. "I'm gonna get my name stitched on your lips so you won't get hitched," she snarls on "Hitched," and her tone leaves little doubt that she's threading that needle right then and there.
Despite the timelessness of the genres the band covers, the genesis of the record was far less traditional. Although Mosshart, a native of Florida, now lives in England, she met Hince when she stayed in the flat below his while on tour with her former band, pop-punkers Discount. After hearing Hince play "mind-blowing" guitar when she woke up in the morning, Mosshart finally drew up the courage to meet her future foil, found a musical kindred spirit, and the two began transcontinental recording sessions.
"We just started sending tapes back and forth to each other," she says. "It went on for about six months, and then I was fed up with waiting by the mailbox, so I just moved. When I first moved over, we were just really hanging out, playing music to each other, recording little things in his room, making microphones, just fucking around. Then one day, we kind of listened back to our hangout sessions, there was a bunch of songs on there, and it sounded like we had everything we needed. We played a show, and that was it."
Mosshart's move spawned rumors of intra-band romance, although she's tight-lipped about the possibility ("Everyone wants to make everything so soap opera, it's really bizarre"). Nevertheless, Side is one of the sexiest records of the year. Mosshart and Hince push and pull each other's vocals with barely concealed lust, especially on the chorus of "Cat's Claw," when they sneer and moan, "You got it/I want it," while urgent desire colors the insistent chugging riffs on "Pull A U" and "Black Rooster." Adding fuel to the fire, her description of their collaboration style has couple-like undertones.
"We'd kind of been hanging out for a while, just working on art and music together," she explains. "It's always been me and him doing that stuff, sort of in secret. Working, working, working, and getting really intense. We really inspire each other, so we just come up with things. I can't really say where they come from."
However, Mosshart's somewhat ambiguous words and the air of mystery she cultivates simply add to the mystique of the Kills and heighten the sexual tension inherent on the record. Whether Mosshart and Hince are speaking about themselves or not is of no consequence, because Side sounds undeniably real, brimming with tangled emotions that are obviously not fabricated.
With such a brutally honest slant to the album, it's not surprising that Mosshart singles out the first time she saw DIY poster children Fugazi as a life-altering experience that changed her outlook on life and inspired the Kills' gimmick-free philosophy.
"I was awake for three days after seeing them, because I couldn't stop thinking about it," she enthuses. "I've been listening to them since I was about 9, and I finally got to see them when I was about 13. They scoped my entire way of thinking about art. That sort of feeling of being inspired so, so much, of not being able to sleep . . . that would be the best sort of band to be."
Come see what Mossholder means this Wednesday at the Beachland, and prepare to go to work the next day with bags under your eyes.