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Interview: Alison Mosshart of The Dead Weather and The Kills

"We all had our own bands. We didn’t need another one."


The Dead Weather

The Dead Weather

David Swanson

Alison Mosshart has been, since 2000, one half of the London-based duo The Kills, authoring three albums (2003's Keep on Your Mean Side, 2005's No Wow, 2008's Midnight Boom) of scrappy, scuzzy rock alongside partner-in-crime Jamie Hince. But, in 2009, the 31-year-old American vocalist added another notable string to her bow: fronting the alt-rock 'supergroup' The Dead Weather. It's the latest project for the hardest working man in rock'n'roll —Jack White of The White Stripes/The Raconteurs/Third Man Records— with their lineup rounded out by Jack Lawrence (of Blanche, The Greenhornes, and The Raconteurs) and Dean Fertita (of Queens of the Stone Age). In 2009, The Dead Weather recorded their debut album, Horehound, before having ever played a show. Less than a year later, they'd already made their second.

Interview: 26 January 2010

"Where are you in the world at the moment?
“I’m in London, at my house.”

Do you have some brief, blessed moment of time off?
“No, no, no! Definitely not! I’m writing a Kills record right now. It’s in a really early stage. We pretty much have all the songs. They’re really great! I love them so much! I’m really happy with them. But, we don’t go into the studio until Friday. So, we’ll see what we end up with: adding drum-programming and electric guitars always changes everything so much. I can’t wait to turn all the volume up.”

And you’ve just made another Dead Weather album, right?
“Yeah, we’re finished. It’s not going to come out for a little while. Maybe in April? It was made in a similar vain to the first album, but the songs were written on the road this time, during soundcheck. We recorded whenever we had a chance; we had three days off at one point so we quickly knocked out six tracks. I haven’t even heard what we’ve done. I finished recordings and came back to London. I don’t even know if it’s mixed yet. I don’t know what the hell I did.”

How does the dynamic —or even just the logistics— between the two bands work?
“It’s pretty new. I haven’t really worked out if it’s traumatic or if it’s easy. I don’t know. I don’t know. Most of this past year has been Dead Weather, with only a little bit of back and forth. I think it’s alright. It’s just really complicated organising it. Aside from that new complication, I really love it; this is what I love to do, and now I get to do it twice as much, which is fantastic. Now, there is no downtime. That might catch up with me, I’m not sure!”

Is there a completely different mindset involved with each outfit?
“It’s extremely different. Because the set-up is so different. With The Dead Weather, we all can play our instruments at the same time, which means that writing and jamming and recording can be done so, so fast! Whereas, with The Kills, with Jamie and I, we spend a while writing songs, and then we go in the studio for ages putting things together, and then we have to work out, later on, how we’re going to do it live. Because there’s two of us, and we’re working over such a long period of time, you really don’t get to really hear what songs sound like until quite far on. With Dead Weather, we start playing and I can hear what it sounds like in four seconds. That’s been really exciting for me: to work that fast, to write that fast, to just make stuff up really fast. Instead of sitting around, buried in my journals and books thinking about lyrics, it’s just: ‘I need lyrics right now, so I better open my mouth and sing something.’”

How did The Dead Weather actually come into being?
“The Kills toured with The Raconteurs in October of 2008. Then, on the very last day of the tour, right as it was over, the final show in Atlanta, I hopped on their tourbus and went back to Jack’s house in Nashville, and we recorded that first seven-inch. A few months later, Jack called me up and said, 'look, I don't think we should end this, I have these songs, we should go in and record them.' So, in January, we all met back up and started recording. We just worked on a song a day. We’d never all played together before we started making the record. One day we started playing together, and we didn’t really know what it was we had, and then within three weeks we had a record, pretty much.”

Did it actually feel like this was this new band, this thing that was taking on a life of its own?
“No, it didn’t. We thought of it very much as a project, not a band. We only thought we'd make 3 or 5 seven-inch singles, these cool little artifacts. But the more we recorded, the more we play together, the more we got swept up in this energy that was building. We were working day and night, really fast, in this small window of time that we had. We shot hundreds of photobooth photos, we made 150 seven-inch sleeves, it was this huge whirlwind of activity. It was really exciting.”

Why didn’t you want it to be a full-time project?
“Because we all had our own bands. We didn’t need another one. I was used to putting all my energy into The Kills, and, y’know, Jack’s obviously just the busiest man in the world. I don’t think any of us were looking for some new thing. At that point, The Kills had just finished touring for a year-and-a-half on Midnight Boom, so we were done. We were done. The next thing for me, then, was to write another record with The Kills, and then I accidentally wrote a record with The Dead Weather. We never, ever intended to do that. We never meant to be a band. No. It was all quite a pleasant surprise.”

When did you work out that this was, y'know, a band?
“We worked out that we were a band while everybody else was working out that we were a band. We loved our record and we really believed in it, and we thought it’d be pretty cool to try and play gigs together. And one gig lead to another and lead to another, and it started to feel to us that this was a real band, and that our whole hearts were in this, and I think audiences picked up on that, and got involved and got excited. People wanted to see us play, so we showed up.”

Next: "I don’t think I’d be as interesting a performer if I just walked up there like I f**king owned the place. In my head, I always feel like everyone’s doubting me, that I have people to convince. I don’t want to lose that feeling..."

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