Mean Streets

The Kills journey to the dark edge of sound

Lone lovers are singing bluesy tunes, reeking of wanton lust and sex residue. They've got their mean streak on. Outlaws lurking, Hotel and VV are on the prowl. "Get the guns out, get the guns out," they sing together on "Love Is a Deserter," one of the highlights of their recently released No Wow.

Living in London, alone together, a black leather pair suckin' on liquor in a paper bag, the Kills do rock 'n' roll. But hell, they think what they do is more electro.

"I don't really understand what rock 'n' roll means anymore," says Alison Mosshart, a.k.a. VV. Unsettling; if anyone should know, it's Mosshart, a Florida native who fronted Vero Beach punkers Discount while still in junior high. She and Jamie Hince -- Hotel -- are currently out on the road somewhere in the USA. "We relate more to an electronic band musically because of the drum machine and the minimal aspects. But all those music terms get kind of crazy, and somewhere down the line, they just lose their meaning."

Screw the terms. "Do all those bands deemed 'rock 'n' roll bands' really have that attitude?" she adds.

No Wow is the result of Hotel's search for a legendary mixing board tailored for Sly Stone. Once he found it in a warehouse in Benton Harbor, Michigan, he and VV promptly decamped there for the album's writing and demo sessions.

But it's their ferocious 2003 debut, Keep on Your Mean Side, that should be noted first. Making rock for the reductionism age with raw guitar that sounds like shotgun blasts and discreet drum-machine handclaps, Hotel and VV's voices blend into a melee, softly battling in harmonic pushing and shoving like love gone sour. "Ugh, ugh," VV carnally moans on "Cat's Claw." "You got it if I want it you got it if I want it you got it if I want it..."

No Wow still has the jagged tough-guy/girl attitude of the debut and exudes an unmerciful feeling of lonely woes and despair with track titles such as "Love Is a Deserter" and "I Hate the Way You Love (Parts I and II)." But something's missing. That initial, spontaneous oomph of instinct, anger, and nihilism on Keep On Your Mean Side has waned and given way to a slightly tamer and more conscious result. Meanwhile, No Wow gets even more minimal from a production standpoint, pulsing ahead with a repetitive drum machine programmed by Hotel and creating an electronic sound that, while admirably tense, seems less organic and duller.

The Kills sang 'bout booze, sex, and murder. It was the mindset, the provocative lyrics, the unremitting guitar thrusts and brittle but throbbing beats. In and out. Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick... Keep on your mean side.

We're all bad boys and bad girls, the Kills make clear. The devil's in all of us.

But now, the band is almost popular. And, as we all know, real badasses can shine for only so long in the limelight before the monstrous vacuum of fame and entertainment swallows them whole. Hence, the big, front-page spread in the January 2005 edition of U.K. culture bible Dazed & Confused: "VV & Hotel on the Road to Rock and Roll Nirvana."

Hah.

Though No Wowwas something of a disappointment, it's not as if the Kills are losing their edge. It's no surprise that the hipsters and indie-rock kids love them and identify with the defiance in their image (the so-called "independent" ethos), the romanticism of two loners doing it together, the pragmatism of the pain/beauty tug of war that lovers wage, and the no-frills blues stomp in their attitude. But really, their setup seems rather, um, "trendy."

Still, it works. The boy-girl harmonies, the cool-misfit eroticism, and the roiling rock grooves relate to other duos in the spotlight such as the Raveonettes.

"I don't know, the more people like you, the harder it is," VV says. "The more interviews you do, the more information is out there, the less mystery there is. The only way to maintain [it] is to reapproach what you started with." That would mean the pair's mutual nostalgia for the Factory era, Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick, and the bohemian Velvet Underground. "There's a lot of anxiety to go around," she says, "and as long as we turn that into adrenaline and strong performances, we'll be fine."

But you don't need to know about Hince and Mosshart's personal lives. This is a story about VV and Hotel, who record together as the Kills. The music speaks for itself. Love and death are all that count.

"Bands want to have things and become comfortable. We work really fucking hard and only have a day off every fourth month or so. We're definitely not 'comfortable,' but it's fucking fun, so who cares?"

 
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