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The Kills
'PJ Harvey made it all seem possible' ... Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince. Photo: Pete Millson
'PJ Harvey made it all seem possible' ... Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince. Photo: Pete Millson

'We're chain-smoking vegans...' The Kills reveal all

From PJ Harvey to the Velvet Underground, Alison Mosshard and Jamie Hince of The Kills discuss their influences, passions and their new flat with Will Hodgkinson.

"Sorry about the mess," says Alison Mosshart, also known as VV and one half of the Kills, with a nervous laugh as she leads us through an assault course of storage boxes and instruments to get to the kitchen table of the large north London flat she shares with the band's other half, Jamie "Hotel" Hince. The pair moved into the flat almost a year ago, but they have spent a total of eight days in it and haven't got round to unpacking their belongings. "Most of the stuff in boxes is writings, photographs and pictures that we do on the road," says Mosshart, a Florida native who moved to London in 2000 after meeting Hince while on tour with her old band. "We don't really own too much else."

As Hince pours us coffee and apologises for the lack of milk ("we're chain-smoking vegans"), a picture emerges of the duo's life. Inspired by the Velvet Underground's dedication to their art, the pair formed the Kills as a complete entity where writing, drawing and the approach to life is as important as the music, which is as lean as the pair themselves. Their second album, No Wow, was made in a little over a month and features angular, impassioned songs that strip rock'n'roll down to its beating heart.

"We're both quite introverted - Alison in particular is extremely shy," says Hince. Mosshart confirms this with a bashful smile. "But we discovered that we could communicate with each other through music. She was already in a band and I was amazed at this transformation from someone who would sit in a corner with her sketchbook and go bright red if you talked to her to this amazing performer on stage. So we formed a two-person social group that encompassed everything."

Hince and Mosshart were given a lifeline in 2001 when a neighbour died, leaving a huge collection of recording equipment. "We owe a lot to the David Brenton One Man Band," says Hince, handing me one of their former neighbour's business cards, which announces the late Brenton's specialities: country and pop. "We were really frustrated that we didn't have microphones or cables or anything and we couldn't afford to buy them. Then the next morning, there was a skip full of everything we needed. David Brenton's wife had thrown out all his stuff." "It was incredible," adds Mosshart. "It was a music shop, basically. He really saved us."

The David Brenton One Man Band allowed Hince and Mosshart to start translating their various ideas into music. "I liked simple electronic music like Suicide and Cabaret Voltaire because they proved that ideas and resourcefulness were more important than ability," says Hince. "Alison would make tapes of people talking and send them to me from America, and that's how we started. We were looking for ways to articulate ourselves."

A lot of the pair's records come from charity shops, but Hince grew up listening to the Velvet Underground and Mosshart was obsessed with US post-punk band Fugazi. "When I was a kid, the high-school kids next door built a skate ramp and played music on a boom box," she says. "I used to hide behind the bushes and listen, and one of the bands they played was Fugazi. So when I was 15, I went on tour with them, all over America. That changed my life. For years I only listened to Fugazi." Her dad's second-hand car business also helped. "People would always leave tapes in the car. That's where our family record collection came from."

Like many introverts, Mosshart and Hince project an image of being far more cool and aloof than they really are. They are inspired by PJ Harvey, another singer to smokescreen shyness with an ice-cool facade. "Her record The Four-Track Demos really showed us what could be done with so little," says Hince. "It was about the power of her voice, with rhythm relegated to the tapping of a foot and an abrasive guitar, and everything was designed to create a space for her ideas. It made us realise that what you leave off a record is as important as what you put on."

"It made me feel like I could do anything," adds Mosshart. "I didn't really know how to play guitar or how to make music, and at the time a band like Nirvana sounded smooth and commercial and distant. PJ Harvey made it all seem possible. She captured the sound of energy, the sound of a moment."

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