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Who Are the Kills?

Photo by Steve Gullick

“The police start chasing you, but you just drive faster. It’s easier to run than to explain.” Sleepless nights, bubbling asphalt, twisted arms, riffs, rattles & hisses: Boo! We’re the Kills, and we’re coming to git ya . . .

Singer-guitarist VV, a.k.a. Alison Mosshart of Vero Beach, Florida, and vocalist– guitarist–rhythm man Hotel, a.k.a. Jamie Hince of London, were once flying solo through the night, looking for kicks. Instead they found each other. Now they call themselves the Kills, and the rest of the world calls them the hot bassless rock & roll duo of the moment.

A Bonnie & Clyde pair for the age of dormant reason and psychotic passions, the Kills are given to less criminal but rather subterranean vices. They write songs that rework the dusty clichés of blues and “cool” rock with studied candor. They’re particularly adept at self-mythologizing. (In lieu of liner notes they concoct little novellas from letters and stream-of-consciousness doodlings in which words are purposefully blotted out and misspelled — to enhance the mystery.)

But above all, the Kills hit the stage with the fury of addicts looking for a fix. Their live performances, sought after on both sides of the Atlantic, are stiff, tense and strangely erotic — the thrashings of a hanged man right as the neck snaps. That’s because, using only two guitars, a preprogrammed drum machine and their own pipes well-worn by whiskey ’n’ cigarettes, the Kills make good on the threat put forth in the title of their debut record, Keep on Your Mean Side, released in May by a division of the U.K.’s Rough Trade label.

Between hillbilly blues-honk and classic Velvet Underground moments of driving riffage/narcotic vocals (“Monkey 23,” “Wait”), the Kills are really good at hissing things that send a chill through your spine. Things like “I’m gonna stab your kissy kissy mouth” (“Kissy Kissy”) and “Get my name stitched on your lips so you won’t get hitched” (“Hitched”). Each song is a new chapter in their scrapbook; each spiteful refrain (“Hey! Fuck the people!”) a gob of spit in the face of a world who done them wrong.

Theirs is the childlike conceit of shared complicity resurrected: The two misfits met as neighbors in London flats stacked on top of each other, and bonded over their fascination with old V.U. records and Edie Sedgwick, the tragically hip muse of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene.

“I’d been living in Florida, and no one I knew was interested in the things that I was into, so I was totally introverted,” says VV, the bruised, beautiful, 23-year-old female side of the equation. “And with Jamie it was really the same way. We really loved art, and no one else that we knew did. We had friends, but we didn’t have anybody to talk to when we got excited about something. He and I were that kind of person for each other.

“We would just talk, and he would play me records for 15 hours straight,” she adds about the fortuitous encounter with her artistic soul mate. She got Hotel’s attention by shyly slipping him tapes of her musical ideas under the door. “We did that for months. It was like an obsession. We hung out in his room, drinking tea and coffee, smoking, making music and writing and building microphones and breaking things apart and fixing them. We just shared all the little things that we loved.”

But their addiction to playing onstage and their mutual desire for “a new underground” led the Kills back to where they’d both started years ago: writing and recording songs. (Each had long been involved in bands, VV fronting Florida’s punk collective Discount, Hotel putting time in the Brit art-grunge project Scarfo.)

While the Kills may cherish their little secrets, now that even Britain’s Mojo magazine has lauded their debut as “a record of substance that stands head and shoulders above today’s garage bashers,” the cat is most likely out of the bag. So the pair is playing along. Plans for a film, an art exhibit and a tour book are in the works, and further assorted disturbances engineered by the Kills themselves are set to take place in London and New York in the near future.

Their source of inspiration for it all is, of course, Warhol’s Factory, outta which came not only superstars, art, trends and rock & roll mythology, but some real commotion, baby! “What we find so exciting about the Factory,” says VV, “has to do with all these things happening at once, all together, and being so powerful and amazing that they changed the world.

“We just think about things being precious, you know? A lot of bands don’t care about aspects other than music, and they turn them over to other people. We don’t like the detachment of that. We really like knowing we did everything.”

The Kills let you in on their thing at the Troubadour on Saturday, July 26.

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