PHOTOGRAPHY BY EMMA HARDY
Alison Mosshart is living her own American dream. For the lead singer of alternative rock acts The Kills and The Dead Weather there are no 2.5 children, no white picket fences, and definitely no sitting around watching daytime TV. In place of these quintessential grown-up wants and needs are concert tours, recording sessions, and a music career that would have Josie and the Pussycats purring with envy. And despite being in the industry since her teenage years, the 33-year-old rocker has still got stacks to say. Good job we tracked her down for a chat.
Alison spent most of her childhood in Vero Beach, Florida, but studied her craft on the road touring with fellow Discount band mates in the 1990s. Since those years, song-writing and performance have become her way of life. After meeting London-based guitarist Jamie Hince in a hotel, the pair struck up a pen-pal relationship, mailing recordings on tapes to each other in an effort to combine their sounds. Patience with postal services wearing thin, she moved to London in her twenties so they could join forces, and thus The Kills was born. Not content being in one hugely successful band, in 2009 she went on to form supergroup The Dead Weather finding a whole new sound and excited new fans.
Alison also goes by the names VV when she’s playing with The Kills and Baby Ruthless for her stints with The Dead Weather. This multiple personality order suits her laid-back, spontaneous lifestyle and eclectic musical sound. Hailed as one of the best rock ’n’ roll front-women of her generation Alison’s still got plenty of steam and true enthusiasm for the job she does. Admitting to us that the musician’s life is not for everyone, it certainly seems to suit her just fine.
CORAL OSBORNE—Where are you calling from right now?
ALISON MOSSHART—I am in London at a recording studio.
CO—I wanted to get a feel for where you came from. I know you started Discount at age 14; did you go on your first tour at that age?
AM—I don’t remember. I think I was in the ninth grade.
CO—And your parents were going to let you take off then or were they conservative folks that you rebelled against? Did they support your creative endeavours?
AM—They were really supportive. They didn’t want me to go on tour. There was a bit of an issue with that, but the tour was sort of booked already. It was just one of those things – one of the guys in the band was a lot older than all of us, and he drove his parents’ car. I think everyone was older than me.
CO—I hear you’re working on the latest Kills album right now – how’s that going?
AM—Yes, it’s good. It’s just about done.
CO—Can we expect a major departure from the last album?
AM—It’s so hard for me because I’m so close to it. You never know how people are going to perceive it . I always think it’s good to make it different. I think that’s always the goal to keep pushing ourselves to make something like we haven’t made before. So we work on every aspect of it: guitar-playing, drums, programming, vocals, the way we sing, the way we write lyrics – everything’s always being pushed.
CO—Are there any differences between your on-stage personas – VV and Baby Ruthless?
AM—I think the music is so incredibly different. I don’t feel like I’m putting on an act, but I think the music makes you perform it in a certain way; it tells you what to do. I haven’t played a Dead Weather show and then turned around and played a Kills show and then turned around and played a Dead Weather show. I have been doing The Kills for so many years, and then I did The Dead Weather, and now it’s going to be The Kills for a little while, so I haven’t been put in that situation to really be able to be like, “Wow, that was different!”
CO—The way you write songs with The Dead Weather seems more raw and spontaneous whereas writing for The Kills seems a lot more structured. Is that right?
AM—Yeah, it is, because with The Kills Jamie and I can’t play everything. There’s a lot of going back to songs, changing things and trying to make it so that two people can play it. You program drums, and you think, OK those are the drums for the song, and then you play the song to it but it’s not right so you need to do it again. There’s a lot of that going back and forth as the song develops, everything changes about a hundred times. So it’s such a different process than just jamming and pressing record, which is what it’s like with The Dead Weather.
CO—What’s it like to be a rare front-woman in the music business? Is it something you’re aware of?
AM—For me, people are just people. There’s a lot of fucking women who are jerks and there are a lot of men who are jerks. I have lots of girlfriends and stuff, but I happen to play music with men. That’s just how it wound up; it was never a conscious decision. I don’t know how many girls want to do this; really want to do it. I think the idea of it sounds wonderful but it takes a certain type of person to basically give up everything else that’s going on in the world and do this full time.
CO—Why do you think less women front rock and roll bands?
AM—There are a lot of women that front bands, but there are definitely a lot more boys. I think as a woman you do have to give up the ideals like settling down and being in one place for a while; it’s just the way that it is.
CO—How do you handle that? Do you ever just kind of hit a wall and say, “Hey, I want to chill out for a while, I want to do yoga, I want to do domestic things.”?
AM—When I have a break I don’t really know what to do. My desire is to perform and if I’m not doing that I feel bad. And I can do all that crazy shit like yoga in a hotel room. I don’t care. I’ve grown up doing this. It’s now been since I was 14 and I’m now 31. And it’s just what I know. All of those things you think you’re missing in your life you reinvent them in other ways. Maybe they’re not traditional ways, but you get what you need. I think a lot of people don’t want to sleep for two hours and take a plane; it can run you really ragged so it’s not for everybody. But it’s not for every guy either.
CO—Do you feel creatively fulfilled or are their other endeavours, talents, or aspirations you feel you need to explore?
AM—I always want to do more. I want to do as much as I can. It’s kind of my instinct to do that. When I can’t play music it goes into some sort of art realm and a writing realm and photography and things like that that I love to do also, but it doesn’t give me the same thrill. If I got to play a show every day and record every other day I’d be really happy, as long as I’m using my brain in that way and putting something out into the world I feel like I’m contributing. With the things that I love, like art and stuff, you might not show them to anybody and that’s kind of the difference; you want to give something back.
CO—You have to exude in your music the emotions a lot of people internalize – that’s got to be hard. Are their some things that you feel like you do have to hold close to your heart instead?
AM—No, because I feel like you can say anything with music. If it’s something really private you can always say it’s about something else. I always think I can get everything I need out of writing songs. It’s a really brilliant process. And I never feel scared about giving it to the world or wonder what people will think. Somehow I was born without that part of my brain, which I think helped me be able to work quickly and do a lot. I know a lot of other people that write music are really terrified, and it’s an emotional rollercoaster and I feel for them, and I’m almost in some ways kind of jealous of that.
CO—Do you feel like you’re more of an introvert in your personal life?
AM—I’m definitely more or an introvert in my personal life. I’m quite protective and private. Music is my outlet – that’s what it is.
CO—How did Jamie take it when you started pursuing The Dead Weather and that became such a huge success? It clearly brought The Kills some mainstream exposure and brought a lot of new fans to you guys but how did he feel about it?
AM—He was really supportive of me doing it. I’m 10 years younger than him, so I want to try and cram it in. He’s really happy with working on things in his time and getting them right and his way, and I’m kind of a different animal in that I get impatient quite quickly. and he completely understands why. I never planned to be in that band in the first place, it was an accident – before I knew it I had a record out, and before I fucking blinked I had two with The Dead Weather. And they weren’t planned. Not once did the four of us sit down and say, let’s do this. I think if any of us had made a plan it probably would’ve never worked. When could we find the time? Too much of that. The band was all about spontaneity. That’s how the music was written, that’s how we got together and how everything happened. Jamie was confused and shocked but I was as surprised as he was to be honest.
CO—What about after this next Kills cycle do you feel like you’re going to need to take some time out for a while, because you’ve been at it so hard these last few years, it seems like there’s been no end.
AM—I don’t know what’s going to happen to me – we’ll see. There’s a chance I might go insane, but I feel great right now. I’m really looking forward to all this touring Jamie and I are going to do – it’s been a while for us; it’s going to be really fun. I can’t wait to get this record out and so I’m just going to roll with it. If stuff comes up I’m going to do it if it excites me. And if I feel like I really need a break I’ll try to figure that out.
CO—You’ll feel it.
AM—I’m just so bad at taking them. I try sometimes, but I get so bored.