The Kills know how to kick off a record. For 12 years, this has been the eclectic and gritty rock duo's most crucial strength, allowing them to manage albums that strike out in vastly different directions without throwing their audience for a loop.
The clicking beat and gnawing riffs of "Superstition" are a telling preview of the minimal but deafening grime that follows across the rest of 2003's Keep on Your Mean Side. 2005's No Wow follows through on the wrenching, processed grooves of its titular opener, while 2008's Midnight Boom meanders through variations of the bluesy, broken-down electro-pop of "URA Fever." 2011's Blood Pressures drifts a little more than its predecessors, making room for soft and melodic detours, but it's the muscular rhythms and complex guitar architecture introduced by "Future Starts Slow" that anchor the restless collection.
This exacting sense of sonic adventure carries through to the life of Alison Mosshart, the singer who breathes seductive fire into the songs she creates with her Kills partner Jamie Hince. Last year, Mosshart bought a house in Nashville, making a home in her native country for the first time in about 15 years. The location makes sense. After all, she spent a lot of time here a few years ago cutting two albums with The Dead Weather, the grinding and galloping garage supergroup she formed with Jack White and his allies Dean Fertita and "Little" Jack Lawrence. But she's maintaining a residence in London, too, flitting to and fro for sessions with Hince and otherwise satisfying her penchant for constant movement. Like her work with The Kills, her wanderings are purposeful but unpredictable.
"I literally don't stay for longer than two weeks," Mosshart tells the Scene. "Two weeks is a really long time for me, so if I'm in Nashville for two weeks, that's big. It's very hard for me to say where I live. I don't really know. I don't really live anywhere. I've got a lot of stuff [in Nashville], and I've got a lot of stuff in London. But I live out of a suitcase."
The Kills are returning to the road this week, continuing their resurgence following a yearlong break after releasing Blood Pressures. Mosshart and Hince aimed to make good use of the time before the tour kicks off, hitting London and possibly Michigan to work on recordings for their in-progress fifth record before returning to Music City to rehearse.
Word of the new album broke last year, but The Kills haven't been spinning their wheels. Working without a definite timetable, they're leveraging their flexibility to make sure they generate refreshing ideas. They haven't repeated themselves yet, and they're not about to start now.
"We're trying to make a record that's completely different," Mosshart explains. "Anything that sounds like it could have sat quite easily on any of the other records will probably get scrapped or reworked, played on some kind of different instruments with a completely different kind of rhythm and a completely different kind of feel. That's what takes so long, is trying to break out of the thing that you know and you're good at and trying to get good at something else."
But while she's as close as anyone could get to the process, Mosshart doesn't have much clue as to how the record will actually turn out. She tends to isolate herself when she gets into writing mode, hunkering down and avoiding outside influences. Unlike Blood Pressures — cut right after Sea of Cowards, the second Dead Weather LP, and sharing that album's predilection for slinky build-ups and coarse catharses — the new record won't carry over any momentum from her other band. She reports that Hince has been leaning heavily on dubstep and reggae as inspirations for the band's newest rhythms, but it's unclear if those experiments will actually affect the final product.
"You never know what's going to happen with a record when you're writing," Mosshart offers. "It could be done all the sudden in two months, or it could take another year. You get on these tangents, and you find new directions. You kind of follow the scent wherever it's taking you. Sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes it's fast as hell."
Whatever the speed, she will continue to hear questions about the new music. Their breaks haven't come as quickly as they have for others, but The Kills' ambitious progression has landed them in a happy spot — they're as big as they've ever been.
"The stakes have gotten higher," Mosshart says. "That's partially because of those Dead Weather records, but partially because we've been a band for nearly 12 years. There's a constant evolution going on. You're always trying to be ahead of the curve to meet everyone there."