We’ve Got A File On You: Alison Mosshart
We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
Alison Mosshart is low-key one of the busiest people in music. For the last couple decades, she’s been the tornadic vocal force of the Kills, her ferociously original duo with guitarist Jamie Hince known for layering grimy blues-rock, abrasive electro, and burned-out twang atop a drum machine. During the first half of the 2010s, she also fronted the equally hypnotic Dead Weather, a rock supergroup with Jack White, Dean Fertita, and Jack Lawrence.
Being in two bands isn’t for the faint of heart, but Mosshart takes the balancing act in stride. “[Being in the Dead Weather] gave me such an appreciation for what the Kills did,” she says over the phone. “And then what the Kills did gives me such an appreciation for what the Dead Weather does. One makes me love the other more.”
Of course, Mosshart’s always thrived on musical communities. In the 1990s, while still a teenager, she cut her teeth as lead singer of the punk band Discount, which released a string of 7-inches and toured the world, and presaged the popularity of acts such as Paramore. When she’s not singing with her current bands, Mosshart is popping up all over the place as a guest vocalist. Although some of these appearances are expected (Foo Fighters, Primal Scream), her CV also has a few surprises, such as a collab with Ghost or working on the Sons Of Anarchy soundtrack.
Her eclectic career is both a testament to her malleable voice — although known for a glitter-bluesy melodic howl, her guest appearances can be ghostly or guttural — but also her restless, nomadic creative nature. “I’ve always, always loved working with people,” Mosshart says. “The power of more people is wonderful, and different ideas and different interpretations. It’s so fascinating to me to work outside of the Kills, work in the Dead Weather, but then also go do stuff with other bands and go sing on someone’s song. You go inside whatever their creative process is and explore. Everyone does something differently. You never walk away having not learned something. It’s great.”
Even during the pandemic-driven lockdown and social distancing, she’s continued learning, keeping busy with a slew of film, art, and writing projects. The Kills also used the downtime to dig through their archives and compile a rarities collection, Little Bastards, which is out today. It easily turned into a double album, despite covering only the years 2002 through 2009. The breadth of the collection, from noisy synth-rock to a velvety take on Serge Gainsbourg’s “I Call It Art,” reflects the band’s depth and evolution.
We recently checked in with Mosshart for a sprawling call that encompassed her entire career, including awkward touring experiences, why she doesn’t like karaoke, and what she’s excited to do once live music returns.
Discount – “Soup” (1996)
I was looking back at your first band Discount and I could not believe how many records you released. That feels like a band that needs a compilation, because everything is all over the place.
ALISON MOSSHART: Yeah, it’s all over the place. We did a lot of recordings for sure. Back then, you would do a 7-inch every time you went on tour. So you’d always have 7-inches to sell on the road. And we did tons and tons and tons of 7-inches. I don’t even have all that stuff. It’s so long ago, and I’ve moved so many places. It’s wild. And it’s really a pre-internet era. I don’t know. [Laughs] Someone is welcome to put them all together and send them to me.
Yeah, there are three songs on Apple Music when I looked on streaming. And then I went on Discogs, I was like, wow, there’s a lot more out there. But it’s all on different labels, tiny labels. And I think that’s what people forget too. Back then you did what you could, and it was really on a shoestring.
MOSSHART: Sort of. You know, we kind of got in trouble towards the end, because there was a record deal that went wrong. And some guy — I can’t thankfully even remember his name, because I hate him so much my brain has decided not to remember his name — but he got all of the albums. He bought them through this company that we had been with, and we don’t have the rights to the songs. And not only that, for some reason we can’t seem to get them back.
It was just one of those terrible stories that you hate when you read a biography of a band, that suddenly all of their work is in some guy’s house as like a power move. Those records are not even sellable, right? You can put them out, but the sales would be so low, it’s kind of not really a… I don’t know what he’s waiting for. I don’t know any of it anymore, but it was kind of bad.
It’s in this weird limbo. He can’t make money off of it, in a weird way, but we can’t have it back in a weird way. So for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist.
And you were so young even at the end of the band. That’s a big lesson to learn so young, especially when you’re just starting out in music.
MOSSHART: You’d laugh, because you think it’d be like some major label that would do that. No, this was like a little punk label. We had really, really wonderful luck throughout our entire career. We worked with our friends all the time. This was the one weird thing. And we didn’t have much control over it, but none of us could afford to sue him. So that was that.
What was your happiest time with the band, when you look back?
MOSSHART: It was all really happy. You know, the very beginning of the band was crazy, because we would just play skate parks and houses to like 15 people. It was really, really fun. I basically started a band with the boys that I skateboarded with. And it was an extension of that. I was 14 when we first started touring, and so it was incredibly fun. It was incredibly fun to see the world. It’s amazing to me that we would get invited to Japan and Australia and Hawaii. It was a wild, really cool time, with such a great network of friends.
Everything was booked through fanzines. We were all reading Maximumrocknroll to find out where to go. Everyone wrote letters to each other and used payphones on the side of the road to get directions. It was just like an adventure. It was really, really great, and the most incredible learning experience you can have navigating the world.
I was constantly surprised every single time we’d turn up and be able to play. I mean, I was too young to get into bars, and we’d play bars. It was the craziest thing. I would just sit outside on top of the van and wait until someone would slip me in the back door and onto the stage to play and then have to go straight back outside again. [Laughs] It was really fun.
The Kills And The Dead Weather
Is there any particular way that you’ve seen your early musical career with Discount filter through your songwriting with the Kills and the Dead Weather and other projects?
MOSSHART: I don’t really know how to tear it apart. But I loved music when I was a little kid. I didn’t know how to write songs, but I always, always, always wrote lyrics. Always from the time I could hold a pen. And loved writing, just writing and writing and writing. Always. And it wasn’t until the Kills that Jamie — he was like, “You know, you really need to learn how to play an instrument. You need to learn how to play guitar or something. Because there’s only two of us. This is crazy. I gotta do everything.” [Laughs]
He was the first person that taught me the most about songwriting, because he not only encouraged me to write my own songs, music, but he did the most wonderful thing when I was about 18. I was in London, and I was on tour in Discount and he sat me down. And he’s like, “You should write your own stuff, you should just try it. So I’m going to lend you this four-track cassette recorder. Take it with you, and just see what you can do with it.”
MOSSHART: And I became completely obsessed. I don’t think I slept at all for the next like two-and-a-half months on the road that I was going through Europe. I had that machine, and I would record everything: talking and radio and people soundchecking a bass drum over and over again. And then I borrowed a guitar, and I didn’t know how to really play it, but I would try to do something and I would just layer these things. And I realized I was making sound sculptures. I don’t think you could call them songs, but they were something. And they were really cool.
I came back to London and played Jamie the stuff, and he was just so excited. He’s like, “I don’t even know what this is, but it’s awesome. Just keep doing this.” And so that was really my introduction to writing things and multitrack recording and using strange things as instruments. Whatever I could find, making microphones out of telephones. Just anything that made a sound, I was interested in it, I figured out some way I could use it. So he was really instrumental in that.
And then the Dead Weather, when I started doing that, it was great, because I knew how to write a song. But I hadn’t been in a four-piece band in a really long time. That’s where I started, and I hadn’t done that then for a ton of years. And it was really interesting to be back on a stage with four people [and] to have the proper instrumentation. Really different than the Kills. So that was really interesting to me, and I learned a lot from that having gone through everything else. I understood now what they were doing. I think in my first band, I didn’t really understand what everyone else was doing.
Between the Kills and the Dead Weather, the configurations are so different.
MOSSHART: I mean, I love that sort of democracy of a band. I love teamwork and working together, and everyone bringing ideas and everyone writing songs. In the Dead Weather, everyone wrote songs. And, you know, you show up in the morning, and you’d have an idea or have this bit or something. And by the end of the day, the song would be done. It was so fun.
And that was really challenging for me, because they’re, like, three of the greatest players I know. They’re incredible. I’d have to walk in that room and bring an idea and be like, “I think I believe in this. I want to do this.” And they’re like, “Okay, let’s do it.” Like, “Really? We can? Cool!” It was wonderfully terrifying to me, and so exciting. It taught me that even if I couldn’t execute an idea, that my idea was good. It was just that I had to figure out how to work with other people and believe that there was a way of doing something, even if my ability to play guitar or my ability to play drums or to play you know, piano or whatever isn’t good. It doesn’t mean that the thing isn’t there.
Besides the things you mentioned, what were the biggest differences for you being in both bands?
MOSSHART: The biggest difference is the style of music and the application. On a really basic level, to have a drummer — and to have Jack be your drummer — that’s a whole other story. To have live musicians. I’m so used to, since the Kills has been a band, walking this incredible tightrope of having a drum machine. It goes against all of your human feeling. You get excited; you want to speed up. You get to a softer part; you want to slow down. You can’t do any of that. You’re just being pulled every direction, and it creates this insane intensity — like walking a tightrope over a bunch of sharks. You can’t fall off: If you slow down and you get lost, you can’t get back on the boat, you know what I mean? You can never hide a mistake. So it creates a totally different sort of tension.
If you are playing in a four-piece band, and there’s a drummer that can literally slow with you, speed up with you, catch you up around the corner, pick you up over here, you know, change a song in the middle of the song, change back to the song in the middle a few bars later, jump around… It’s a totally different game.
Both of these things are incredibly challenging. Walking a tightrope is really challenging, but so is being able to fly by the seat of your pants and jump into a completely different character, a different song or suddenly a cover you didn’t even know was coming. Maybe it’s a cover you’ve never done; maybe you don’t even know the words, and you’re standing there and you have to figure it out in real time. It’s two different things, two totally different challenges.
I really liked it, I think it made me a better musician, being in the Dead Weather and [not ever knowing] what was coming next. Ever.
It’s funny, Jack’s guitar playing overshadows so much, and you forget what a great drummer he is.
MOSSHART: He’s a great drummer. Yeah, it’s incredible. I mean, really, he’s an incredible multi-instrumentalist, anything he picks up, it’s wild. He’s fearless, absolutely fearless.
What have you learned from Dean [Fertita] and Jack [Lawrence], too? Obviously, they’re also amazing musicians too.
MOSSHART: They’re fucking silent assassins. [Laughs] They’re insane. They both can play everything as well. I mean, everything. These guys are like the best of the best. It is so wonderful. Like I can be in the band with them and still be their biggest fan. Turning around and looking at them on stage and seeing what they’re doing is blowing my mind the same as it’s blowing [the mind of] whoever’s watching in the audience. We’re all in it together. We’re all dying right here, you know? They’re silent assassins just because they don’t talk as much.
Culturally, what is what was the big difference in the band chemistry between the Dead Weather and the Kills?
MOSSHART: I feel like we all come from the same sort of cloth, the same family. All of us are really close. The chemistry is like — what kind of chemistry do you have with this best friend over here compared to this best friend over here? You just have different relationships. I suppose the best way to hear it is in the music, whatever that is. We all have mad respect for each other.
Primal Scream’s “Dolls (Sweet Rock And Roll)” And Placebo’s “Meds” (2006)
When I was digging into all the places you’ve contributed guest vocals, I was blown away. I forgot that you were on Placebo’s record, Meds, and Primal Scream’s Riot City Blues that same year. How did you end up on both of those records? Were you doing the vocals in person in the studio? Or were you sending stuff back and forth?
MOSSHART: I did those in the studio with those guys. Brian [Molko] from Placebo is an old school friend of Jamie’s, and he was a fan of the Kills, and so he asked me. And that was interesting, because, I didn’t really know Placebo too much. And I heard the song, and it’s not really a sort of song I would normally do. If ever hear a song I wouldn’t normally do, I’m three times more curious, you know? I’m like, “Huh. Cool. I’m kind of scared. Let’s definitely do this.” [Laughs]
And then Primal Scream, that was really natural. One of the Kills’ very first tours was with Primal Scream when they were on their Evil Heat tour. That was a pretty amazing introduction. We’d toured America, just me and Jamie, in a two-door car. And then we come back to England, and maybe we’d only played a handful of shows. Like little, little, little, tiny, baby club shows. And then we got offered the Primal Scream tour. That was crazy, because they were huge venues. I don’t even know how big they were now, but in my mind, they were just the most gigantic ever. It was a wild, wild tour and such a crazy learning experience. We were friends with them in London, so that’s how I ended up doing that.
Evil Heat was huge, I remember that — they were massive at that point. What did you learn from touring with them?
MOSSHART: Mmm, probably loads of bad habits, you know. [Laughs] You know, how to be on a big stage and command a crowd, especially one that isn’t there to see you. Which is a crazy skill to develop. And you never quite get there. It’s always, always hard.
But I feel like we lucked out, because a Primal Scream crowd, whether they knew it or not, they were the Kills’ crowd. They just didn’t know who we were. There’s harder ones that we’ve done, where it’s just like, “Oh, my God.” People just are screaming at you to get the fuck off the stage. And that’s a whole other kind of learning experience. But I think it was being comfortable, trying to figure out how to fill a stage that big with two people, and how to deal with that. Some nights are better than others, you know? I was pretty shy, very shy at that time. We didn’t move around a lot. So it was all figuring out how to do it.
What tour were you on where the crowd liked you guys the least? Is there one that sticks out in your mind?
MOSSHART: I think probably Metallica crowds are really… [Laughs] I mean, listen — and I get it. That’s who they want to see. That’s cool. But they don’t seem to understand the idea of an opening band. They just think that you are holding up Metallica, that you are in Metallica’s way of coming on, and it’s all your fault. So it’s very fucking weird. You’re like, “Guys, even if I just stopped playing right now, they’re still not coming on for 45 minutes. So probably just stop throwing shit at me.” They’re all wearing Metallica shirts, they’re all gross. You know?
I really think it’s hilarious. Jamie, it has bummed him out. And I would just go the extreme other direction and attack back, and get even crazier, and go for it even more. These people just absolutely hated us, and I couldn’t stop laughing. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. But that’s kind of how I react to bad situations. [Laughs]
I mean, you have to…
MOSSHART: I mean, one thing, it’s easier said than done, you have to. But when you’re standing up there, you know, and there’s like, 30,000 people wanting to kill you, it’s a little bit different. You have to go to another place in your mind and become someone else and get through it. That’s probably the most extreme example. I mean, there’s been many, but that one was the one where I was like, “This is some next level shit right here.”
And by the way, I loved Metallica when I was a kid, so I’m looking at them, like, “You don’t even know how many hours, when I was eight, I listened to this shit in my headphones. You don’t even know!” But they don’t even know. [Laughs]
Did you get a chance to meet Metallica? I think they have a reputation as being pretty decent guys.
MOSSHART: I’ve met them all. But the one that I have talked to the most is Lars [Ulrich]. And it was definitely Lars’ fault that we were on the thing. Because he’s such a crazy music lover. He always seeks out cool, weird bands and stuff. All that shit that was thrown at me, that was Lars’ fault. And he knows it. [Laughs] He’s great.
“Paris Summer” With The Last Shadow Puppets (2008), “Fire And The Thud” With Arctic Monkeys (2009)
I think you were received better when you were on the stage with the Last Shadow Puppets in 2008. The performance was really beautiful. And you were also on the Arctic Monkeys record Humbug as well. So did you know Alex Turner? How did you end up coming getting involved in that?
MOSSHART: I met them because they were on Domino with us. We share a record label. We went to their gig or something, we all met, and we all became friends. And in that time we ended up doing that; they just asked me to do it. That’s a long time ago. Man. I loved doing that Last Shadow Puppets thing — what was it, “Paris Summer”? I love that song so much. Every once in a while, I come across stuff and I’m like, “That was really cool.” It was so pretty.
It showed a different dimension of everybody in the band. I remember when the Last Shadow Puppets came out, everyone was like, “Wow, this is a really big departure.” Arctic Monkeys were still doing their dance-punk thing.
MOSSHART: Alex is a real-deal musician that likes all sorts of things and is capable of doing all sorts of things. That was a really beautiful thing, especially considering how young all those guys were, to go from that to that, and effortlessly flip between styles, and really showing what brilliant songwriters they were.
Alison Mosshart & The Forest Rangers Performing “What A Wonderful World” For Sons Of Anarchy (2011), Going Solo For The Turning (2020)
You were also on the Sons Of Anarchy soundtrack, Songs Of Anarchy, with “What A Wonderful World” with the Forest Rangers. I was very curious about that. That’s LA session musicians, is that correct?
MOSSHART: Kind of. So Bob Thiele [Jr.] is the guy. He does so much music for TV shows and movies and stuff. He’s incredible. I don’t remember exactly how I met Bob Thiele. He was regularly using Kills songs in TV work that he was doing. He’d do the whole soundtrack. He would write lyrics, he’d write songs, and then he’d use other people’s songs.
It was pretty early on in Sons Of Anarchy where he was using a Kills song and then he asked me if I wanted to come in and write some lyrics to some of his music for that. And then it became quite a regular thing. When I would be in LA, he’d be like, “Come over.” He’d play me a piece of music, and I’d have my notebook, and I’d listen to it, and I’d go sit outside and he’d show me a scene, and I would go out and try and write some lyrics. And then write them and then go back in and record them. We’d drink a bottle of wine, and that’s when we’d do it. That would be it; it was exciting. It was really fun.
I love doing so many different things, because you always learn something. But it was so interesting, because he’d be like, “Okay, I need this one to have Neil Young vibes. The music goes like this, and try to think about if Neil Young wrote the song, what would it be?” It was this incredible challenge. Like, “Quickly write a book report. Really quick. You don’t get to read the book. Hurry up.” [Laughs] And it was really, really fun. Sometimes all you need is that idea. It’s never going to sound like Neil Young. In fact, it’s nothing like him, but you have this tiny little guide, a thought, in your mind. And then you just let yourself go and write something.
I don’t know how many songs I did with him. But when Sons Of Anarchy was on, I would at least do like one or two a season or something.
And that’s a fun exercise now to kind of get outside of yourself to be like, “Okay, what do I need to do?” It’s like doing karaoke — it’s like, “Do this song now, something unfamiliar.”
MOSSHART: I hate karaoke. It’s the worst. It’s literally the worst thing ever. The one time I went and did karaoke, I was just, like, yelling in the mic, “Turn the guitar up!” They’re like, “That’s not how this works.” I’m like, “I hate this.” [Laughs] It sounds horrible; the music sounds horrible.
I’ve done a lot of television and movie work now. I get so excited when I’m asked to write a song for something like that, because it’s a totally different kind of challenge. And it’s also really freeing, because it’s not something that’s going to go on your records. You are really trying to fill a void in a project and create a feeling for something that has already been filmed and you see what it is and you get to daydream about that for a while and think like the character might think. Whatever the emotion is that is required, I have to tap into that. It’s super, super fun.
Do you have a favorite song you’ve done in that realm?
MOSSHART: I really like the last one I did for Floria Sigismondi, that horror film that she just did, The Turning. The reference for it was that Mazzy Star song called “Ghost Highway.” They were like, “Listen to the song and then write a song, and don’t think too much about it.” It can’t be that song. It’s got to be a different song, and I don’t know how to copy anything anyway — I can’t do it. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to work out anyone else’s music. But in that vein. It’s not super complex, it’s definitely more guttural, sort of punky. I’m really proud of that song.
Cage The Elephant – “It’s Just Forever” (2013)
MOSSHART: This is a story like many of the others. This time I didn’t know the band. They were in Nashville, and I had just moved to Nashville, and they asked me to come in and sing that. And I met Matt [Shultz] that day. He was there and directed me and what he wanted, played me the song. And again, that was like really super-fast. I don’t think I was there longer than an hour.
Those guys are great. And since I’ve lived in Nashville now all this time, I know them a lot better. But at the time when I did that I’d never met them.
I feel like right after that record is when they really blew up too.
MOSSHART: I have a younger cousin who lives in Detroit. And I remember the summer before, we were somewhere in Michigan, and he was like, “Have you heard this band Cage the Elephant? They’re so cool.” And I hadn’t. And so he was playing me some of these songs that summer. And I was like, “This is really cool. This is great. They’re in Nashville? Really?” And then like, I swear, like a weird psychic thing, maybe two months later, I get a call. “Can you come sing on this Cage The Elephant thing?” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, my cousin really likes that band. Yeah. Okay.” [Laughs]
And your cousin’s really impressed then. You’re like, “Guess what?”
MOSSHART: No, for real, I think he was the first person I told. I’m like, “You know that band you played me a couple months ago? I just sang on their record.” He’s like, “No way.”
Is there anyone you haven’t collaborated with that you’re like, “Hey, this is a dream collaboration”?
MOSSHART: I mean, yeah, of course. There’s lots of people I would love to work with. But I’m not the kind of person that like goes after people. I would love to work with Nick Cave. I’d love to do a song with Lucinda Williams. I’d love to do a song with ZZ Top. [Laughs] I don’t know, there’s a lot, and it goes all over the place. But I feel like if it’s meant to be, things like that happen, you know?
I remember watching [ZZ Top] at a thing on the side of the stage, on some festival that we both played. I got offstage and jumped in the shower and got back dressed and came back out to watch them — and I just could not take my eyes off Billy Gibbons’ legs. His legs! Whatever he was doing with his legs on stage, I was just, like, blown the fuck away, just watching them. I mean, it was so great. He was so intriguing. Such a great performer.
Gang Of Four – “England’s In My Bones” (2015)
You were also on a Gang Of Four record, on the song “England’s In My Bones.” How did that come about? Were you in London at the time? Did you know Andy Gill?
MOSSHART: I was in London at the time. And I can’t remember when I first met Andy. I don’t know if Jamie was friends with him before that or how that really came about. He just sort of found us for that record. Jamie played guitar on it too, on a couple of things. Andy had a studio, and he was working on that record, and I just literally sat next to him at the desk with headphones on and singing [my parts]. And then we went to the pub. And that was that.
Excellent. That’s a good session. No stress.
MOSSHART: It was a great session. It was very easy.[Laughs]
I would be so intimidated to be playing guitar next to Andy Gill, between his tone and his approach…
MOSSHART: Thank God I didn’t have to. I just had to sing. I’m like, “I’m fine. This is totally fine.” Jamie had to play guitar, [and] he was probably sweating bullets. [Laughs]
Because you don’t want to fuck up in front of Andy Gill!
MOSSHART: No, you really don’t. No. Thank God for alcohol, seriously.
Appearing With Anthony Bourdain On The Parts Unknown Nashville Episode (2016)
You were on Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, in 2016. What was that like? What was the most fun about doing that and showing him around Nashville?
MOSSHART: The most fun was putting that together. Dean from Queens Of The Stone Age was friends with Tony, and Tony had expressed that he wanted to come to Nashville, and I was the biggest fucking fan of that show. I watched every single episode. And so when that came about, I was like, “Hey, I have like a million ideas. I know what we should do; we should do this, and this and this.” Dean handed the project to me. And I started working with someone on figuring out what to do in Nashville, because they were there for a week. And I think that was the most fun part, it was getting to be really hands-on and putting a lot of those aspects together.
Wherever you see me [in the episode], I pretty much wrote that out. We did this party, we did a gig, there were tattoos, we went to this bowling alley place. It happened at a really cool time in my life in Nashville, because I hadn’t lived there for that long at this point. Everything about Nashville was really exciting to me, too. It was really fun to have that enthusiasm for a place and get to put together something like this.
It was wonderful. Everyone that worked on that show I’ve become really close to. And I was really close to Tony after that, and we all just became friends. And I mean, how that show feels is real. That’s what those people are like. They’re so excited about everything. I loved that experience so much. It was great. I’m so glad that I got to do that.
That’s what I loved about the show: There was such genuine enthusiasm. And he had such curiosity about the places, and it was also very genuine. He wanted to talk to people and learn from people. And that’s so rare to find that.
MOSSHART: Yeah. I mean, he was a very, very special guy. That show — I mean, the body of work that is Parts Unknown. Well, actually, everything he’s done. It’s amazing. It’s very, very unique. Very cool. It’s kind of the best of its kind in that a lot of people have tried to do something similar, and it doesn’t work without the guy. You know? It was him.
“The Sky Is A Neighborhood” And “La Dee Da” On Foo Fighters’ Concrete And Gold (2017)
You were also on the Foo Fighters’ 2017 record Concrete And Gold. From what I understand, so much of that record involved people wandering in and out of studio, and the band enlisted people they saw. Is that how you ended up on the record?
MOSSHART: Well, I didn’t wander in and out; I was invited to come by. [Laughs] But that did happen when we were recording. I went to that studio [EastWest Studios] a bit, and everyone’s recording there all the time. And it’s pretty crazy walking down the hallway, you’re like, “Huh?? Yeah.” And I think Dave being the most outgoing human being on the planet would just snag people right out of the hallway and be like, “Get in here. Do this.”
We’ve played with them for so many years. We’ve all been friends for a really long time. I happened to be in LA at the time, which was wonderful. I love when I get asked to do something I really want to do, and I can actually do it. It’s actually really rare. Usually I’m on tour; I’m in a different country or in a different state or something. It was a really great experience just for fun.
Everyone seems to have a Dave Grohl story. Do you have a really good Dave Grohl story?
MOSSHART: I mean, I have too many really good Dave Grohl stories. I don’t know. [Laughs] Um. I can’t think. We have a lot of fun. A lot of fun.
Ghost – “He Is” (Remix) (2017)
How did that end up coming about?
MOSSHART: That was crazy — I have no idea. There’s one I don’t know. I have no idea. Do you want to know something really funny? I didn’t even know who the band was, and someone showed me one of their T-shirts, and I was like, “That is the fucking coolest T-shirt ever. Yeah, I want to do this. Whose got a T-shirt like that?” It was so killer. I was blown away.
Their aesthetic, their iconography — everything about them is so cool.
MOSSHART: That was a really weird thing. I don’t think I met anyone in that band. I was asked to do it, and this was in LA too, and it came through management. This isn’t a really interesting story at all. But I was sent the song, and it was a really hard song to sing. It was really quite outside of my wheelhouse, or so I thought at the time when I was doing this.
I went in and recorded it. But it was just like a guy from the record label there, and an engineer who hadn’t been working with the band. So it was weird. Like, I went in to do a job but I couldn’t get a vibe of, like, will the band like this? That might be my first time ever going in and doing something like that and not having direct contact with the people that I’m doing it for.
I didn’t know if that [song] would ever even come out or be a thing. But I liked the song, so I decided to do it. And I’m really happy that they did use it in the end. But I was very unsure. Let’s just put it that way. [Laughs]
It’s just such a weird thing, too, it’s like you’re doing something in a vacuum — and if you’re not bouncing off of someone creatively, that is really strange.
MOSSHART: While it’s not even like that — it’s like you’re trying to find the thing that they want. The band has a vision for their record. Me being a creative person, and not just a gun for hire, I really want to know what they want, because it’s their record. This is not my record. It’s like being asked to paint a room, but the person refuses to tell you what color they want it. And then you’re like, “I don’t want to paint your whole house without knowing.” It was interesting.
Appearing In The Joan Jett Documentary Bad Reputation (2018)
You were in the Joan Jett documentary Bad Reputation. What does Joan Jett mean to you as a musician?
MOSSHART: I just find her incredibly inspiring, and she’s just a wonderful, super-cool woman. And very kind and just badass. It was a long time ago in New York, and I met her — I think that she invited me to dinner or came to a gig or something like that. And then we became friends, and we’ve been friends ever since. It’s been a lot of years now. But she’s just awesome. Joan Jett is awesome. [Laughs]
I’ve seen her a bunch in the recent years and she’s just still so fucking good live too.
MOSSHART: I know! I think the last show that Jamie and I played before lockdown — I think it was November, so it was like a year ago — I think it was in Irving, California. Like some outdoor festival thing, and she [performed at it]. Social Distortion headlined it. That night, she was just fucking extraordinary. I mean, it was amazing. And I’ve seen her play a million times, too. But it had been like a year or two since I’d seen her play. I’d seen her play a lot of like TV stuff, you know. So it was really fun. I left the stage and went down to the front with some friends of mine and we were just going absolutely nuts. It was so wonderful.
And if that’s the last show you have to see for a while, that’s a high note.
MOSSHART: It was a high note. I am thankful to her, as I say this, that I got to see Joan Jett. That was my last show I got to see, and it’s not a bad way to roll right into the lockdown. [Laughs]
Appearing In Habit (Maybe?) (2020)
I was looking at IMDb, too. And are you in a movie, Habit? I don’t know much about that.
MOSSHART: I don’t know if I’m in the movie at all. [Laughs] Jamie and I were both asked to speak in that movie, and we read a script, and by the time we were in that movie, the script was 100 percent different. I was literally there for four hours, and then I left. I couldn’t tell you. I might be in the movie; I might not be in the movie. Jamie might be in the movie; he might not be in the movie. [Laughs] I don’t know.
Gavin Rossdale’s in it, and Bella Thorne. And I’m like, what is this project? It was very intriguing, however it turns out,
MOSSHART: A lot of people ask us “What is that project?” And nobody has an answer. It will be a surprise for everyone, no doubt.
The Kills – “Raise Me” (2020)
How did you guys decide to put the rarities collection together, and how long did it take?
MOSSHART: The idea came about maybe about a month or two into lockdown. Our record label boss, Laurence Bell, was taking lots of long walks in London at the time. And he was listening to, like, shuffle on his phone or whatever, and he started coming across these deep cuts. And he was like, “Man, what happened to these songs? Where are these songs?” He went down a rabbithole listening to all this stuff, and came up with this idea and called Jamie and was like, “Hey, we should do something with all these tracks.” They’re strange tracks, you know… Remember when people used to do CD singles all the time?
MOSSHART: Yeah, and you’d have one song, your single, and then they’d be like, “I need five extra songs.” You’re like, “Jesus Christ.” “And you have one day to record them.” You’re like, “Oh, for fuck’s sake.” [Laughs]
It’s all those songs — weird b-sides, or tracks or demos that we’ve just never put on a record-record. Things for radio stations, and covers. It was quite a fun idea to try to put all these things together. And then we realized we had really hundreds of these things, and so had to sort of time-limit it. We decided to do the beginning of our career until 2009, and then we had to limit it even more. We were like, “Okay, well, how long is two vinyl records? We’ll do a double record.” And that basically built the parameters. So once you get going, it was a pretty quick trip. [Laughs]
How did you decide that what made the cut? Were there any songs where it was down to the wire, and you had to figure it out what’s going to stay on and not stay on?
MOSSHART: It was all really natural. Okay, I think it’s more after the fact that we are finding more and more of these songs, and we’re like, “Shit, we wish that could be on there too.” But there just wasn’t time. [But] I love rules like that — like, this is how many minutes you have. This is your timeframe. And so I’m very proud of all the things that are on the record. And if someone said we have to take one away to put something else on there, I wouldn’t want to. But we could probably do like three more of these from the same timeframe if pressed.
Were there any songs that you that you had forgotten about that were really kind of, you know, a pleasant surprise when you heard them again?
MOSSHART: “Raise Me” was one of them. That was a demo. And I remember working on that in the studio, and it just never taking off. I don’t know if it was just because it wasn’t really going with whatever the record concept we were doing was at the time. But I remember loving that song, and then just like in all things, you keep going forward at a really fast speed and shit gets buried and I never heard it again. Jamie came across it on the hard drive, and was like, “Hey, what about this song?” I was like, “Why didn’t we finish that song? And what in the world were we thinking?” It was really nice to hear that again.
And so much about that is timing. You talk to musicians who are like, “Yeah, I have this song that I wrote 20 years ago, which has been sitting around.” But it wasn’t the right time and then it finally emerges later. It’s like, everything aligned.
MOSSHART: Yeah, certain things, it depends on what your mood is at the time when you’re doing stuff. And if you have a really clear vision about what you’re doing, and it doesn’t quite fit in — I don’t know, you can’t really spend some time on it, you got to keep going. There’s a lot of stuff like that not just on this record, but a lot of stuff throughout the Kills’ career. And when we’re in the studio, we write so much material. And then it’s like out there in a drawer. You know, one day; you never know.
Were there any albums in particular where you had an excess of material? Or is it just kind of across the board all of the records?
MOSSHART: I think all of them but the first one. The very first record we did, we wrote pretty quickly, and we recorded it really quickly. There wasn’t a lot of dawdling. We’d write a song, we’d finish the song, we’d record the song, we’d go home at night and work out a song, we’d go back to the studio the next day and record it.
In a way, the stuff on this record is really similar to that. That’s how quickly these things came together. Like I said before, it was usually a situation where someone needed three songs, and there was no money to record it, and then no time to do it. I think of these songs as sort of like diary entries you don’t ever let anybody read.
I like them so much for their very under-produced nature. I think there’s a real honesty in that. You almost get to see behind the scenes of our writing process a little bit with these. Often on a record, you’ll see where a song winds up; you don’t get to see where it starts. And this is more like the starting point of songs.
How else have you been kind of filling your time this year?
MOSSHART: I’ve done a lot. I released a book [Car Ma], and I started making films, like little movies, and learned how to do Final Cut Pro and make music videos and things. Painted a painting show and released that single that I did by myself — oh, what the fuck. I mean, really insane amounts of stuff.
I’ve been so busy, but it’s the weirdest busy I’ve ever been, because it’s your hands in 75 pies at the same time. I don’t really know how to find my feet in this moment where there’s no end or start to time, it seems like, and you can’t really go anywhere.
I’ll do this project and this project and that project and this project on top of this project and that one. I really miss the order to, “Okay, you have a tour. This is where you have to be at this time, you’re going to do this and that and this.” It’s like a little bit more sane to me, even though it is totally insane. It’s more sane than what I am like left to my own devices.
It’s just chaos. I think the world is chaos; I totally get it. Because you don’t want to stop because what happens if you have nothing?
MOSSHART: I don’t even know how to do nothing; I’ve never known how. But, yeah, it’s a really weird time. It’s going to be such a crazy release when this is all over, to get back out and do stuff. A lot of people are saying, like, it seems like everything’s slowed down. I feel the opposite. I have such a heightened sense, and I’m sure a lot of that’s anxiety. But it’s made me work on lots of things fast and just really untethered. I’m very untethered. And there’s a lot of good things about it. But there’s a lot of other weird side effects. So it’s gonna be really interesting to go back and try to figure out how to do normal life again and normal work.
I went to my last show in February. But it’s like, “Are we going to start doing that again?” It’s gonna be really weird to be going out again, and going to see bands.
MOSSHART: I think I’ll just sob. I will sob. Standing in a club with a ton of people and I’m hot and it’s loud, and I’m watching a band play — I might just start sobbing.
MOSSHART: That feeling is just like — that togetherness feeling and sharing and that energy. Like, I will be overcome. There’s no way around it.
You just run into people.
MOSSHART: Yeah. Just weird strangers sweat on me. [Laughs]
Can I have an overpriced beer? Can someone spill beer on me? That’d be amazing.
MOSSHART: It’s disgusting, I can’t wait to drink it. Yeah. No door on the bathroom? Oh, cool. Yeah, okay. Yeah, all of it — give me all the shit. [Laughs]
Little Bastards is out 12/11 via Domino. Pre-order it here.