Velo Artist: The Kills
The greatest duos teeter on the cliff’s edge between chaos and equilibrium, salvation and obliteration, 10,000-watt voltage and gothic darkness. For a decade and a half, The Kills have mastered that savage balance, unleashing artful detonation and subtle vocal and guitar violence. That’s five albums and four EPs where Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince reimagined the possibilities of modern duality—alchemizing garage rock, punk, and blues into smoke clouds, psychic carnage, and a smoldering nocturnal slink. A northwest passage between Outkast and Suicide.
For their latest attack, the Domino Records artists re-wired the circuits of Saul Williams’ “List of Demands (Reparations)” to create a wounded, volcanic, and urgent anthem. An opaque but powerful litany that could incite the most apathetic to action, a wake-up call capable of being interpreted as personal or political.
“It’s a song of strength and empowerment, rooted in the idea of rising above,” Mosshart says. “It was one of those songs you’re almost scared to cover, because it carries so much respect. It wasn’t a straight up love song or a drug song. It was defined, serious, and perfect already. With certain songs, you feel like an intruder trying to sing them, but this one felt like my own.”
You can only cover a classic by successfully re-inventing it from the foundation up. In this instance, Mosshart and Hince slowed down Williams’ blistering post-punk and quasi-rap testament to political courage, to something resembling slightly sped-up dub—full of booming drums, gorgeous negative space, and Mosshart’s concealed dagger yawp.
The Williams original carried a special resonance after becoming one of the backstage jams regularly played before Kills shows. The banger you play to hype yourself prior to getting on-stage and trying to conquer the world. Williams’ lyrics brilliantly double as self-motivational propulsion and a poetic indictment of various iniquities. It’s somehow vague enough to allow for any application, but it’s as personal as blood dripping on a ransom note.
Decamping to the legendary Sunset Sound in Hollywood, The Kills recorded two songs in three days (the other a re-rendering of Peter Tosh’s “Stepping Razor.”) Until they entered the studio, they’d never sat down and played either. It took myriad approaches at varying tempos—searching for the right groove they found it. Only when they slowed it down to double time did the new haunting melody emerge.
“List of Demands’ was so impactful to us—it was the kind of song that would come on backstage and everyone would stop what they were doing and stand up, “ Hince says. “The more I found myself listening to the lyrics, the more I heard in them, and found myself singing along with goose bumps. The brilliant thing about it is that it speaks to so many different ideas—a true underground thing like the best Iggy Pop songs.”
Williams returned the compliment, waxing rhapsodically about the Kills’ tribute.
“I always felt envious of the way the 60's generation shared songs and ideologies. Jimi singing Dylan. Rotary Connection singing Otis Redding. The Stones singing the blues,” Williams said. “This is all part of the beauty and power of music and it reverberates deeply in me. All this to say, I'm honored. I liked the Kills before they chose to cover ‘LOD.’ If they can feel themselves in that song, it's because they are as much a part of it as I am.”
It’s an affirmation of the profound meaning that a song can inhabit, particularly in times of turmoil and duress. The Kills channeled those past nexuses, creating a new form from biblical material, another attack on complacency, a tribute to the joys of flux, a transmission that carries on the unwavering belief that some things must change.