That Thing That Makes a Noise
You can write a song that sounds like a lot of things, but it's hard to write a song that sounds only like you—something generated somewhere inside, not just an echo of the best old records in your collection. Too many people get tangled in all the music they've absorbed before, all the techniques somebody tried to teach them, all the criticisms and compliments that pinch into raw, naive creativity; as both the scraggliest and the serene-est of hippies will tell you, it's very difficult to peck and slash through a lifetime of static and simply be. But the best can do it—they sound only like themselves. And that sounds like what the Kills are determined to do.
"Music's the deal; it's how we walk," writes singer and multi-instrumentalist VV. Besides the band, she and partner-in-crime Hotel draw, write comics, even put out a 400-page diary; they never sleep anymore, she explains. "There are no rules, just nothing medium. Everyone's got that place in their brains that can't be even-tempered. That sick inch. Or the mile. Revolutionary artists live there, drive it like the hunted, drive it for the crash. . . . Grace that land and grace vanishes. You're left with the real thing, the incurable thing. An' that thing that makes a noise."
VV used to be called Alison and used to be in a band called Discount, which broke up in 2000 after a daring and brilliant third album called Crash Diagnostic and a heartfelt last show in their hometown of Gainesville, Florida. I was there; the little bar was cheek-to-cheek packed, and the applause after the last song thundered through the better part of 20 minutes. Hotel used to be called Jamie and used to be in a band called Scarfo; if I'd lived in England when he did, maybe I would have been at their last show, too.
Understandably, the Kills don't want to play out as—or be played out as—only the sum of two parts; this time around is an X crossed over the old things, VV writes. Maybe that's why the new names, the new sound, the new identities. But forgive me this one: I never laid ears on Hotel in my life, but VV could step out onstage and sing a song right through you.
There was rare inspiration in her old band, that juxtaposition of the noble and the humble that the Minutemen used to try to explain in interviews: that art could be squeezed out of hard work and honesty, that there really were still new things to be said, that there was real life left in music, even if you had to scrap and struggle to get at it. Each time I'd see VV and her band play—and I saw them a lot—it was as if every note was made new; every lyric suddenly translated into vivid life; every fuzzy contrivance of public performance defused, dismantled and swept aside. There was purpose there, an intense sense of communication that's missing from so many bands that don't really know why they exist. And it feels like the Kills know exactly why they exist.
The band started out as a pile of cassette tapes and airmail stamps, VV writes, exchanged across the Atlantic by her in Florida and Hotel in London. But where's the satisfaction in that?
"We couldn't stand it at that speed," VV writes. "So naturally, we figured one of us is going to have to move. It took me about an hour and 45 minutes to get to the airport, 15 minutes to check my bags, 10 for coffee, four for a cigarette—and then we got rolling."
There's a song on their new Black Rooster EP on Dim Mak records I keep listening to, a dreamy, smoky heartbeat of a track called "Wait" that winds in and out of bristly squalls of feedback and a forlorn little sliver of melody that's more Velvet Underground than either the Strokes or their fancy haircuts. The entire EP simmers with a (probably deliberately) uneven energy, a lo-fi guitar-and-drums-and-whatever-we-had-around-the-house four-track aesthetic that pulses and ebbs but doesn't like to sit still, but this is the song I come back to. It could be a love song, a lost-love song, even a protest song—I like to think it's a signal flare. We're the right time, writes VV. Why not do absolutely everything we want, she asks? Right now?
"Tell me," she sings, "why you still say/'I wanna wait.'"
The Kills perform with Radio Vago, Dance Disaster Movement and the Pattern at the Garden Grove Youth Drop-In Center, 12800 Garden Grove Blvd., Ste. F, Garden Grove, (714) 741-5018; www.koos.org. Fri., 7:30 p.m. $5. All ages.
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