BlackBook Interview: The Kills’ Alison Mosshart Goes Solo During Quarantine

Photo by David James Swanson

 

 

 

For anyone who’s basically been on tour for 24 years straight, since she was 17, being homebound must be a rather surreal experience. Yet, as with the majority of the global population right now, Alison Mosshart has had her wings clipped. Not that she isn’t busy; this month her first ever solo single, “Rise,” a swampy rocker that would be equally at home in a set by The Kills or Dead Weather, was released via Domino to much excitement, along with a video that Mosshart herself made at home during her first two weeks of quarantine. It racked up over 25K plays in its first day.

Since then, she’s been teaching herself Spanish and doing online Pilates between bouts of writing and painting. Because, well…Alison.

But the road is what an irredeemable rocker yearns for most; and until mid-March, plans were being developed to launch the next phase of The Kills career, with a new album release and tour in the works for later this year. Apparently, as with everything, it’s all on hold for now. Yet songs are being developed, and, as they did when starting out almost 20 years ago, Mosshart and Kills co-conspirator Jamie Hince are swapping ideas remotely…except, unlike the early aughts, they don’t have to mail each other cassette tapes. When finally allowed back in a studio together, amazing results will be the reward, we’re absolutely certain.

Following the release of “Rise,” we connected with Ms. Mosshart at home in Nashville, which was not only reeling from corona, but still cleaning up after devastating tornados in early March. She was…chatty.

 

 

How’s Nashville? Have you been there this whole time we’ve been dealing with not going anywhere?

Yeah, I have. I came back from L.A. on March 2nd to vote in the primaries, and on the third the tornadoes came and tore up half of Nashville. And then this. So it’s been…there’s a lot of stuff. I’ve never seen a tornado scene before, you know? It looks like a movie set. I mean, it’s like wacky Wednesday. Everything’s upside down, things are hanging from the sky. It was all so eerie at night, because there were so many electrical trucks and things like that and cops and stuff, so everything was lit like a film. Just bizarre colors, strange shapes. It was really so…I don’t know. Like, my brain could not quite perceive what I was looking at, you know? It’s surreal as fuck. Surreal.

New realities can be interesting.

We’re making a new normal.

The new single is awesome. It’s a nice change to hear some real rock and roll, it seems in pretty short supply.

Yeah. I mean, you know what, it’s my favorite. I love electric guitar.

Are you excited? It sounds like it was a long time coming, this track.

Yeah. I worked on it for a very long time before, and then I was asked to write something for a television show. And I remembered this track and I thought, this is kind of perfect, after reading the scripts for the first two episodes of the Facebook Watch show Sacred Lies; I was like, okay, I think I have the song for this, which made me revisit it and finish it. I had Jamie come into the studio for like 40 minutes to an hour or something, and he just like, randomly played over the tops, just like, crazy. It’s beautiful. I mean, he’s my favorite guitar player in the world, so I’m so glad he did that.

So it’s for this show, Sacred Lies, which is on…I have to be honest, I’m really not too familiar with Facebook Watch shows.

No, me either. I didn’t even know they existed until I was asked to do this job. You know what was interesting about the songs in the show? I’m not singing in the show. It’s not my recording of it. They have all the different characters singing this song or parts of this song and they’re kind of like, it connects them in this way. I’m so glad that they asked me to do that, because if they hadn’t asked me I would probably not have gone and recorded it. And then making a really fun, low-rider video has kept me busy in quarantine for four straight days, figuring out how to use iMovie. What a nightmare.

Amazing that it was made so quickly and came out right away.

Well, what’s so crazy is that before I left Los Angeles, me and two of my friends, we heard that there was a low-riders cruising thing they do every Friday night at different locations kind of in East L.A. I’m car obsessed. I had recently bought myself this video camera because I’d been thinking I wanted to start making little short art kinds of films, because I love doing that; but I hadn’t owned a video camera in a long time. So, I kind of got myself ramped for shooting on a decent little handheld camera, and I thought, I’m going to go down to the low-riders, I’m going to teach myself to use this thing. And so, never did I think I was going to use that footage for anything.

 

 

What was the experience like?

The cars were so beautiful, everybody was telling stories about their cars and how everything worked, the family significance to all of these things. They’re works of art. So, I have this footage, and then I left L.A. two days later, and then all of this happened. And really, that was all I had on my video camera, and I was like, “Well, I’ve got low-riders that are jumping around. Okay, we’ve got something. We can start with that and we’ll figure it out from there.”

The footage looks pretty pro, like hi-def, so obviously you’ve got a pretty decent camera.

Thank you very much. Super accident, it’s like a $400 camera. It’s not a total piece of shit, it has a nice lens on it. It’s more like a family vacation type…but it does the job. Anything looks better than a phone now.

Your book CAR MA, which I really dug, came out last summer. Were you thinking about the book when you were out in L.A. that night shooting this?

No, I wasn’t. It’s just a constant theme in my life. If there’s going to be cool cars somewhere, I’m going to want to go there and see them. But no, that was one of the funnest projects ever, and that started out as someone asking me to make a fanzine for an art project, a bunch of different artists were going to make a fanzine and I don’t know what happened. I mean, it was supposed to be like 15 pages long, and I blinked, and it was 112 pages and it honestly could have been 600. I just couldn’t stop doing it. I was so obsessed. So, I’m really happy because that book is going to come back out, I think in July or August, and it’ll be everywhere and everyone can get it; because the first time I did it, it was like a limit of 500 copies and they were gone in, like, a day or two.

That’s awesome.

I’m very happy. It’ll be just so much more awesome if people who wanted it could actually get it. That would make me happier.

You never know. If you do something with passion and it connects, that’s the best thing. So, what’s it like being stuck inside in Nashville?

We locked down even a couple days before New York did. I think our first day was the 13th. Well, Nashville did. Tennessee didn’t, Tennessee was super late to the game. People were still going to church and shit like that, and it was just like, what the hell? For a long time. Bill Lee is not a very cool governor.

No, he’s not.

I’ve gone to the grocery store once. I went to FedEx once. And I went to the gas station and the liquor store once. But like, all the same shit. Except with a mask; I mean, I looked like a burglar.

 

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Socially compliant film still.

A post shared by Alison Mosshart (@amosshart) on

 

Is it just you at home, or do you have people around you?

I live with two friends of mine here. There’s three of us in this house and I think that’s really helped, because if we get bored of ourselves, we can go find someone else. It’s nice to have that. But yeah, the weather is beautiful. There’s long walks to take, I’ve been doing lots of virtual Pilates, Spanish lessons, songwriting, painting. So far, it’s like, after being on tour for 24 years of my life, I feel like I have 24 years of being home to catch up on. So far, I haven’t had a major meltdown yet.

Speaking of touring, you do kind of qualify as the hardest working person in rock and roll, with the numerous different projects you’ve done over the years. But what’s the next thing? There’s a new Kills record potentially, is that next on the list?

Yeah, we have a number of songs at this point. We’re just kind of compiling and writing for the last year on and off between other things. This is kind of an interesting scenario, because he’s in L.A., and I’m here, so we can’t get together. But you know, we’re just sending each other music all the time. And I feel like, by the end of this, by the time that this is all over, we should have a record and we should be able to go in and record it. This is what I’m dreaming of. And then go back on tour, because that is really…I’ve already been off the road for a year and a half, or in November it’ll be two, and I’m like, itching for it. But right now, I’m not allowed to have that feeling. It’s just not a possibility. But one day. And boy, will I not take it for granted. Oh my god, it’s just going to be glorious.

I’ve said, as soon as this is over, people are going to be having sex in the subway, because everyone’s going to be so excited to just get out.

Oh my god, it’s going to be amazing, the world is going to have the wildest party. It’s going to be…but I wish it was, I wish there was just a day we knew, like, one year from now, we can have a really wild party. But it’s going to be weirder than that. It’s going to be, like, whoa. I guess we should already just name a holiday date in 2021 where it’s like, this is our big party day. We definitely need to go for it.

It’s not going to be just like flipping on a light switch. Okay, everyone can touch each other now.

Exactly, I know. No, not at all.

But you and Jamie started off by trading music over the mail or email, didn’t you? So this is kind of getting back to that.

It’s also kind of how we always worked. We both really write alone and then we bring each other songs; and then we work on each other’s songs—so always the seed of anything is like, he works on stuff that he gets to a place where he feels excited to show me, and I do the same thing. This scenario is fine for us. I just miss him. I really miss him.

 

The Kills

 

Well, you’re going to get back in the studio with all these ideas in six or eight months or whatever, and there will probably be this big explosion of excitement and creativity.

It’ll be so exciting. But I just want to keep on writing and writing and writing and writing, because there’s really no excuse not to be doing that right now, aside from just feeling depressed. I’ve talked to a lot of artists right now who are like, fuck, it’s crazy, I’m stuck at the house, which is normally what I would love to have happen, no social obligations, no stupid parties I have to go to, shit I have to show up for that I don’t want to do. I just want to create. But it’s such a…waking up with a wet blanket, it’s such a strange thing. It’s such a sad thing that’s going on. It is really hard to get into that mental creative space that’s like, free, where you can just drift on a dream and write something that you’d never thought of before. And I think for the first, like even up until a couple nights ago, I couldn’t play guitar and sing. I just couldn’t think of anything. My brain was just not that kind of a brain.

But you made a video?

I made another for the B-side of the single that I’m so excited about, because now I understand iMovie. It was really exciting because something about that kind of creativity has been natural for me during this. I’ve talked to a lot of friends who are really struggling to be creative or productively creative. It’s just such a weird feeling in the air.

I can see how working on  iMovie would help, because it’s kind of tactile and task oriented. 

It’s like solving a 2,000-piece puzzle. You can get in that zone, if that’s the kind of zone that your brain likes.

In order to come up with riffs and lyrics, that’s more of a dream state thing, and we’re not allowed to be in that right now.

I think that the world is in shock, as it should be, and we’re all experiencing some form of a worldwide mourning and depression. It’s a really heavy thing. If you’re even remotely in-tune with that, it stops you in your tracks. It’s a lot to think about. a lot to figure out how to navigate. Like, how do I expect myself to find silver linings everywhere? It’s just looking for those…and then not trying to just get swallowed up in the darkness of this.

 

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