Alison Mosshart already had a good thing going with the Kills, but when a friend like Jack White asks you to sit in for some recording sessions, there’s some room for, as she puts it, calendar management. What started as a one-day project to record a single seven-inch with Mosshart, White, Dean Fertia and Jack Lawrence quickly evolved into the Dead Weather’s debut album, Horehound.
How does it feel to be a member of a “supergroup”?
I don’t know how it feels to be a member of a supergroup. I’m not in one.
The press has been pretty quick to call the Dead Weather one.
No musician ever uses that term. It only appears in the press. You should call us a gang. We’re a supergang.
What do people need to know about Horehound?
It was written and recorded in three weeks by a group of friends that never really meant to be a band. We just got together to make a 7-inch. It was all about doing things that we’d never done, and when we finished it was already a success. The whole point was to make something without intention, and the result was pretty dirty and loose and like nothing any of us had ever done before.
You didn’t have any specific objective or audience in mind when you started the project?
We had nothing in mind, honestly. When you’re doing it for yourself, music can be a really selfish thing. I’ve never learned to write a song for an audience. I can only really write something for me and hope that other people will find something to like in it. A musician shouldn’t be trying to please a big majority of people; that’s more of what a politician should be doing.
How did you come up with the title for the record?
It was a word that Jack heard, and I think he heard it as “white horehound.” He’s always attuned to things that have white in them, so he became sort of obsessed with this word. When it came time to name the album, he threw it out there and everybody liked it and went scrambling to look it up. I thought it sounded like a fast car.
Jack White has been at the forefront of most of the Dead Weather press, and the album was recorded on his label. How much did his vision influence the album?
It’s really hard to say. Democracy is a terrible word to apply to music and art, but we did everything together. We did it on Jack’s label, but that made the process very freeing. We made a 150 7-inches and then went and saw them being pressed. After that we took about a million photo-booth pictures and then hand-colored all of the sleeves. It was like art camp, but during the process, the music became very important to us as a group of friends and a group of musicians. Anything from the Dead Weather is a product of this collaboration.
The songwriting credits on Horehoound are very definite, though. How was the process for “Hang You From the Heavens,” credited to you and Dean Fertia, different from “Treat Me Like Your Mother,” which was written by the entire band?
It’s hard for me to remember, because it all happened so fast. Those guys are really quick and such good musicians, so a lot of the time I felt like I was playing catch-up. On “Hang,” Dean had a riff and then I had the first line. By the time I finished the rest of the verses, the guys had put together almost the whole song. “Treat Me Like Your Mother” was the one song on the album that I just couldn’t write for; it was just this impenetrable wall of sound. It was so heavy that I ended up walking out of the studio. I had to tell Jack that I was stumped, and he helped me see it a couple of different ways. We worked through it as a group, and came out with this amazing song.
Was there added pressure following Meg White and Loretta Lynn?
No. Not at all. It’s such a different thing. If I’d walked in cold it could have been pretty tough, but I ‘d known Jack and Meg for years. Standing in front of Jack for the first time was weird. Jack is one of the most incredible performers of his generation. I’m used to being in the audience and watching what he does. Now that I’m out front, I have to be bigger than I’m used to being. It’s still at the stage where every night is exciting, but it can also be a little scary.
How is this going to play out over the course of a tour?
We’ve been touring a bit without the record being out, and the crowds have been great. I hope that double the audience now that the album is out, or maybe people will get the record and hate it. Who knows? We started out playing 500-capacity clubs and that was the perfect starting point for the band. We wanted to play small venues before we moved into the phase where people are coming to the concert but unable to see. It’s really fun and only happens once in the history of any band. You’re out there and it’s just hot, sweaty, and energetic. Once you’ve moved on from that stage, there’s no going back.
How do you think this band will affect the trajectory of your career?
I honestly haven’t thought about it. I’ve never planned anything in my life, and this band isn’t any different. I’ve wanted some things and made them happen, but I’ve never looked years into the future and said I’m going to do this to get to a certain place. This keeps me busy, and that’s definitely a good thing. I’m also getting to share music with a larger audience, and that’s also something exciting.
What is the status of the Kills?
The only thing that’s affecting the Kills right now is that the Dead Weather is keeping me extremely busy. It’s just calendar pushing at this point. I’m in writing mode right now, but the touring is going to keep us out of the studio until September at the earliest. There was such an outpouring of creativity with the Dead Weather that we’ve already recorded another full album of material. We even talked for a while about how hilarious it would be to release the second album before the first. The Kills and the Dead Weather are really different bands, so there’s not going to be much crossover with sound, but I hope I can bring that creativity to the next album.
You’ve recently had some tabloid coverage. Are you worried about suddenly being under a much bigger microscope?
No, I’m not worried about it at all. I haven’t done anything that one of those papers might want to write about, and it’s really a game that I don’t want to play. If it’s criticism of my art or music, that’s one thing. When it’s about me as a person, that’s out of bounds.
Then exactly how volatile is your relationship with White?
Are you asking about the punch-up that supposedly happened in New York?
There was a lot written about it.
None of it?
None of it. I was with 15 people. Nobody saw anything, and it was still reported in the paper. The worst part is I have my mom calling and asking me if it’s true. People believe things just because they’re printed in a newspaper. I guess I’ve done the same thing in the past. That’s the problem with this whole cult-of-celebrity thing. We’re all a little bit guilty.