Last March, Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince of the the Kills disappeared into the night in the California desert with DJ and producer Myles Hendrik. This story ends well, don’t worry. The rock duo had just played their 15th anniversary show at venue Pappy & Harriet’s, which stands right at the edge of Joshua Tree National Park, and was once an Old West motion picture set. It's somewhat legendary in the area. Myles ended up photographing Alison and Jamie on their way to and during the show, though he describes himself as "not an actual professional photographer, more of a friend with un-invasive and reasonably handy eye.”
They played to a packed-out room—to which Alison and Jamie arrived “met by fans on horseback, something you couldn’t have scripted,” as Myles remembers. He recalls how they meandered through, initially trying to find a party but eventually settling on following the sounds of coyotes in the distance. Afterwards, “with the moon at our backs and the desert breeze around us like a cozy blanket, we boarded the van and headed homeward,” Myles says. “Ready for another day, the band for another show.” In light of the gig celebrating the band’s 15 years together, Alison’s also shared a personal reflection on The Kills’ time so far, so keep reading for that.
When asked to write a piece to go along with these photographs, I thought it would take me an hour. Jot a few things down during a layover. A glass of wine, some hotel stationery, post-gig, wherever I was. But when I got going, it was hard to take my foot off the gas. Once I got going, it was like taking a trip back in time, and it was nice to see it again.
These photographs were taken by Myles Hendrik on March 17, 2017. That day, Jamie and I travelled from Los Angeles to Pioneertown, CA, to play a gig at Pappy and Harriet’s. This was a celebratory mission. The Kills were throwing a tequila-soaked, desert roadhouse Quinceañera of sorts. In our own honor. These pictures you’re looking at were shot in one day. I love them. But I cherish them, because they took 15 years to make. It took 15 years to drive down the 10, the way we drove down the 10 that day. Set up the amps, get ourselves dressed, and sing and play the way we did that night. Fifteen years to zip up our boots, comb our hair and, you know, get here. The middle of nowhere. Surrounded by friends.
That is what makes these images special, beyond just being special. Time is what gives them beauty beyond just being beautiful. Fifteen years is what gives them character, contrast, power and depth. They represent, are an ode to, and a relic of, the journey of The Kills, as a band, as friends, as artists, hustling through the landscape of future memories, the world, and everything else.
They are reminders. I’m glad we kidnapped Myles, duct-taped cameras to his hands and forced him to… OK, sorta conned him into… well, politely asked him to… shoot everything, so we could look back with clarity at the blur. And be reminded.
A little over 15 years ago in 2002, it was Valentine’s Day in London. I was 23 years old, painfully shy. Wearing thrift store clothes I’d cut apart and sewn back together to fit me: a Warhol-esque black and white striped long sleeve T-shirt. Dirty blue jeans. A belt with big, silver Native American-style disks. Alligator cowboy boots I’d wrapped ribbons around, to hug my ankles tight.
My hair was black and just growing back after letting Vidal Sassoon shave half my head for a hokey £20 modeling job. The haircut sucked but without regret, I was running my fingers through it, working out how much of it I could maneuver to cover my face… There I was, hours before The Kills’ first gig, heart racing, nerves like an earthquake. All six of our songs crashing together at once, brutally battling for airplay in my head. Dry mouth, chapped lips, brains like scrambled eggs, sure I was going to throw. the. fuck. up. Because it was time. Time to go.
Before this… I’d been in London a little over two years, couchsurfing, hanging out, sitting on Jamie’s floor, us chatting, plotting, dreaming, writing lyrics, writing songs, fucking around with a four-track cassette recorder, drinking wine, rolling cigarettes, making toast. I’d come to the other side of the world. I had a firm belief that we had something we needed to do, songs that needed writing, art that needed making. That together we could do anything. Nothing to lose.
Whatever we needed, I’d go out in search of. Film, microphones, guitar cables, harmonicas, batteries,... I found all this in people’s trash. Need a tambourine? Give me a day. Once, some ‘entertainer’ who lived across the way died. A dumpster on the sidewalk was filled with his past life. This is how I got my first SM-57 microphone, and the baby blue bedsheets I would sleep on for years.
Jamie and I wrote a handful of songs. They were dizzy and simple, complete with bonkers lyrics and fuzzy bluesy guitars. I was learning to play guitar for the first time too, awkwardly. Often we’d play in the kitchen at all hours on acoustic guitars, where singing sounded nice and echoey. Feet stomping furiously under the table.
We recorded a demo in Jamie’s bedroom, gave it to friends and sent it to people in the mail. Soon after, we got asked to play a riot grrrl show at the 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street. Without a band name, we decided to call ourselves VV & Hotel. We rehearsed our asses off and I made a comic book of drawings of the two of us and all our weird gear, to give to folks at the show. In totally uncertain terms, a very creepy man helped me break into a church and print them up on a Xerox machine in the middle of the night. Upon returning home safely, I colored them all in by hand.
We had no idea what we sounded like loud and electrified, or through a PA, until that 20-minute gig in front of 50 people. The 12 Bar was the tiniest place. But that night it felt like a stadium. Everything in my body shook as we pounded out the words, wrestled with our guitars, looked out at the those faces and back at one another. We felt like we were hanging off the edge of a cliff. All the energy, all the beautiful noise we were hearing and feeling for the first time at tremendous volume, it was a physical jolt. The chemistry of fear and joy and dreams taking shape. The adrenaline. Indescribable shit loads of adrenaline. We were so fucking hooked.
It wasn’t long after that, that those demos we sent out to our favorite labels and our favorite bands, paid off. But while waiting for any response, we booked a three-month tour of America. We did this by writing letters to venues in the post. I think we got booked purely due to persistence and good handwriting. We couldn’t afford to call long-distance. We didn’t have internet. My visa was running out and I had to leave the UK, but and I didn’t want us to stop. Touring America together seemed like the ultimate adventure. Besides, we felt ready. We’d already played one 20-minute show. We were fucking veterans.
We flew to Florida and bought a two-door, metallic forest green Saturn with tan cloth seats from my dad. That car was ugly as sin, and in it, we put all our faith, our amps and belongings stacked to the roof and in our laps. We circled the entire country playing warehouses, basements, empty bars and nightclubs, parking lots and punk fests, living rooms, garages, and make shift art galleries.
Somewhere in the middle of that tour, word started to spread. Gigs started to sell tickets. I mean like 10, 15, 50… Record labels started to get in touch. We’d get a page that we needed to call so and so. We’d pull off the highway and look for a payphone with a dial tone. I can’t remember what city we were in when we got a deal. But we did. And then the back two tires melted off our car in Green River, WY., because the highway was so hot. We got pulled over six or seven times for speeding during that tour. We literally spent all the money we made, paying speeding tickets. In cash. At local jails. It was great. We felt like outlaws.
Even while sleeping in truck stops in un-cleaned truckers rooms for free, showering in tubs full of strangers' clipped toenails, having to put our own blankets on top of the dirty sheets, we laughed. And laughed. And filmed and photographed everything. And somehow, as if by miracle, we played a gig nearly every night for three fucking months.
People were wonderful to us. We slept at their houses. They made us food, got us drunk, drew us maps, put gas in the tank. Everyone was dazzled by Jamie. No one could understand a word he said; his English accent baffled them. And his outfits were unreal and distracted them. Gigantic geriatric wrap around blue blocker sunglasses that covered half his face. Plastic gumball machine necklaces and white, pointy Italian leather shoes. Half an eyebrow. A Members Only jacket literally held together with silver, shitty, sticky sweat-soaked, stringy-ass duct tape that made him look like a lost astronaut.
I remember so much about the beginning, the first shows, the first tour, because we paid attention to everything. Everything was new and bright and interesting and neither of us could believe our luck or imagine that we’d ever get to do it again. It was the best. And it sealed our friendship. Everything was funny. The shittier the situation, the funnier it was. The more triumphant it felt to keep going.
Now 15 years later, I’m older, my hair is blonde, and my alligator boots long ago fell apart. Jamie doesn’t duct tape himself together anymore. And we arrive to cities on a tour bus, having slept the whole way, on sheets that are (usually) pretty clean. We’ve circled the world too many times to count. We’ve played thousands of shows, in rooms, many of which held thousands of people. We’ve recorded a lot music in some really great and iconic studios, and worked with a lot of talented minds. We’ve gotten to know so many amazing people and have been honored, humbled, and surprised, endlessly, relentlessly, in wonderful and sometimes hard ways, time and time again.
I could say that literally everything has changed, and in the same breath, that nothing has. What really matters has always remained the same. We are still completely and fiercely fucking hooked. From the bottom of our hearts, we love doing this. Every echelon of our jet-lagged country/culture/city-jumping minds knows that we're still figuring it all out.
I will never forget that night in the desert at Pappy and Harriet’s. The moon slung so low it looked like a UFO. Surrounded by love and friendship and desert sand, cacti clinging to the whir of time passed and the bliss of the present. Teeth smiling white fins that sliced through the dark. Standing there looking out, with the elated feeling that we’re still somewhere at the beginning, and my drink is really strong.
Thank you Myles, for the reminder.
July 2017, Alison Mosshart
The Kills' cover of "List of Demands (Reparations)" by Saul Williams is out now in all the usual places.
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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.
This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.