“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with D.C. music,” front woman Alison Mosshart reveals towards the end of her interview, before going on stage at the Black Cat. Lighting her third cigarette in 15 minutes, she smiles shyly, explicating, “I’m really nervous.”
Turns out that Mosshart, the female half of The Kills, grew up in Florida and used to come up to D.C. to see shows. So “it was a really big day when I played the little room of the Black Cat (opening for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs last year).” For a pasty-faced child allergic to the sun, Mosshart has come a long way, now living in an art gallery in London with creative partner Jamie Hince.
Together, the pair comprise The Kills and currently call a smoky tour bus with tinted windows home. With an “art space in the back,” they are writing on the road “kinda more than normal,” and working on numerous projects, including a book, every day. “We’re prolific that way,” Mossahrt explains.
Yet the Kills are not working to develop a marketable brand like many artists today. “We’re not really into that …” she interrupts herself, explaining how wonderful everything used to be in the 1960s and 1970s, when everyone was all over the place, writing, photographing, directing -just “creative chaos.” She sighs nostalgically.
A similar euphemism may be used to describe No Wow, The Kills’ first full-length record, released last month on Song/BMG. Like similar bare-bones duo the White Stripes, The Kills seek to strip a song down to its raw elements – Hince plays guitar while Mosshart sings and the two lock into a prerecorded drum track. Reducing songs to their most basic form allows for freedom on stage, and every show is a different piece of performance art.
When The Kills took the Mainstage at the Black Cat Monday night, it was pure voyeurism. Their show is nothing but extended foreplay, all splayed fingers, sweaty tangles of hair, and back-arching convulsions. A Kills show is the hottest sex you haven’t had in a long time. Recalling the raw animal sexuality of early Iggy Pop, the duo jerks dangerously close toward one another, snapping back at the last second to grab their mikes.
Mosshart’s hair spills over her face while Hince bores two laser beam holes in the back wall, and when they stare at each other, the heat is almost palpable. Watching a draining hour-long show, one wonders how these two skinny people can produce so much electric energy. It’s therefore easy to understand, giving their punishing tour schedule and draining near-nightly performances, why Mosshart explains, “If I get one day off I sleep through it.” If she gets two days? “I do laundry. Laundry’s always really hard.”
The Kills spent two particularly exhausting days at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival in Austin last month, where they played three shows in two days after flying in from Paris and staying awake for 23 hours. Every show, including a 3 p.m. show at Waterloo Records, was packed.
While they probably won’t return to SXSW next year, The Kills will be in the United States for at least a little longer this year. They are wrapping up their U.S. tour, then head to Europe for a few more dates before starting on the summer festival circuit. After playing at the large European summer festivals, The Kills come back to the United States for the Coachella Music Festival, an annual music blowout in the desert of Coachella, Calif.
When asked if she’s looking forward to the summer, Mosshart replies yes, “festivals are really good because you get to see everyone you know.” And for the blinding California sun? Just “look for the big black umbrella – that’s me.”