Music News

Killing Joke

They gave each other names. Names that perhaps no other human had ever been given. From now on she would simply be "VV" and he would be known only as "Hotel." Together they would be The Kills. They would make music, have attitude, and somehow rule the world based only on 18 minutes of recorded music, two comely black-and-white Polaroid photographs and a no-frills tour of the United States. They would not promote themselves; they would not try to get a record contract. They would never whore their talent; they'd just show up and play.

So the myth of The Kills is explained by the very VV herself, a nice enough woman formerly known as Alison Mosshart. She's standing outside of a bar in Denver, on a rare night off in the midst of their debut tour, a tour they booked themselves.

"We travel around in a little car, and it's really inexpensive and really fun and we can handle everything," says VV of the duo's travels. "We split the workload and it's a lot of stuff. A lot of answering the phone and a lot of going crazy and going to truck stops in the middle of the night and spending 35 dollars to use the Internet trying to get everything done."

The Kills are brand spanking new and tired of the fucking press. They are not at all upset that you have never heard of them. At this point you really couldn't possibly have, unless you've been privy to their modest output, or lived in England and happened to have caught them live.

They have no plans for a glitzy promotional campaign; they are content to drive across the U.S. in a rented Saturn with the cell phone turned off, playing little clubs to unknowing audiences and hoping things grow from there. While most bands in their position would do almost anything to generate excitement about their music, The Kills nearly had to be bribed even to get on the telephone.

When asked why they disdain interviews and the idea of self-promotion, VV opines, "I wouldn't tell anyone to do anything. I totally am not going to try to sell myself to anyone. . . . I think it's just basically doing whatever we want and not really caring about the consequences of not really caring."

VV further explains the absurdity of their situation: "We get all this fantastic advice from people about how to become famous." She adds, "It's so funny. It's so amazing. We walk out of those meetings and we're just laughing. It's like, thank you very much — for all the drinks."

This kind of haughtiness and fear-of-success posturing in most bands would spell disaster, but this English/American duo, Hotel of England, VV of the States, currently based in the U.K., seem to be getting a minor buzz despite their best efforts.

Since The Kill's first show in a tiny London club on Valentine's Day this year, the band released its first EP Black Rooster in late May on Dim Mak records. The small Santa Barbara label is also home to Pretty Girls Make Graves, the new project from the Murder City Devils' Derek Fudesco. In Europe, The Kills have signed to Domino Records UK, which handles such American indie heavyweights as Stephen Malkmus, Mouse on Mars and Elliot Smith, among others.

When asked how this brand-new band with no desire to do anything but create music and play out was so quickly signed to a label with such an impressive roster, VV breaks it down in one long flurry: "We burned one CD for our roommate and he worked in a record store [the Rough Trade store in London] and he started playing it down in the basement and everyone working in the shop went totally crazy and started playing it upstairs and then people just started walking in off the street and that's absolutely how it happened."

Soon after the recording, The Kills played an in-store at Rough Trade and "just by chance, like, record label people and A&R people walked in off the street and heard it and started calling and it got really, really messy, and we just decided to leave the country," VV says. "I feel really lucky about it."

While this story is enough to kill the dreams of hardworking bar bands worldwide, it is hard to deny that The Kills seem to have the goods. Black Rooster rocks from the first second of the first track, with a wonderfully dirty, sexy, fuzzy guitar noise and naughty vocals. While painfully short, featuring about 12 minutes of original music, with a Captain Beefheart cover, as well as a spoken-word ode to gum, it reinforces music's current love affair with the "duo." This recording also fits in snugly with the current rock revival; The Kills would not sound out of place in rotation with such ubiquitous and oft-referenced figures as the White Stripes and the Hives.

The lack of traditional instrumentation, whatever that may be, forces the guitar/voice/drums combination to fill the gaps, which the musicians do swimmingly. Both members play fuzzed-out guitars, with Hotel manning all the spare but powerful drumming. The guitars and vocals loop hypnotically around the backbone beats and are colored nicely with sporadic bass, keyboards and random noises. While Hotel ably sings one of the tracks, his vocals work best when his voice is a complement to VV's. The whole recording is imbued with dynamic sexual tension between the music and VV's vocals.

Her voice smolders, drenched with sweat and sex, with a knowing quality that belies her 23 years. Her forceful delivery calls to mind early PJ Harvey, mingled with Carla Bozulich from the Geraldine Fibbers, with a little Debora Lyall from Romeo Void. She sounds like none of these distinctive singers, though: Her voice is clearly her own creation.

Newbie musicians don't often emerge fully formed, and there is a reason this band knows what it does and does not want to do. Much to The Kills' chagrin, part of their early success may have something to do with the members' collective musical pasts. VV fronted the post-punk group Discount, a band formed in 1995 from a nucleus of Florida junior high school students. The band toured extensively and disbanded suddenly in 2000, leaving a loyal emo/punk fan base wanting more. Hotel was once known as Jamie Hince and was the driving force behind English post-punk band Scarfo.

While the desire to protect this startling revelation may cause the band never to speak to a wanky journalist again, we can be assured of further musical and creative output from the, uh, dynamic duo. The Kills recently recorded with Neil Hagerty of Pussy Galore/Royal Trux fame, and they also plan to hole up at a New York studio in August to work on a proper album. And if the band crashes and burns, which doesn't seem likely, we can look forward to other kinds of creative expression from VV and Hotel. The pair says they have plans to eventually produce a film, a novel, or even a comic book. You see, they are, in effect, their own traveling reality show.

"We film everything and we audio tape everything. Our thought was, What if the whole tour blows out and it's awful and we run out of money in the second week and we are stuck somewhere really horrible?' It's going to make a beautiful film." VV says they also have a compulsive need to write. "We both wake up in London and write about 3,000 words before we go outside. And then we start doing stuff." They claim to have collectively written a multi-volumed tome, a tour diary comprising hundreds of typewritten pages. Lucky fans may be able to get a copy of the VV & Hotel Issue Zero comic book at the band's live shows.

Various possible offerings from The Kills aside, the band's current emphasis is touring our fair land as a rock 'n' roll duo.

What is the real reason a young band strikes out on a tour behind an 18-minute EP? Why, it's simple: "Because we really wanted to leave England, really bad. It's getting a little hard for me to be there because I'm illegal to be there," VV comments conspiratorially. "I started booking the tour in January because I knew when my passport was going to run out. So I thought, I need to leave the country on the 31st of the month. It was before we had recorded anything."

Tour America to avoid being deported from England. Makes perfect sense.

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Jonathan Bond