Interview: Alison Mosshart of The Dead Weather — "I really like Raging Bull…and I can't live without Jay-Z"
Tue, 11 May 2010 11:21:30
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The Dead Weather frontwoman Alison Mosshart might just be one of the most hypnotic singers in rock 'n' roll—as well as one of the most elusive…
On the band's sophomore album, Sea of Cowards [Available Now], Mosshart belts out blues hooks that ride a dark line between dirty and dreamy. Her delivery stands unparalleled on groove-driven numbers like "Hustle and Cuss"—which sounds like Led Zeppelin via Joy Division. Then there's the seductive spacey neck-snap on "The Difference Between Us," where Mosshart plays the role of aural temptress, slowly drawing in the listener before a sexy kill.
The voice of The Dead Weather and The Kills certainly isn't afraid to bare her teeth, and that shows on Sea of Cowards. As she croons and coos all of these entrancing lines, she builds a mystique that evades most musicians these days, and that carries over into everything the band does—from their gorgeously creepy cover art to the tripped-out video for "Die By the Drop." The Dead Weather know all about darkness, but Alison shines a tiny bit of light on it.
The Dead Weather's Alison Mosshart sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about getting heavy for Sea of Cowards, her favorite movies, the albums that shaped her, voodoo masks and, maybe, a little bit more…
Do you feel like Sea of Cowards is a "darker" record?
I think it's definitely a heavier record, so maybe it is a darker record. I think we're quite a dark band. When I listen to it, it blows my face off a little bit [Laughs]. I don't know where it came from, again. It's one of those mysterious things. I couldn't tell you where the songs are from. The difference in recording Sea of Cowards is that we wrote a lot of this material when we were on the road—during soundchecks and such. We were put in that live mode. You're playing like there are 2,000 people watching even when you're at soundcheck. Maybe that was a factor…
How would you describe your lyrical evolution this time around? Were you encouraged to experiment more?
I wish I could remember [Laughs]. All of this stuff seemed to happen so fast. I think it's a natural progression. We did one record, and we never expected to do that record. We never expected to write all of those songs in such a short space of time, suddenly be a band, tour and for all of it to be so real. It was an extremely strange situation where none of us had any time to do this band and, all of a sudden, that was all that we were doing. It's fantastic, and nobody wants to stop! The second record felt like it came as naturally as the first. The boys are playing music. We're in a room together, and everything's moving at such a fast speed. They're coming up with parts, and a song develops. I'm standing there in front of a mic and I've got to catch up or keep up. The words just come from that. I'm inspired by the music. The music's heavier so maybe the words are too. I've written everything by looking around the room at the three of them—kind of being blown away and trying to do their music justice.
Well, back in the day, bands did records in a couple weeks not months. It's about capturing a moment…
Yeah, we've been lucky. It's fast when you look around you and see what other bands are doing, but it really doesn't feel fast. We're not rushing anything. In fact, when we went into to do Sea of Cowards, we said, "We can take forever on this. We don't need to have another record out; we just put one out. Let's really get it right and explore with this one." It just so happened that it didn't take very long. We were like, "Oh, it's done. What are we going to do? Sit on it? Fuck it, let's put it out." It is the way people used to record, but things were different. Bands didn't have to tour for a year and a half to sell a single record [Laughs]. The world wasn't as big of a place; there weren't that many music venues. There weren't so many places you could go and had to go. As a band and as a creative person, I think you have a lot more time to write and record. It was more of a 50/50 thing. Now you know a record takes this long and then you tour for a year-and-a-half. There goes a year-and-a-half before you're ever even close to writing another one. It's hard to fight the way the music industry is now. Bands really have to fight it. We've tried by not touring as much, but we love it so much [Laughs].
If Sea of Cowards were a movie, what would it be?
Oh shit! I don't know [Laughs]. That's a really good question! What would you compare it to?
What about Deliverance meets Blue Velvet?
I like Blue Velvet. Deliverance scares me, but that's pretty good [Laughs]. I'll take that.
What are some of your favorite movies?
I'm trying to visualize my house with my DVD collection…I really like Raging Bull. My favorite filmmaker is John Cassavetes. I love everything he's ever done; those are probably my favorite movies ever. I could watch them 200 times. If you ask me about books too, my brain goes blank. There's too much, and I can't think [Laughs]. I can only remember the last movie I watched and the last book I read. It's bad; there's too much in my head.
What's the story behind "The Difference Between Us?"
That was really inspired by the music. I had four lines of it written in my notebook, and I was flipping through it when they started to play that song. The rest of the song just wrote itself. I remember that one came really easily. The words fell into place, and it made perfect sense.
Where did those masks on the album cover come from?
That was actually Floria Sigismondi ["Die By the Drop" music video director]. We did that "Die By the Drop" with her. The title of the record is Sea of Cowards, so the masks tied into being a coward and hiding behind some other imagery. We did that video and it had all kinds of voodoo-ey looking stuff like that. We really obsessed with this Captain Beefheart photo. It's a really old black and white picture of the band. They've got weird spaceman heads on. Their masks don't go together. You can't see any of their faces, and they're wearing these homemade costume things on their heads [Laughs]. We had that photo kicking around so we sent it to Floria when we originally started talking about doing the video. That's what came about. The front cover is just two Polaroids that she took when we were standing around in those things. We just stuck the pictures together. It was two of us on each side.
What are some records you can't live without?
I can't really live without my Captain Beefheart records, Fugazi, Velvet Underground, John Lee Hooker and Jay-Z anymore either—he's amazing! Those are quite important to me.