The Kills | WIG149 | Released: 21/02/05
Happily colliding with the new craze for a back to basics aesthetic, the Kills rough-edged, blues-rooted sound got an abnormally unanimous thumbs-up from the UK's press in particular. Said NME: 'Anyone with a love of The Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and ill-rock in general will find plenty to gorge on here. In a world over-run with careerists, The Kills' desire to be outsiders means there's a glow to their dischord that you'd do well to bathe in.'' Mojo hailed it as ''a testament to the unstoppability and violence of human desire,'' while quality nationals like The Times and The Observer heaped further praises thereon. Always into updating The Velvet Underground's idea of a rock band encompassing all areas of Art and Life - the total experience - they toured incessantly, including a memorable support slot with Primal Scream, for 18 months making the most of the freedom that their micro-operation afforded. In early 2004, the hangover wore off, and they soon set themselves a target of completing their second album by the end of June.
To that end, they withdrew from the distractions of London, repairing for a month to sleepy Benton Harbour, Michigan. ''It's a total ghost town,'' says Alison, ''about an hour and a half from Chicago. There's nothing there at all. These kids there have bought a huge abandoned building on Main Street, and done it out with an amazing recording studio.'' Jamie: ''We took all this stuff with us - mini-discs of us talking, guitar riffs, thousands of little tiny bits of paper, typewriters, paint and art books and journals from the past year. To start with, we weren't thinking about songs, we were just talking about all the things that inspired us over the last months. We spent the first few days just looking at those, talking, getting into the right psyche with it. It was the perfect place to get away from it all. You'd walk and not see any glass for ten minutes.
Everything was boarded up, like a dead world, then we'd go back into our HQ of art and music and ideas.'' Alison: ''We wrote the whole record in two and a half weeks, then we took a train to Chicago, then got a plane the same day to New York. Two days later, we started recording at Sear Sound in Midtown, two weeks, day and night. It's this brilliant, weird place run by an old couple, who started out in the '50s making soundtracks for porn movies. We gave ourselves no time to sit back and think what we were doing.'' As Jamie elaborates, ''People have got so obsessed with the whistles and the bells that they've forgotten what they're calling for. It's about setting mics up and getting a good natural sound and that's what we tried to work with'. ''The day after we finished recording, we mixed it for a few days. Then we had a two-day break, then we mastered.
Then we didn't listen to it at all for two weeks, went out and became more human again, spoke to people, saw New York, and then we came home. In all we had three months away. We went from no songs to a finished record in 47 days.'' Called 'No Wow', it is if anything a more minimal record even than their debut. ''Last time,'' recalls Jamie, ''everyone said about the album that it was just skin and bone, that there was no fat on it. With this one, we wanted to get rid of the skin and bone and get right to the heart. Every song is just a little pumping heart.'' The title itself is derived from a 'heart racing, goose flesh, tears in our eyes conversation about what we were going to do with this band', the duo had on the day Alison relocated to London four years ago. Discussing New York in the late 60's, Pop Art, the Beat poets, the emergence of both punk and disco, in contrast to today's desperate concerns about 'being down to earth', they reached the same conclusion. There was just 'o wow' anymore''.
Early on, he'd intended to make the record radically different by writing and playing all his parts on a Moog keyboard, which didn't get repaired in time for Benton Harbour. He did, however, buy a cheap old pre-programmable drum machine, which you can hear ticking and thumping away on forthcoming single, 'The Good Ones' and several others, aiming as he was 'for the low end of Giorgio Moroder'. Where the '60s pop art explosion fired them last time out, 'No Wow' is, for its creators, a tracing of the lineage between CBGB's and Studio 54, exploring the turbulent years in New York when punk turned into disco. Hence, the drum machine.
Sound-wise, guitar reverb was kept to a minimum. Jamie: ''We wanted everything right there in the speakers, dry and bare.'' A lot of time was spent experimenting with guitar sounds and tunings. The axe weirdness of 'Sweet Cloud' comes not from a common-or-garden FX pedal, but a Capo clip, with cigarettes wedged under the strings to tune them down. Lyrical inspiration came from all over the place. 'The Good Ones', the first single from the album, tells a familiar tale. Adapted from a Kills diary entry, the song catalogues the craving for and consequent desperate pursuit of that elusive good time. One song is about a day they spent on HMS Intrepid. Others were put together almost like collages of words that they'd cut out from magazines and letters - part of the whole Benton Harbour blitz. 'Back Of The Shell' was inspired by a visit to Myers Supermarket out there. Jamie: ''It's like the midwest Wallmart, really trashy. We went there on a break from the studio to buy food and wine. Nothing happens there at the weekend, so Myers is the only place the young people can go. They all turn up dressed to nines, hair done up, wearing jewelry and incredible clothes, and most of them really overweight. It was so screwed up. So we just wrote a story about that, like a couple coming in, fucking in the back of the gas station, and 15 years later, they're looking at each other, like, 'Jesus, that was one teenage fuck in a gas station and I've been living in a world of TV dinners ever since!' Single contender Love Is A Deserter was a late inclusion on the album.
''We finished the record in New York but I didn't feel we were finished', says Jamie. ''It came out of a thing I'd written in my journal about love and passion. People talking about love being the most important thing in the world but it's kind of overrated. I was looking at these homeless guys and I wondered what keeps them from throwing themselves off a bridge. It's not love, because love's just deserted them. Love is this coward that runs away but passion will stay with you''. Once the album was done, the duo moved to a house in North London which will act as their HQ, with a recording/rehearsal studio, space to do art and ample room to throw parties. Their vibe is ultra-positive, their relationship as complicated and mysterious as ever, their shared vision undimmed. Jamie: ''We still feel exactly the same. There's no way of saying it that makes what we're doing sound as important as it is for us. We want to create our own scene, maybe not to be immediately appreciated and blown up, but to accumulate, so that people can look back and see we did a lot, and made a difference.''