Every picture tells a story about the Kills
When Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart first got together as the Kills a decade ago, it was clear their mission was more than musical. They would personify a particular boho aesthetic, torn and frayed in black denim and leather, with a sound and look born at the crossroads of Warhol’s Factory and minimalist U.K. punk rock.
Some of that is captured in “Dream & Drive,” a just-released book of photography by Kenneth Cappello that documents the band’s travels through no-budget motel rooms and empty desert highways, from small club gigs to the epic setting of Coachella, all of it reflecting the music’s explosive energy and attitude.
“When I met them they had a very interesting dynamic,” said Cappello, who is based in Los Angeles but first photographed the band during a trip to Paris in 2003. “You didn’t know if they were together or if they were brother and sister. They had a very intense relationship onstage. You could feel the tension.”
Cappello became friends with the Kills early on, and had an open invitation to join the band on the road anytime, anyplace. On those early tours, the duo would roll into town with battered guitars and amplifiers held together with duct tape, and burn through biting songs of stripped-down blues and punk.
“The kind of music we like is, in my mind, like the kind of art we like, the kind of visuals we like,” said singer-guitarist Mosshart, who was a Florida punk when she traveled to London to form the Kills with Hince. “It all ties together for me. Playing old, falling-apart guitars and amps because they sound better than new ones, and using old cameras because they work better than new ones, and are more interesting.”
The Kills and Cappello shared an interest in photography, as the band had already been documenting their road trips in a variety of imperfect analog mediums: Super-8 movies, drugstore photo booths, Polaroid cameras, etc., emphasizing raw edges over polish. The images that came of it all fit the mood and the moment.
“It kind of felt like those things were dying, and we were keeping them alive,” Hince said of the pictures, home movies and the kind of music the Kills were making. “Those pictures had a certain aesthetic. There’s a lot of grubby hotel rooms and pictures of trash and all the food. All my photos were of that kind of thing and pictures of us sound-checking in a room that looks like it was knocked together in a minute with a bunch of nails and a 4-by-2.”
On a recent trip through Los Angeles, Hince and Mosshart were sitting in the upstairs offices of the Marc Jacobs Bookmarc store in West Hollywood, where the Kills and Cappello would be signing early copies of “Dream & Drive.” As they smoked cigarettes and told stories, they looked essentially as they always have, their rough-edged style unchanged even after finding lasting success and an international following.
It’s a look that magazine editors and the fashion world have found irresistible, recruiting the Kills into multi-page photo spreads that depict the duo as a kind of indie-rock Bonnie & Clyde.
“They both had pretty good style from the get-go, and they’re both good-looking people,” said Cappello. “The music is sexy. It made sense with fashion.”
At first, Mosshart thought the interest was based simply on there being a female in the band, but he soon realized they were part of a pattern, where underground culture finds its way into the mainstream.
“That’s the cycle of all things,” said Mosshart. “It always starts with a 16-year-old kid getting up to something that’s really cool, trying to make something out of nothing. The idea is so simple.”
The Kills aesthetic didn’t change when they started to make a living playing their music, maintaining a tough, uncompromising through-line from 2003’s “Keep on Your Mean Side” album to last year’s “Blood Pressures.” But they have progressed from duct tape to an increasingly sophisticated version of the band’s sound and vision. They experimented last year onstage with a trio of gospel singers for added harmony, and their current tour features a quartet of drummers pounding the beat, but the original foundation remains.
“Every record we’ve done, it’s been on my mind about how to expand it,” said Hince. “I’m not really a pure minimalist. It’s not really a desire to make music with just two people. We always found that somehow it seemed to have the most impact.”
The Kills have begun writing for the next album. Hince has four songs written, with plans to complete more during a train trip through Russia.
There will of course be more images to accompany the new songs, though it turns out Hince doesn’t enjoy being in front of a camera, despite his fascination with photography. That irony has only become more profound since paparazzi have invaded his life in England ever since he began dating (and then married) supermodel Kate Moss.
“I’ve never really liked being photographed. I never felt like I knew what my face was doing,” said Hince with a laugh. “It’s a real art, and I just don’t ever know. Kate always says when we’re taking pictures, ‘Don’t do that thing with your mouth.’ I don’t know what I’m doing with my mouth!”
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