Jamie Hince is reminiscing about the early days of the Kills, the popular indie rock duo he formed in 2002 with Alison Mosshart.
“We never really expected for it to be any kind of success,” says the guitarist in his thick British accent. “We both thought this was going to be a life of obscurity and poverty.”
It turned out to be anything but. As they embark on their 15th Anniversary tour, which comes to the Catalyst on Tuesday, March 21, the Kills have come a long way from their underground roots—their most recent album, Ice & Ash, broke the U.K. Top 20, and Billboard’s Top 50 in the U.S.
“We didn’t even know what we were going to sound like when we did our first gig,” he says with a chuckle. “But ever since then, people have booked us for more shows, and we haven’t had any time to stop and think about it.”
The two originally met in London while Mosshart (who is also currently the frontwoman for the Dead Weather with Jack White) was on tour with her now-defunct Floridian riot grrrl band, Discount. Hince was working on a solo project he grew disillusioned with. She heard Hince playing in a nearby apartment, and the two quickly hit it off. He gave her a tape recorder for the road, and they would spend time sending each other new songs and ideas when the inspiration hit. When Mosshart relocated to London, the two moved down the road from each other so that all of their time could be dedicated to their music.
“I was living in a squat at the time, with no money, so the band was really important to getting out of our shitty situation,” he remembers. “We would go from my kitchen to her kitchen and just play on beaten up acoustic guitars.”
The band had some early success in the U.K. with singles like “Fried My Little Brains” and “The Good Ones.” In 2008, they landed in the U.S. charts for the first time with their album Midnight Boom, which featured stomping, electro-tinged anthems like “U.R.A. Fever” and “Cheap and Cheerful.”
While the Kills’ music is often described as stripped down and minimalist, scratch the surface and one discovers just how multifaceted and versatile it is. Hince carefully chooses each note, cutting out anything superfluous, but plays them with a sonic intensity that fills the song. Mosshart’s sultry, smoke-filled voice floats across music with ease and raw sincerity. And they do all of this while maintaining an indie-pop sensibility.
“I won’t go into the studio until I’m very clear of what I want it to sound like,” says Hince. “It’s very important that we never make the same music twice.”
The Kills’ live shows are whiskey-fueled and energetic, with Hince dancing around with his guitars as Mosshart wildly tosses her hair about. It’s part of the punk-rock philosophy they’ve had since the beginning.
“We decided we were going to embrace being flamboyant and not care,” he states. “We would dress up crazy for rehearsal. It was a badge of honor to stick out from the scene we were in.”
Last year saw the release of their fifth and most ambitious album, Ash & Ice. Named after the nightlife imagery of a drink in one hand and a smoke in the other, the album features many lyrics written by Hince when he traveled the Trans-Siberian Express in an attempt to rediscover his creative voice. Between 2011’s Blood Pressures and Ash & Ice, Hince began to have problems with his hand, then accidentally slammed it in a car door, which led to an infection and six surgeries over two years.
“For various reasons, like my hand injury, I didn’t want to limit ourselves to be a live band on record anymore,” he remarks. “I wanted to use technology as a creative instrument, software, keyboards, etc., against this rock ’n’ roll guitar.”
Recently relocated to Los Angeles, Hince is setting up a studio in his house and has been going through previously unreleased music and fine-tuning songs from Ash & Ice that did not make the cut. He says Mosshart has been writing new material as well; the time gap between their last two albums is something he doesn’t want to repeat.
“It crippled us—literally with my hand and metaphorically,” he admits. “Because it’s hard to get the momentum going again, when you go back out with another record. It takes a while, and I want to put another one out pretty soon.”
Which brings up one final, glaring question. Through hand surgeries, other bands, relationships (Hince separated from model Kate Moss in 2015) and the usual twists and turns of life, just how does a band remain together for 15 years?
“We love hanging out, and laugh all day when we do,” he says. “We’re like two halves, but together it’s a whole piece.”
Info: 8 p.m. The Catalyst Club, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $20adv/$25door. 429-4135.