Your new record, Midnight Boom, sounds peppier, more upbeat. Does this reflect a sea change in your lives or just a conscious musical decision?
We had a brilliant time making the record. We didn't feel any stress. We didn't care when it got finished or how long it was going to take. We were laughing all the time, and you can hear that.
Sometimes when a band tries to change tack artistically, they psych themselves out, but you avoided that.
The only thing we really wanted was to make a modern record. We love old bands, old gear, old recording methods, old everything. For the first time, we said, "Let's try and fit into modern times and see what happens." It was interesting. Working on a computer was quite a painful process. We didn't like it and probably won't do it again. But in the end, we were happy to see that no matter what we did, it still sounded like the Kills.
You and guitarist Jamie "Hotel" Hince originally worked by exchanging tapes via mail, because you lived in Florida and he was in England. But you relocated to the UK in 2001. How were you impacted by culture shock?
I moved there and thought everybody lived in squats, hovels basically, with strangers—because that's what I was doing. I figured out how to deal with people from all over the world, speaking different languages, under the same roof. In a year and a half, I lived with 49 different people. I had no idea how things worked over there. Everything I was used to was different. But I'd spent my whole life in bands and touring—all I ever wanted to do was play music—so that made it all bearable.
The 1968 documentary Pizza Pizza Daddy-O, depicting black Los Angeles schoolgirls performing playground chants and clapping songs, has been mentioned in connection with the new songs. What turned you guys on to it?
We made this rule in the studio to not listen to any music while we were writing. Somehow that turned into "let's watch documentaries" and reading a lot. What I thought was interesting about [Pizza Pizza] was how kids' songs and fairy tales are so dark. When you're watching that playground footage of those girls, they're singing about domestic violence and alcoholism. At 7 years old! But [the movie] wasn't a direct inspiration; it was more of a historical reference, like where blues music came from, where minimalist music came from. How you can have something very complete and strong, with just hand claps and singing.
Were you big into jump rope and clapping games as a little girl?
No, I was really quiet. I didn't socialize with other kids that much, so I never got into the playground games. I was too shy for any of that. I mostly just watched. I drew pictures all the time.
Great photos are all over your album sleeves and website. You collect cameras, yes?
We don't collect them on purpose, but we just accidentally buy them. Every time we see one we think is cool, we buy it and try it out. We've been taking photos forever. That's just something we do during the day, especially on the road. It's fascinating, driving around and seeing different places, different countries, and we want to capture it, to draw and write about it. It's a way of remembering where you've been.
How do you feel about cell-phone shutterbugs?
If I were to meet my favorite band outside of a venue, the very last thing I would ever do is take out my phone for a picture. I would have brought my best camera. A picture on a camera phone would never satisfy me, so I don't get it. But that's just modern times. Everything becomes more and more throwaway, yet those pictures have turned into strange, precious little possessions for people.
Tell us something Jamie does, a habit or ritual that never ceases to delight you.
Every single night, when he's trying to figure out what to wear onstage, he asks the exact same thing: "Do you think I'm gonna be too hot in this?" And every night, I don't know the answer. I don't know what the temperature is out there! It's adorable. There are a million things like that. We've been hanging out with each other for 10 years. We know every little tiny detail, inside and out. He never stops making me laugh; he cracks me up all day long.
Your band is named the Kills, your debut album was Keep on Your Mean Side, and your music sounds pretty edgy. Are you two confrontational?
We're both really even-keeled, nice people who are reasonable and work very hard. But there is quite a lot of fire behind all that; if someone pisses us off, or says the wrong thing, we're not going to sit there.
Your recent single "Cheap and Cheerful" opens with you hacking very loudly. How much do you smoke?
Oh, I don't know... it depends. I don't smoke as much as I used to. But that's because of all these smoking bans everywhere. I just don't get the chance.
The Kills play Thurs May 15, Neumo's, 8 pm, $12, 21+.