Hanging Out With… Alison Mosshart
Few define the rock’n’roll aesthetic quite as successfully as Alison Mosshart. In a sea of pretenders, her authenticity is palpable. Ever since The Kills first burst onto the scene back in 2003 with their debut record Keep On Your Mean Side, Alison has been a music industry mainstay. Alongside her musical accolades she also paints, and with her new R13 collaboration she can now add designer to her extensive list of achievements. To celebrate the launch of her R13 collection, we hung out with Alison in New York to discuss performing, creating, and why the best ideas come at high speed.
How did you first get into music?
I first got into music through skateboarding. I had two neighbours who used to skate on the half pipe next door to my house and play music from their boombox. I used to beg them to make me copies of their tapes, and then I would go home and listen to them all day long. That gradually brought me to writing lyrics and then by the time I was fourteen I was on tour!
Tell us about your first band, Discount?
They were a group of boys that I skateboarded with. One day we just decided that we were going to get some instruments and figure it out. We would play skate parks and people’s houses; garages, living rooms, wherever!
What brought you to London for the first time?
The first time I went to London was with my parents. The second time I went was on tour with Discount, and I met Jamie [Hince, Alison’s bandmate in The Kills] that time. I was really fascinated by Jamie’s guitar style – so bonkers!
“Bonkers” is such an English way to describe it!
That’s what his guitar playing is! I was staying in a flat below his and I could hear him playing. Whatever was making that sound, I needed to know that person.
How did you form The Kills?
We became friends and Jamie lent me a cassette four-track to take on the road with me. I stayed up all night every single night just making shit up and recording it, and then I’d come back to London and give him the tapes. That’s basically how the band started. I’d send him tapes full of crazy talking and guitar and whatever the hell I thought was interesting, and then Jamie would add to them, and that’s literally how we wrote our first song.
When did you move to London?
I moved to London when I was twenty. I didn’t really know I was moving there, I just didn’t come back. Within about a year or two we had a record deal, then we were on tour for the rest of our lives and now I’m forty!
You live in Nashville now. What is it about Nashville that attracts so many creatives?
I moved here before it was the hip cool place to move. I came here because I started working with Jack White doing The Dead Weather. I was really missing America. I’d been in England for ages, and I missed cars, I missed driving myself places, I missed just being self-sufficient. There’s a lack of that outlaw Wild West freedom that I grew up with that I love - that’s a real part of my music and my soul. Here it felt like I could get in a muscle car and drive a hundred and forty miles an hour if I wanted to and it would be totally fine… and it is!
You tour very extensively. Do you feel at home on the road?
Tour is hard and you need a certain kind of stamina. It’s really uncomfortable, you don’t get to sleep, the timezones keep changing, the languages keep changing, no one gives a fuck! The beautiful thing is being on stage and doing what you do. I always try to explain that there are certain things on the road that if you don’t let go of them, they will kill you. You literally don’t know what day it is sometimes, and you just have to laugh about it.
Can you tell us about your relationship with R13? How did the collaboration come about?
When I was in The Dead Weather, maybe 2008, I wrote to Chris [Leba, R13’s designer] because I’d been buying his jeans for years, but they were really hard to find. I remember going on tour and there’d be one pair at Barneys somewhere in some town and I’d buy them, even if they didn’t fucking fit! They just looked so cool. So I finally wrote to him as I was looking for stuff to play gigs in. At first he didn’t believe it was me! I sent him a picture of me wearing his jeans and he was like: “It’s you!” and I was like: “Yeah, it’s me!”
Those guys have been dressing me for the stage for forever. They make me feel like a superhero, and that’s what you need to feel like if you’re going to go onstage in front of thousands of people. Then recently I was asked to design some clothes for a collection with someone else. That didn’t work out but I really loved the process of it. I was like: “God, I wish it was my favourite clothing company ever, that would be ideal, right?” And then it happened! I don’t even remember the initial conversation, it was just literally: “Will you do this?” and it took me about half a second to respond: “Fuck yes!” Then I drew a whole bunch of pictures, spent three or four days in New York and did a whole collection for them. I’m so proud of it - I absolutely love it.
Last concert you saw live?
The Foo Fighters two days ago. I took my two-and-a-half-year-old niece to go see it and I literally watched through her eyes. It was the cutest thing.
Last song you played on repeat?
I’ve been listening to Lana Del Rey’s new record a lot. I think it’s fantastic.
Which four albums would you take on a desert island?
I would bring Fugazi’s Red Medicine. Velvet Underground and Nico because you just need that in your life. I would bring Safe As Milk by Captain Beefheart and maybe some Miles Davis.
What’s your karaoke song?
I hate karaoke! I’m a singer, so to me it’s sacrilege.
Last piece of art you bought?
It’s a painting by Joe O’Neill that looks like two sideways postcards, like a night scene in LA and a day scene in LA.
What piece of clothing makes you feel most like yourself?
Being in cold weather makes me feel most like myself. R13 gave me this incredible jacket, and I’m just staring at it every day, willing the universe to fucking chill out and get cold so I can wear it and never take it off!
Go-to spots in Nashville?
I really like this dive bar called the Wilburn Tavern. Next door to that there’s my favourite restaurant in town called Folk. But generally in Nashville I don’t really leave my studio, I just work all the time, which is why I love this place so much.
Apart from going driving in your muscle car!
Yeah! My best ideas come at high speed.
Go-to spots in London?
I like going to J Sheekey. It’s something I have to do a couple of times every time I’m there. I just go and eat oysters and drink and sit outside and smoke cigarettes and basically hang out with my girlfriends. That’s my spot. I love it.
Photography by Jonathan Middleton
Interview by Georgia Graham