DIESEL MAGAZINE ISSUE 7
MUCH MORE THAN TALENT
We catch up with musical moguls and style icons The Kills to talk about combining opposites, making music for the future and following your instincts.
Collisions of the old and new, talent and art is something the visceral two piece rock gods The Kills know more than enough about. With their effortless style and cool swagger, and motoric sound, they’ve secured themselves a place as the icons of now. Having just released their fifth album Ash & Ice, we met them to talk about talent, the importance of visual art and why desire is oh-so important in music.
Your talent. Do you think it’s natural or something else?
Alison: It’s hard to say. When you grow up and you’re interested in something it’s both, the desire is natural.
Jamie: It’s about how you approach it. Alison, when she writes and creates things, she doesn’t think about how it should be. It’s sort of an explosion of what’s in her. A way of saying ‘this is what I do’. You make it, and that’s the thing. Whereas I know I can play guitar, but I always feel I have to operate above my ability. I don’t ever feel like ‘this is what I do, I’m good enough. I’m talented’. I feel as if I have to cheat it or be my super-self.
I suspect everyone who hears you thinks you’re talented. Do you feel this yourselves?
Jamie: Well the people that we grew up listening to, who inspired us to be in bands, they weren’t necessarily musically accomplished. Talent wasn’t about how well you could play your instrument.
Alison: It wasn’t about the ability, but the desire. I’ve been doing it (playing music) forever through the desire and maybe I got good at it. You don’t just show up and play and write great songs. You spend a lifetime trying to be better at it by doing it. Definitely my skill level has changed from when I was 14.
Has fame ever affected the way you live with and apply your talent?
Jamie: There’s a real purity when you first start making and playing music. You don’t think too much, you just sort of create and you get inspired by your own creation. Then, after you’ve been in a band for 12 years and released 5 records, you realize you’re kidding yourself if you don’t admit you’re making music for people to listen to. As soon as you get that in your head that you’re making music for people to listen to, it changes the way you look at things a little bit. You give yourself to the public a little bit. I think it’s important to do that. If you don’t it’s just self indulgence. I never think about showing off talent or things like that.
Alison: But you write a song and you know where it’s going. The process already knows that you’re writing a song and you know there’s an audience that’s waiting to hear that song. There’s no way of doing that without recognizing that.
Alison: Remember it is music we’re talking about. So in some respect it is a job, but there is art as well. There’s freedom of expression and it comes from an emotional place. There is all those things, and there’s a reason that you’re part of it and why you love doing it and it’s not just because it’s a job. The basic root of it all is that there’s desire there to make something and to say something, feel something. Like playing on stage is a really interesting dynamic. It’s really like nothing else I’ve ever done. There’s a sense of adrenaline and urgency, there’s a sense of you can’t go back and fix something. You’re walking on this tightrope. It’s incredibly exciting. Performance is really a huge part of music. One of the most honest parts of music I think.
Jamie: I feel the best music we do comes from feeling it rather than thinking about it. You need both of those things. Alison is much more of an instinctive performer and I’m much more of a conceptual individual as my job is producing. It’s more of a concept for me I suppose.
Jamie: Well Alison is a brilliant painter.
Alison: I like painting. I like visual arts, I grew up around that. My mother was a teacher so I grew up doing that and it’s really embedded in my DNA.
If you had an inexhaustible amount of money, which art piece would you buy right now?
Alison: If I had that kind of money I would go out any 25 Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) paintings. I would just go out and buy as many of them as I could. There would be other things I would do with money too, but would definitely buy 15 or so of them. Art is the best thing to have. It enriches your life to be able to see something like that. It’s just as easy to go to a gallery and see art. It moves you in a way that’s really special.
In your music, are you inspired by art and what you see?
Alison: I think so. It’s very hard to draw the line. I can’t remember a time that I looked at a painting and wrote a song about it. It’s not that much of an immediate connection, but I think there’s a why it affects your psyche and you’re drawn to that. It’s kind of a similar part of your brain.
You were both born in a time between the analogue and digital. When you’re writing a song, do you use a pen and pad or laptop and smartphone?
Alison: We use all of it. Not the smartphone part, I don’t do that.
Jamie: I think it’s reflective of what life is like now. It’s a mixture of analogue and technology. A mixture of a notebook and a computer. The mixture of a mixing desk, I’ve got this old Neve mixing desk from the ’70 that sounds phenomenal. Next to that there’s my computer with a program and software. That’s what the world is like now and it should be reflected in music. It’s a Mad Max way of writing and recording now. I think the important thing is to untie the knot and give yourself some sort of freedom. Technology really helps with that. We’re making music in 2016 and for the future. It doesn’t make sense just to use equipment that is 30 years old especially for a band like us who like The Cramps and Massive Attack. I think it’s a mistake not to find beauty in super-modernist technology. It’s been really liberating for me to learn how to operate recording and programming software.
Alison: Sure, there’s real guitars and real singing as well as there being sub-bass and other production.
Jamie: For example we made a conscious decision to use a drum machine instead of a drummer. A drum machine allows you to go wherever you want. At one minute you can sound like a band from the ‘50s, another you can sound like a band from 2020. It was important that it was always going to be us two, and everything else was going to be electronic. It’s an easier way to survive, change and adapt. I think that thread is in The Kills a lot. A mixture of old and new. Past and future.
Alison: When I listen to a song we wrote 8 years ago, the meaning of the song changes. You change, your life experience changes. Music that works the best is music that is adaptable. That means something different to everyone who hears it therefore it has room to live, to grow and to age. I never like to say what any of the songs are about because I don’t want to limit them.
Jamie: I’ve also always been curious about what happens in the world and what makes things exciting. What gives the new generation some kind of passion and excitement. I’ve always been really curious about it and in that sense I’ve always been on the look out for what can push my band in to that kind of realm. I’m always open to hearing about what’s new and exciting, that makes my band and makes the world tick. In that sense, the way the band’s developed sort of the way the world’s developed. We keep trying to find out place in it.