Most international bands treat Splendour like the mines-Fly in, get the job done, get paid, fly out.
The Kills, however, have travelled a long way to get to the Byron Shire, and they’re damn sure going to have as much fun as they possibly can while they’re here. Dealing with musicians can be a painful affair, and it’s often not their fault. The trouble is that they’re surrounded by barricades of managers, PR, agents, lawyers, fortune tellers etc. and getting to them is like trying to get to the end of a Japanese game show without breaking your neck.
But The Kills were accommodating from the start. One gets the impression that saying “yes” is part of their mantra. When we put forward the idea of shooting them for the cover of the second issue of The Daily Splendour, we were pleasantly taken aback when the, “yeah sure,” cascaded from Jamie and Alison, through the PR funnel and trickled into our inbox.
Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince have been The Kills for 15 years, and they’ve been through a hell of a lot together, as you can imagine. There’s nothing that can come close to a friendship formed in the musical trenches, and you get the impression that these two know each other just about as well as humanly possible; 15 years in close quarters on the road would presumably give ample opportunity for whatever angels or demons you have lurking, to make themselves well known.
“It’s hard to explain, and I get asked about it all the time,” says Jamie when we meet the two backstage before their Friday gig at Splendour. “Not that I mind talking about it, it’s just really hard to put my finger on our friendship. Sometimes you just meet people who you really like, and all the other nonsense just gets dissolved.”
The two are evidently uber comfortable around each other, and it makes interviewing them a pleasure. “Obviously, I love her to death and I think she’s very beautiful and talented,” continues Jamie. “But we’re also sort of forced together, you know,” he laughs. “It’s not like we’d hang out quite this much if we weren’t in a band together.”
One of the rad things about The Kills is that they’ve been around for 15 years, and they’ve never gotten ‘huge’. Sure they’ve had a suitcase full of proverbial wins, but they’re not private-jetting. They’re ‘cool’ big, which is good for everyone. When bands get ‘huge’ they inevitably turn into massive dorks. They release shit music, join cults (pretty sure Scientology was solely created for this reason), and worst of all, they get sober. Who the hell wants a sober chia-eating rock star in their lives? Not I, rabbi. The Kills still party, and for this we are glad.
The Kills just released their first album in five years, Ash and Ice, and the name couldn’t be more befitting of the pair. Jamie Hince—who Alison calls ‘Hotel’—is a London muso through and through, and Alison’s from Florida; a perfect starting place for a bona fide musical odd couple. The five years between drinks comes partly as a result of Mr Hince doing his finger a mischief by slamming it in a car door. He did himself some hefty tendon damage, and pretty much had to teach himself to play the guitar again. He got it done though, and the album’s a triumph. The longest Kills record to date, it’s 50 minutes of vivacious ‘tude. If there are two people that the offsite Splendour extra-curricular activities this year are centred around, then it’s The Kills. They’ve been here since Wednesday, drinking espresso martinis at Rae’s in Byron, playing a secret(ish) show with The Avalanches at The Great Northern on Thursday, and rumour has it that they’re throwing a private bash at some point over the weekend, that you’re probably not invited to.
Thursday at The Great Northern in Byron Bay was as good a gig in a small venue that you’ll see in Australia (and let’s face it, all really good gigs happen in small venues). Seeing The Kills and The Avalanches on the one bill is a real treat. It used to be a secret, invite-only affair, but the Thursday pre-Splendour gig is now a vital part of the DNA of the festival. Rather than face off in a, ‘who did it better’ type of affair, The Avalanches and The Kills complemented each other perfectly. Watching The Kills perform is watching two perfect show-people (is that a word?) having a ball.
At The Northern, they blasted a select crowd with a smattering of songs from their five albums, and they looked like they were having serious fun. One thing that became instantly clear is that Alison Mosshart is one of the world’s most electrifying front women. She’s a legitimate force. Pink hair flying, mike stand twirling, parading around the stage with her chest puffed awesome. And Jamie Hince, well, the man looks like he was born on the stage. You can tell when you watch a band perform who’s been doing it a while and who’s really comfortable performing. The Kills are in their element on the stage, no doubt the result of 15 years of constant gigging. When we meet The Kills backstage prior to their Friday afternoon performance on the Amphitheatre stage, they look relaxed as all hell, but they admit that they’re a tad nervous.
“Nerves are like my super power,” says Alison. “They change you from being a human, into a super human.” Alison Mosshart’s way taller than I imagined in the flesh. Hot pink hair, Camel in hand and aviators firmly bolted to her face. Her voice has the softest touch of American twang, and she’s effortless as she floats around in the black satin robe that we custom made for the pair: ‘The Kills’ on the back and ‘Alison’ and ‘Jamie’ on the front respectively. She arrived drinking out of a red cup that we swiftly changed to a flute of champagne. Alison Mosshart is the sort of woman that shouldn’t have to drink out of a red cup. Jamie Hince is the perfect British muso.
Before he slipped into his custom robe he was wearing a satin jacket that I’d take a guess was Saint Laurent, oversized Ray Bans, and purple satin loafers. His manner’s friendly, cockney, with an androgynous touch; a characteristic shared by more than a few iconic British musicians. “This is our fourth day here,” says Jamie. “We’ve been staying in Byron Bay, and we really can’t remember if we’ve been here before.” They both laugh. “The Dead Weather (one of Alison’s previous bands) have played here before though haven’t they,” Jamie tells Alison, “So you must’ve been here before.” “I really can’t remember it,” Alison laughs. “No one wants to admit that they’ve been here with me before.”
I ask them about the night before at The Northern. They sure looked like they were having a blast, and Jamie affirms that once they got going they were ok, but dragging themselves to the stage was a bit of an issue. “I felt like I got woken up in the middle of a fire drill, you know that feeling?” Jamie laughs. “But those are the shows that end up being the best a lot of the time,” responds Alison. “When you think that you really can’t do it, and then you get on the stage and the adrenaline just hits you.”
Doing anything for 15 years is a tough ask. But being a touring musician who’s constantly on the road isn’t always as glamorous as it sounds. And it understandably leads to you forgetting if you’ve been to certain coastal towns in the north of New South Wales. If you’re gonna do it, and remain a sane, functioning human being, then you’d better love it. “Of course we still love it, we wouldn’t be doing it if not,” says Alison. “I feel proud on stage watching Jamie. I clap at him sometimes,” she chuckles.
Standing side of stage, watching The Kills launch into their set as the sun sets on a perfect first Splendour day, they look anything but nervous. Alison strides onto the stage, blows a big plume of smoke from the Camel that she’s smoking, flicks her hair back over her head and it begins. Superhero mode well and truly activated, the crowd are dining on the duo’s unquenchable energy. In this age of slashies, selfies, self-help and superfoods, bands like The Kills help us sleep at night. We like our music loud, our cars fast, and our rock stars to act accordingly. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince are the rockers you deserve, and for that we’re glad.