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The Kills Break the Rules with God Games 

Lead singer Alison Mosshart philosophizes on the nature of art and the state of the music industry on the heels of their first album in seven years. 

by Maggie McPhee

Alison Mosshart pops onto Zoom like an eccentric and warm host opening their front door to a stranger. She tousles her messy bleach blond hair, rolls up the sleeves of her oversized cardigan, and grins ear to ear. Her Nashville home teems with avant garde paintings, gothic lampshades, and eclectic knicknacks. She confides she’s on the tail end of food poisoning, which she’s pulling off as a certain grunge-chic je ne sais quoi

As one half of the alternative rock duo The Kills, Mosshart carries herself with the relaxed self-assurance of a musician who has enjoyed a three decade career, released six acclaimed albums, and helped define a generation of indie electric guitar sound. Like most contemporary bands, Covid threw a wrench in The Kills’ engine, and God Games, an album she and collaborator Jamie Hince conceived of in early 2019, was finally completed and released last October. It’s the pair’s latest material in seven years and they’re slated to tour the world for the first time in about as long. 

“You don’t get to have so much time to sit and think and be introspective. That’s what the pandemic did for a lot of people, for good or for bad,” she muses. “You’re really face to face with yourself. And there’s a maturity that comes with having to deal with that and sit through your own shit that quietly for that long. And I think we made something beautiful out of that. This is one of our most personal, raw, and introspective records.”  

The 12 songs that populate God Games contain no shortage of The Kills’ signature gut-punch guitar and guttural vocals, but Mosshart and Hince display a newfound patience. They space out the rocktronica exclamation marks with effervescent drum machines and droning melodies. Hince, who Mosshart describes as a methodical and particular producer head, drew inspiration from MF DOOM, Dean Blunt, and Kanye West, balancing the band’s usual growls with deep breaths. 

Mosshart, on the other hand, doesn’t listen to music when she’s making an album–to keep her creative environment free from influence, in search of her most honest sonic core. She draws instead from literature and visual art. “I kind of just eat books,” she says, “I love words. I love colours. I think of songs as paintings, I always see them before I hear them and when I’m listening to them, I see them.” 

The pair write alone, eventually bringing their favourite songs to the other to turn into a final product. Mosshart, ever in search of something true, writes without a plan. Embracing uncertainty, she elected to write with a $100 toy keyboard, rather than her trusted guitar. For days on end she’d work eight hour stretches, turning on the mic, pressing record, and seeing where it takes her. “I’m like the raving artist who’s just making shit,” she says with a laugh. “It’s madness. And that’s what’s so much fun about it. You get really cool shit being very free when you’re working.” 

In keeping with the open-ended approach, Hince, for the first time in his career, didn’t add his guitar parts until entering the studio. “All the guitars were written and recorded in real time,” says Mosshart, “like reactive guitar playing rather than thought out, meticulous riff writing.” With “All My Love and Tenderness,” for example, Hince played atop the demo after only hearing it three times. “I was like, that’s it, it’s done. It was insane to me.”

Having broken onto the scene in 2002 with their debut album Keep on Your Mean Side, The Kills occupy a unique position embedded in the music industry over the last two decades. Their chronology as a band charts the same line from the advent of the internet to now, ebbing and flowing with the economic and cultural changes precipitated by social media, smartphones, and Big Tech. From Mosshart’s vantage, observing these shifts from within the eye of the storm, she doesn’t hold much hope for the future.  


“I don’t want to be nostalgic. I don’t want to be like, ‘hey, it was way better then,’ — but it kinda was.” 

Alison Mosshart


Mosshart got her start in the 90s in punk rock outfit Discount. “This is before the internet and it was before cell phones,” she explains. “It was this incredible network and community of people that was really caring and progressive and helpful.” This upbringing in music taught her self-reliance, booking shows and travelling and connecting with listeners at a pace that she controlled and that produced results. Each time her band returned to play in a city, they watched their audience grow. They enjoyed the fruits of their labour. “It was like, you work, it works, you work, it works. It was honest work. It was hard work. But everything moved at a speed that was very humanly possible. There was no social media to crash and burn me as a teenage girl.” 

For the first half of her career, Mosshart earned enough through music that she could afford three meals a day and rent in a house with six roommates. She struggles to imagine young artists today who have to juggle three jobs just to squeeze in enough time to make an album. 

“I wasn’t looking for anything crazy, I just wanted to do music and work on it all day long, every day, that’s it,” she says. “I just don’t know if that’s possible anymore, which makes me sad about art. I want to see what young people are thinking and feeling and saying and I want them to be able to develop and have a lifetime doing it. Who are the massive people that are going to be the Rolling Stones in the future that are going to have those 60 year careers? Who are those people that are going to be able to survive that long?” 

Not only is this younger generation spread more thin, but the financialization model has disintegrated to the point that all their expended energy rarely turns into compensation. No stability, no security, no sustainability. These are hardly conditions that nurture creativity.  

“I’m most concerned about the absolute collapse of the music industry, to be honest,” Mosshart continues. “And my fear, and what I’m seeing, is that if you’re a young musician, and you’re not rich, and you do not have financial backing as a 15-year-old kid, to go into a rehearsal space, to go on the road, you cannot do it. You can’t make money on the road at all currently. You can’t make money selling records at all currently. You can’t make any money in music, unless you are selling out stadiums. That is literally the beginning of where you can make a living. Everything below that right now is like a charitable act.”

“Records aren’t free to make. So if we’re making a record, we’re paying for it ourselves, and then,” she waves with her hand, “that’s bye-bye. It’s a seriously charitable act and I don’t know how long any of us can keep doing it, unless something changes. And I don’t think that audiences know this. I don’t think that music lovers know that every time you stream music, I don’t care if you’re paying a subscription, you’re literally stealing it.”

“I’m the kind of person that buys every record six times,” she says, “because it’s worth it.” Mosshart values music, and her music has value. Unfortunately, the current model doesn’t recognize that value with the kind of support that can sustain artists to develop over the course of a lifelong career. On the flip side, consumers have power. Whereas those at the top view artists as disposable, fans can influence things from the bottom up. Buying records and going to shows are some of the most direct ways to support the musicians you love.

The Kills kick off the North American leg of their tour February 2nd, and round out the European leg through May and August. When I ask Mosshart what she’s most excited about the new record, she answers playing live. “That’s what I’ve missed the most,” she says, “that’s the thing Jamie and I are best at and the thing that we love the most.” 

And like all the subjects she touches on, she approaches this one like a philosopher. “It’s a moment in time. It can’t be undone. It can’t be reversed. It can’t be repeated. Whatever energy the audience has directly affects what’s happening on stage. It’s a cyclical thing, which you can never predict. I can’t exactly control it in any way. And to give yourself up to that…” she pauses, lost in thought. “No other thing in life feels like that.” 

The Kills perform in Vancouver on February 6 at the Commodore Ballroom, Toronto February 20 at the Danforth Music Hall, and Montreal on February 21 at MTELUS.