Alison Mosshart of The Kills

Just after putting out her first-ever solo release, “Rise”, Alison Mosshart of The Kills & more talked with QRO (while maintaining self-isolation)....
Alison Mosshart of The Kills : Q&A

Alison Mosshart of The Kills : Q&A

Just after putting out her first-ever solo release, “Rise” (QRO review), Alison Mosshart of The Kills & more talked with QRO (while maintaining self-isolation). In the conversation from her home in Nashville, Mosshart discussed how she’s been handling this crazy time (like talking longer on the phone than she has since junior high), writing “Rise” first for the premiere of Facebook Watch show Sacred Lies: The Singing Bones, then her own version for the finale, then her own video (learning video editing along the way), but also working with her fellow Kill Jamie Hince on a new record (and just hanging out), drinking too much (but still doing pilates), and much more…

 

The Kills playing for “No Wow” live at The Metro in Chicago on August 2nd, 2015:

 

QRO: How are you holding up with everything that is going on?

Alison Mosshart: Well, I think I’m fine, you know? It’s just, I don’t even have words – it’s the strangest time on Earth.

But I’m fine. I’ve been in my house for a little over a month, and I haven’t run out of things to do. I’m not at that point where I could say that I’m used to it; I’m not at that point where I’m going crazy. I’ve yet to reach those milestones.

QRO: Not yet at bouncing off the walls…

AM: I take long walks, and work on art, and music. There’s just tons of things to do. So many friends to call with the time, family. I’ve never been so social, strangely. It’s the oddest thing.

I guess I still feel like there’s not enough time in the day. [laughs]

QRO: Yeah, I’ve noticed that I’ve been contacting more with my parents, my sister, some older friends – people maybe taken for granted.

AM: I’ve also noticed the conversations go on a lot longer. ‘Holy shit, I’ve just been on the phone for three-and-a-half hours! This is not something that I’ve done since I was like in junior high…’[laughs]

QRO: [laughs] Not since it was a landline…

AM: Yeah, totally, on the landline, talking to my girlfriends, for three-and-a-half hours. That was just some normal shit. Now it’s some new normal shit.

 

Alison Mosshart’s video for “Rise”:

QRO: At home, you made the video for “Rise”. Were you always planning on doing a video for that, or was that like, ‘Okay, I’m locked down, here’s something to do’?

AM: Yeah, no, I wasn’t, at all. There was a point, about a month before that song came out, I got a message from Domino [Records], ‘Maybe we should do a lyric video,’ they were going to hire somebody to do something, and I thought, ‘I don’t like lyrics videos.’

I was like, ‘I should do something. I need a project.’ It was like Day Four of lockdown. ‘I wanna make it – I’m just gonna make something and send it to you.’

A week prior to that, I had been in L.A. I had gone to see these low riders in east L.A. somewhere in the middle of the night, and filmed some of it. It was really fun to start with that footage, and then I just filmed the rest of it in my studio here, in my house.

QRO: When you were in L.A., was that the last time you were out?

AM: I got back from L.A. here on March 2nd, because primaries, the voting was March 3rd in Tennessee. I came back to that, and I’ve been here ever since. The longest period of the time I’ve ever been home. I keep thinking, ‘Should I get dressed up, just for fun, like I’m going somewhere?’

QRO: You can’t tour, you can’t go in the studio…

AM: I keep thinking, at one point, I might Mad Max it across the country in my car, just to quarantine with Jamie, so we can write. But so far, it’s been good. We’ve just been sending each other stuff, back and forth, so it’s fine. It’s almost like I’m in L.A., and we’re in two separate houses, and so we’re doing the same damn thing, just two thousand miles different.

I’m not at that point where I could say that I’m used to it; I’m not at that point where I’m going crazy.

QRO: Was your video done in front of your computer’s camera?

AM: Oh, no, I have a video camera.

I was quite fun. It was great. I sang the song three times, and kind of cut it up, with my car stuff, and I somehow tried to put those together, and it was hilarious.

It took four days, because I was truly working with a blindfold on. Every single thing I wanted to do, I would watch this tutorial, and it would be like, ‘The answer is no.’ God damn! [laughs]

It was a pretty funny experience. I say it was like making a fanzine on a Xerox copier that had like no toner. You never knew what you were going to get. Sometimes it was really cool, sometimes you’re like, ‘Uh-uh, let’s try that again.’ All the edits are like that. When I watch it, I’m like, ‘It’s just like mayhem.’

But I like how it feels. It does feel like making a fanzine. It was just fun, and kind of wild & messy. Now I’m obsessed with making music videos. This is my quarantine activity: thinking of tons of things I want to film. How many films can I make in this house? This is my checklist.

 

The Kills playing for “DNA” live at CMJ 2014 in New York, NY:

QRO: “Rise” is featured prominently throughout Sacred Lies: The Singing Bones. How did the song make its way to the show?

AM: Well, it’s the show’s fault that it ever made it’s way to you guys.

It was a song I had for a long time. I wrote it in 2013. I had that song in my pile of songs. They wrote to me last year, earlier in the year. They were like, ‘We need a song that’s kind of like this, and it’s sort of about this, and here’s two episode scripts.’ I read those, and I was thinking about the characters – because all the different characters sing it, at various times.

Something that was kind of classic sounding, and easy to change, genre-wise, easy to shift, between one kind of feel to another feel. I remembered that song, and I listened to it, and I sent them – I just had an acoustic guitar demo of it – I sent them that. They really liked it, and so I worked on it some more, and finished it. And that was it.

I basically just gave them the lyrics, and a rough cut of me singing it, playing guitar, so they knew how it went. I didn’t record it for them properly; they didn’t need it like that. That was that.

A couple months went by, and they had decided they wanted to have me properly record it, so they could play it in the finale, in the last episode, at the very end. So that was very exciting; I was excited to have my own version of my own song.

I went in with Lawrence Rothman, and did that. Called in Jamie, and had him play some guitar on it. And there you have it. That was it. Domino loved it, and wanted to put it out.

And there I accidentally have a single. [laughs]

I say [making the video] was like making a fanzine on a Xerox copier that had like no toner. You never knew what you were going to get.

QRO: Before you did the single, had you seen how they had done it on the show? Was it at all odd to hear someone else sing it?

AM: Yeah, it was really crazy.

I went to the premiere, and watched the first two episodes. It was just insane to me, because the song kind of makes an entrance like every five minutes. I don’t know if anyone else gets that impression, but because it’s my song, it’s just completely wild. ‘Again? Again? Again?’ Sitting in that theater and watching it, I just kept looking at my friend, I was like, ‘Again?’ It’s crazy! [laughs]

The most beautiful thing that happened that night, was before they played the episode, three of the actresses went up to the front of the stage, and performed it. Played guitars and sang it together. It was so shockingly beautiful; I mean, I almost cried – it was amazing.

For me, that was a really, really special moment. To see & hear a song that I wrote, to be performed in a way that I wouldn’t probably do it, but it worked so well, and was so beautiful. It just made me feel so happy. It was really, really beautiful.

So I kind of like to have that memory, and I don’t need to overdo it. So I’m good.

And now I have this new one, that all just has low-riders in it! [laughs]

QRO: I first heard of the show, because of your single. At least for me, that first episode, I was surprised to hear it so often. And in that first episode, it sounds so different than what your single is.

AM: The best songs can do that.

The amount of songs Jamie & I have covered, or I’ve covered, you kind of go inside of the song and make it your own. Figure out how they did it, and then, once you understand all that, you can push it out on every side. You can do something different; you can add your voice. And then that song starts meaning something to you that the writer never meant, and then it’s incredible to the life of the song. It’s really great.

I always appreciate that. I always think it’s cool. And I, myself, love getting inside of songs and exploring songs that aren’t mine. It’s really fun.

I went to the premiere [of Sacred Lies: The Singing Bones], and watched the first two episodes. It was just insane to me, because the song kind of makes an entrance like every five minutes.

QRO: The last new release from The Kills was your cover of Saul Williams’ “List of Demands (Reparations)” (QRO review). And that was different than the original.

AM: That was an incredible experience, doing that song. I really wanted to do that song justice, like no other. Because I love it, and I love Saul, and I was like, ‘This is hard!’

He sings it four thousand miles an hour. It’s crazy! I’m like, ‘Saul, where are you breathing? This is nuts!’ I slowed it down a bit because I was like, ‘Aiy-yai-yai, I can’t fit all these words out of my mouth!’ [laughs] But I really love it.

QRO: Speaking of videos, I really loved the video for “List of Demands”.

AM: Thank you! There was a lot of dancers in that.

QRO: It could work with the rhythm of the song. And then having the handcuffs, by limiting what you could do, it made it it’s own sort of dance.

AM: It was a very cool idea. And those handcuffs hurt a lot. They were real handcuffs, and they fucking hurt. Everybody’s wrists and ankles and stuff were cut up by the end.

The ‘making of,’ if that video existed, a lot Band-Aids, a lot of, ‘Ahh…’ That was a really painful one.

The Kills’ video for “List of Demands (Reparations)”:

 

QRO: Is it just accidental that “Rise” was your first solo release?

AM: Yeah. There’s no big agenda here. I sure love recording music and putting it out – and now, apparently, I’m obsessed with making music videos. I can’t wait for the next one.

I love that I have a song like that, that I can just put it out. It’s great. In the middle of working on a hundred other things, it’s just a really nice feeling to put something into the world, give something to the world. And that song, strangely, just has this feeling about it now, kind of a good time for that, that was an accident, but a happy one.

QRO: During self-isolation, you have been working on new material for The Kills with Jamie?

AM: We’ve been working on new songs, sending songs back-and-forth, back-and-forth.

I’ve got another song, the b-side of this song, I’m not sure when that comes out, but I’ve made the video for that, too. I’m really excited about it. I already did that because I was like, ‘Okay, so why don’t I do this one now, just keep going?’

So that’s exciting; I can’t wait for that. But I don’t know when; haven’t decided on a date for that, maybe a month or so. Something like that.

Alison Mosshart’s video for “Rise” b-side “It Ain’t Water”:

Painting a lot; I have a book idea that kind of want to start working on, that I’ve had for a long time, and I’m thinking, ‘No time like the present.’ Really, there’s a list that’s just atrocious, that I’d like to get through. Really, sometimes I worry that this virus won’t last long enough for me to get all this shit done, but…

I feel quite scattered, among all the things I want to do, because I want to do so many things. You kind of wake up in the morning with a wet blanket, going like, ‘Is this really happening? This is really happening…’

You can feel the collective world shock, you can feel it, in the air. It’s big. It’s kind of making my brain feel like this strange electricity, like, ‘Let’s do this, let’s do this.’ And I’m serious: the day doesn’t seem long enough. I don’t know where it goes.

But anyway, back to the thing, there’s a lot of stuff I want to work on. I’m kind of just waiting for the focus. Much like I had with the record that I did in the new year, that was very focused, I knew what I wanted to do, that came really naturally to me.

Whatever is making me feel like that tomorrow, that’s what I’m going to do.

I, myself, love getting inside of songs and exploring songs that aren’t mine. It’s really fun.

QRO: Do you think wanting to put out the single & video with the final episode, that maybe gave you a deadline, gave you focus?

AM: I was done with it well before then, though. [laughs]

You had me at “lyric video.” I was like, ‘No’ – right after that, I just immediately… It’s always good to have something to push against, you know? If you don’t want something to represent what you trying to say, then you have to make something else.

And there’s certainly, in this time, there’s really no excuses. You just have to let an idea, or a dream, if you’ve imagined something – you’ve literally got the time to do it.

That’s why it was so exciting to be able to do that, to push myself to make something I’ve never made. Because I don’t know anything about film editing, or any of that. I’ve spent my whole career with other people who do, and I love working as a team, so this was a really interesting thing.

I immediately, and I mean immediately, had more respect for every single person I’ve ever worked with on a video. I already had tremendous amounts of it, but then it was like, ‘Yeah, this is tricky. This takes a long time.’ Every edit would be like ten straight hours of staring at a screen. It’s incredibly painstaking, but very fulfilling when you finally finish it.

Every edit would be like ten straight hours of staring at a screen. It’s incredibly painstaking, but very fulfilling when you finally finish it.

QRO: What about when working with Jamie, do you use Zoom or something?

AM: No, we don’t use Zoom. We just call each other; we just know each other’s songs. He’ll e-mail me drum parts, I’ll e-mail him some song I wrote. We send each other stuff, and then I’ll spend four straight days, trying to write something to some of his drums, back and forth. It’s kind of like that.

And a lot, we get to talk. Like, two old girlfriends on the phone, for three hours. About whatever, about literally whatever. And that’s part of it. That’s always part of it.

Me & Jamie just hanging out is The Kills. This is what happens when we get together, pretty much all the time.

He’s really funny on FaceTime. He’ll set his phone down somewhere, and he’s out of frame. I don’t know where he’s gone. I can hear him, he’s just doing stuff. He’s there, but I’m just standing in the kitchen… [laughs]

 

QRO: During this time, have you picked up and/or accelerated any bad habits, like drinking too much, or I’m not shaving?…

AM: Oh yeah.

I’m still showering, all that stuff has not changed. I cannot – I have to get dressed in the morning. I can’t – it does some bad shit to my head.

But I’m definitely drinking more, there’s no doubt about it. There’s no doubt. This is crazy.

I’m thinking to myself: well, what is too much? What is this time? What are the rules? Maybe, I’m not drinking enough.

To my brother, I was like, ‘Do you think I’m drinking too much, too often?’ And then I went right back on that statement, ‘Or not enough, often enough?’ There’s really no answers right now. I haven’t figured it out yet.

There’s a routine. By ten o’clock at night, you open a bottle of wine, and by one, it’s gone. ‘Should I open another?’ You’re just on a roll, doing stuff. In no normal life do I do that every night. So I’ve noticed the difference.

It’s losing the idea of time, and the day. I don’t ever know what day it is; I don’t really care what time it is. It doesn’t really apply.

And not looking after kids, or homeschooling, or doing all that stuff that would keep me on a schedule, I immediately slipped onto Japan Time Zone. Within a day, I was upside-down. ‘Alright, this is just what’s going to happen now.’

QRO: Like for this, I had to make sure I wasn’t really drunk, or taking a nap…

AM: [laughs] Really drunk nap…

‘Do you think I’m drinking too much, too often?’ … ‘Or not enough, often enough?’

QRO: I’ve been watching live streams and concert videos. Have you been watching any of those, or even thinking about doing your own?

AM: Let’s see. I’ve watched a couple of the Morrison Hotel Gallery photographer interviews. I watched two: I watched Lynn Goldsmith, and Jesse Frohman. And those were really great. I like that. But I stumbled upon it.

This independent theater in Santa Fe played that movie Blaze. It’s the story of Blaze Foley, the Texas musician. My friend Charlie [Sexton], he plays Townes Van Zandt. Ben [Dickey] is in it; he plays Blaze. And my friend Ethan [Hawke] directed the whole thing.

They did this whole cool thing, where you buy a ticket to the film, and you watched it online. And then Ethan Hawke did a Q&A. And that was one of the funnest nights, watching that, because I felt like I went somewhere, I went to a talk or something exciting, except for that I could drink & smoke while being there. Fucking awesome!

The next morning, I was like, ‘I feel like I went to a party!’

Aside than that, I take one or two virtual pilates classes a day, because that keeps me sane. ‘Cause in real life, I do one or two hours a day, in the studios. I’ve stuck with that. And I get to see all my ladies. And I get to take classes at my California studio, and my Nashville studio, and mix them all up. That’s one thing that’s keeping me sane.

But Instagram live stuff… I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll get more into it. I’m having a hard time watching anything but Cuomo press briefings. Aside from that, I’m not doing great at watching stuff. I feel like I’m already on my phone too much.

QRO: I’ll admit, I don’t like having to watch the Instagram live on my phone.

AM: I know what you mean. It’s not very fulfilling to watch something that small. It almost would be better if it was just like live audio, if you didn’t have to look. That’s more interesting to me.

I’ve been asked a few times to do live Instagram performances, and I don’t really have any interest in doing that, because it looks bad, it sounds bad. I’d rather spend a ton of time working my ass off to make something beautiful, and playing that for people.

I’m just not there yet; maybe I’ll go over to the other side. Immediately, when this happened, there was so much of that. I had this feeling, I was like, ‘I don’t need to see all of this…’

People are doing cool things. I love what Reggie Watts is doing, which is WattsApp. It’s funny as shit.

Anything that’s making me laugh right now is making me happy, I think that’s important. Some comedians are doing really funny things each day. But mostly, I just don’t wanna waste this time. I want to use it to make, and create, and think, and kind of recalibrate, so I’m trying not to try to escape too much.

QRO: It sounds like you’ve got a lot more of a regime than I do…

AM: Just tons of wine, pilates classes, and the rest is just, whatever the fuck… [laughs]

Anything that’s making me laugh right now is making me happy, I think that’s important.

QRO: And have you watched Tiger King?

AM: I started to, because everybody told me to watch it, and it was one of those things, I realized, I can’t.

Honestly, if someone had told me to watch that three months ago, I’m sure I would have had the patience for it, and thought it was funny. But my brain was like, ‘I can’t be dealing with this right now. This is not where I’m at.’ You know?

There is time for me to watch that…

QRO: Or have you baked your own bread? That seems to be the other big thing people are doing…

AM: I haven’t done that, no. I’ve not really been on the cooking tip. My brother has been making bagels from scratch, and giving them to me, and they’re fucking awesome!

There’s a lot of people baking. I am getting the benefits of their baking – I’m good. I think there’s enough bread floating around.

Anything that requires a slow process, people are really jumping on. ‘Let’s do a 2,000 piece puzzle.’ Yeah, go for it – I’m not there yet. I’m not quite at that point where I’ve literally run out of things to do.

I’m sure I will. If this goes on for a half a year, then yeah, I’ll be there, doing the puzzle, baking the bread. I’ll be watching Tiger King in the background – all of it will be happening! But right now, not there yet.

The Kills playing for “You Don’t Own the Road” live at Pier 63 in New York, NY on August 18th, 2012:

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