Iconic duo The Kills (formed by American singer Alison Mosshart and British guitarist Jamie Hince) are today unleashing their brand new,highly anticipated fifth album, Ash & Ice. 

Over their almost decade-and-a-half career, The Kills have released four incredible records. Each one a restless, reckless enigmatic art statement that bristled with tension, anxiety, sex, unstudied cool and winking ennui, yet they’ve managed to avoid falling into the common trap of relying on a homogenised sound.

Five years in the making, Ash & Ice is the follow up to 2011’s critically lauded Blood Pressures and it’s fair to say the wait was worth it. To celebrate its release Jamie and Alison gave us a track by track run down of the LP. Check out their discussions below and if you like what you’re hearing be sure to catch the duo when they roll into town for Splendour in the Grass this July, dates below.

Doing It to Death

Jamie: It’s gone through loads of different titles, it was called ‘Not in the Program’, ‘Push My Buttons’, ‘Black and White Blues’… and then the lyrics were the last thing to happen to it.

I wanted to write a song that was like a lot of Jamaican dancehall – like Elephant Man, Lady Saw or Vybz Kartel. ‘Doing It to Death’ was my guitar version of a dancehall track.

Heart of a Dog

Alison: This was a song I wrote in Whidbey Island, at Hedgebrook, with a drum beat that Jamie sent me that took me three days to download. That song is as it was written, really, except for it sounds way better when Jamie plays guitars on it.

Jamie: You didn’t have the drums on there.

Alison: No, I wrote it to a different drum beat, but some of those drums are still there.

Jamie: Only the little dragon bit.

Alison: OK, we piled some drums on there.

Jamie: We piled some John Bonham drums on there. It was done on an iPad.

Alison: It was not done on an iPad!

Jamie: Yeah, it was! I programmed that on an iMPC – what did you think I was doing when I was on the Trans-Siberian Express? With my iPad?

Alison: I don’t know.

Jamie: That’s what I did.

Hard Habit to Break

Jamie: Alison wrote one verse and I felt like I could hear the rest of the song, so I took it in and changed a few things and added a few things. I remember playing it to Alison and she went, “That’s not my song” [both laughing]. So it kind of went quiet for ages. She was really offended by it, she said “You’ve used the first line of my song and then you’ve completely changed it out of all recognition”. I can’t remember the word she used, something like ‘homogenous’.

Alison: [laughing] That’s not the word!

Jamie: No it’s not! Not ‘homogenous’ – ‘curmudgeon’.

Alison: That’s not the word either.

Jamie: I can’t remember what the word was. Anyway, she said it was something or other, and ‘fast’ and ‘bulbous’ [Alison laughing]. So I just left it quiet for a bit, but I used to sing it in my head and then I gradually finished it.

Alison: And then you played it to me and I’d forgotten the whole entire issue and I quite liked it, didn’t I?

Jamie: Yeah, exactly, that’s what happened. Then I played bass on it – I really love playing bass, it’s my favourite instrument in a way. My favourite part on the whole record is the bassline of ‘Hard Habit to Break’.

Bitter Fruit

Jamie: I wanted to write a soul song, because I felt like the drum machines are so relentless that I wanted some kind of soul feel in it. I used to get these old soul records and record them onto a computer, then map out where the bass drums were and start forming a drum beat around that soul feel.

Days of Why and How

Alison: That started out as a very straight acoustic guitar song that went through a million changes. We tried so much different instrumentation – keyboards, crazy programmed drums that [Jamie] did, normal drums, no drums…

Jamie: Yeah, it’s had about seven different versions.

Alison: The song itself was always the melody and that always stayed. It was a huge question as to how we wanted to do it.

Jamie: At one point our engineer decided he thought we should do it this way, and then we had a big old argument and sulk about it for days. But it ended up as it is, which is probably my favourite song on the record.

Let It Drop

Jamie: We’d started that song as one of the first songs on the record and it was called ‘Ash & Ice’. We tried loads and we could never finish it, to the point where we were just about finishing the record in Electric Lady, and I just couldn’t stand this song not being done.

I felt like it was a really big song. So I went in and just started it from scratch, kept the music but started the whole concept of the melody and the lyrics. Then we recorded that on the last day of recording.

Hum for Your Buzz

Alison: That song is pretty much as it was written. It was written in about as long as it takes to listen to it. What really made that song come alive for me is when we were recording that song in LA, it was really fun: I was standing in the bathtub of my bathroom and I couldn’t see Jamie and Jamie was standing in the living room on the other side.

I could sort of lean my head out of the house (without trying to fall to my death) and look at him playing guitar through another window on the other side of the house. There’s no drums to that song, so it was trying to almost be psychic and singing and playing it at the same time.

Jamie: We were looking across the balcony.

Alison: It was crazy singing that in the bathroom. There’s nothing perfect about that song, it sounds really human and alive and awake – it’s not the most beautiful vocal on Earth.

Jamie: But it was recorded with just a couple of mics in LA, and then when we got to Electric Lady I added some Hammond organ to it.

Alison: I added some tambourine, which I’m quite proud of.

Jamie: Yeah, it was just strangely in time.

Siberian Nights

Jamie: I wrote that on the Trans-Siberian Express. I thought our record would be sort of paranoid and romantic. So I was on the Trans-Siberian Express, freezing cold, snow outside, silver birch trees, and I wrote a song about Vladimir Putin. It was at the height of the Pussy Riot thing, and I just wanted to write a song where Putin’s almost too masculine, riding bare-chested on a horse and all this stuff.

Alison: He just exhausts himself.

Jamie: I wanted this song to be about a sensitive side, where he’s in this homoerotic situation – he doesn’t want to be this tyrant anymore, he just wants to cuddle a man. Because I thought it would really get his goat to write a homoerotic sensitive song about Putin, to just show the sensitivity that a super masculine monster feels.

Alison: We are definitely not going to Russia any time soon!

That Love

Alison: That was another one that I wrote on acoustic guitar, and then I had an idea that I really wanted to find a piano player to play on it. Dean Fertita happened to be in town in LA and we had him come in.

He learned the song in the morning and by the afternoon we’d pretty much done it. We probably sang and played that song at the same time in different parts of the house about 20 times.

It was a lot, we just kept doing it. Creaky piano, footsteps… I think it’s beautiful. It’s the song everyone says should be another minute long, but I think it’s great the way it is.

Impossible Tracks

Jamie: That’s one of the few times I wrote a song in a night. I stayed up and the next day I had a song.

Alison: I was so excited.

Jamie: Everyone went to bed and I stayed up. I had that riff and I was struggling with it a little bit, not knowing what to do. I took a drum sample from this beautiful old soul song that had such a great feel, like a gospel demo, and then I wrote a song that was kind of from Alison’s point of view – I was writing as if I was Alison. It’s one of the few times I stayed up and wrote a song just like that, from start to finish.

Alison: It’s one of my favourites.

Black Tar

Alison: ‘Black Tar’ was written at Electric Lady. When we got there, we were in this small studio waiting to get into the big studio, going through a couple of songs that we hadn’t totally finished in LA – and while we were doing that, we wrote that.

It was great – Jamie had this really great guitar part and I had written that song one afternoon while waiting for him to get there, and we just combined it and we really loved it. So we just sat around playing it for days, and then we went in and recorded it. That was a pretty easy one.

Echo Home

Jamie: I wrote that in LA. I’d had the music for a long time and it came to the point where if I didn’t finish the lyrics for it, it wasn’t going to be on the record. That’s normally the panic that drives me to finish writing lyrics. I wish that I’d mess up with it and it wouldn’t come good, but it always seems to.

I always seem to need to be absolutely under the gun before I write something that means something to me.

That song I’d say is one of my favourite lyrics I’ve ever written, because there’s nothing in the song that I don’t mean – I’m trying to explain something and it just says exactly what I meant. It’s kind of a rare thing for me to do that [laughs].

Whirling Eye

Alison: That started out as this other song that was called ‘Whirling Eye’ with totally different lyrics. Then when we were in LA, I decided to do an LA version of ‘Whirling Eye’ and write it all about Hollywood. It was my favourite. So I changed the first verse and the last verse, like going on a drive through LA being very confused about life, going up and down Ventura Boulevard, melting in the sun, pumping gas in the afternoon – I love it.

Jamie: I’m so glad you did change it because it seemed like an odd one out for me. The lyrics had been written at some different tangent point, and I remember we had this conversation where I was saying, “We should absorb more!” We wanted to absorb more of LA and what was around us – and then she came back the next day and said “I’ve written some more stuff”.

I put her on the microphone and it was just amazing – it really felt like you could hear the helicopters above Sunset Boulevard and you could smell the palm trees. It was great.

Aussie Tour Dates

Friday 22nd July – Splendour In The Grass, Byron Bay
Saturday 23rd July – The Forum, Melbourne
Tuesday 26th July – The Enmore, Sydney

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