Self-isolated in her Nashville home, Alison Mosshart is happy she still has her landline phone. She’s not getting rid of it any time soon. During a pandemic, you never know what kind of archaic resources might come in handy. It’s not so much a backup tool for communication, but more a piece of nostalgia as everyone reverts back to their roots. It’s actually pretty resourceful as well.
“I’m never letting this go,” she says. “It’s wonderful. It’s really a joy to talk to anybody right now. I love it when my phone rings now. We’re all reverting back to our junior high, teenage selves when we used to sit in our bedrooms on the landline and talk to our girlfriends and love every minute of it.”
Following the Covid-19 lockdown, Mosshart finally has some down time—to talk, think, drink wine (lots of wine), and write. “Normally, I don’t have a minute,” Mosshart tells American Songwriter. “The day is full of things, and it’s running back and forth or hopping on a plane, which I love and I miss, but there’s a great beauty, and a lot of positive things about this [lockdown], especially when you’re trying to be creative.”
Alone in isolation, Mosshart has had time to dig into an archive of songs she’s been writing throughout the past decade. Always laser focused on The Kills, her work with Jack White and The Dead Weather, and other collaborations, all along her 20-year career, Mosshart has been filing away songs that she’s never recorded as a solo artist.
Then, Facebook called.
In 2019, Mosshart was approached to offer up a single for the FacebookWatch series, “Sacred Lies,” starring Juliette Lewis, and was pushed to record her first single “Rise.”
A motorized track oozing Mosshart’s signature, sultry spit of growls and howls, “Rise” might have been something extracted from The Kills, but has a different coat of lacquer. First written in London in 2013, when Mosshart says she was “missing someone badly,” she had the essence of the song, but put the finishing touches on it when approached for the series. After sending the track to them, stripped down and acoustic, they had the characters do a version of the song, and then circled back to Mosshart to record the song for the series finale, which she did at the end of 2019 in Los Angeles with Lawrence Rothman (Kim Gordon, Marissa Nadler).
“I got the opportunity to go into a studio and realize that song in the way that I wanted,” says Mosshart. “I’m so glad I got to do that, because I wouldn’t have recorded it otherwise.”
Locked down, Mosshart also started learning video editing and produced her first music video for “Rise,” which she compiled using footage from a lowrider car show from 2019 and her own visage.
“I taught myself how to make music videos,” says Mosshart. “It’s like the most fun ever. It’s been really nice to be able to work on things and really see them through without much distraction. I really just have this extra amount of patience and attention span, and it’s cool. I haven’t had that since I was probably in my early 20s.”
Still on a roll, Mosshart has released her second single and video for “It Ain’t Water,” a more measured and moodier track, visually it’s locked into a still frame of a room with Mosshart dancing and swaying to the slow-churned croon.
Originally written in 2016 and recorded with Alain Johannes (PJ Harvey, Queens of the Stone Age) earlier this year (and soon released as a 7-inch paired with “Rise” on July 31), it’s a song that Mosshart has wanted to record for a long time.
“After I finished editing ‘It Ain’t Water,’ I was like, ‘okay, now I made two music videos in a week and a half. I’m going to buy myself Final Cut Pro,’” laughs Mosshart. “That’s my present to myself. Now, I’m obsessed. I just want to make music videos and short films and abstract art stuff.”
More conceptual and planned out, Mosshart says “It Ain’t Water” was easier to pull together since it has very few edits. In brainstorming the video, Mosshart wanted to get the concept in her head on screen, capturing some kind of mirror image approach. “How was I going make it creepy looking, like I’m watching myself in my window?” she says.
Unlike “Rise,” the more murky and tranquil “It Ain’t Water” isn’t about anyone in particular, yet imbibing may have offered some inspiration.
“It’s that concept of like being alone and drinking and becoming somebody that’s not judging you when you’re drunk,” she says. “It’s like your whole personality completely changes. Things get more narrow. You have a different kind of sensibility, and it’s about that transition. It’s that feeling like you’re escaping and now you’re somebody else, and you’re hanging out with that person. It’s literally a conversation with myself.”
Mosshart says she’s loved the track since the day it was written. “Any time I’m stuck, that has been my life’s go-to song,” says Mosshart. “If I get stuck working on something, and I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, I will sit down and play that song to myself. It’s a reminder that I can write something like that.”
“It Ain’t Water” wrote itself in one sitting. “I love when things just magically fall into your lap like that and you’re just in a perfect mood, and it just happens so easily. I wish I had a moment like that every day.”
Typically a rare occurrence, Mosshart loves when a song just flows out effortlessly, but says it only happens for her once or twice a year. “It’s a beautiful thing,” she says. “It’s just this lovely, magical moment. Then there are other ones [songs] that require a lot more thought and a lot more messing around until you find the thing that’s right. That’s far more common.”
Mosshart wants to dig deeper into her dossier of songs, but her first love is her first band. She’s always had songs that she never thought fit anywhere, so she kept them filed away. “There’s The Kills world or The Dead Weather world, and then there’s this stuff, says Mosshart. “I would love to do more, and I would love a reason to do more. They’re all my babies, all these songs, and they need a home.”
For the time being, she’s focused on The Kills, but says she wants to record her songs at some point in time. “I never say never to anything,” says Mosshart. “There may be a perfect time when I feel like that is exactly what I want to do, but I don’t know when that’s time will come.”
Simply, Mosshart craves the camaraderie and the union of being in a band that you don’t get on your own.
“I love being in a band, and I love touring in a band,” says Mosshart. “I’m not quite at that point where I just want to do it my way. I like working with people so much, and I like that coming together over a single idea and making something I can’t make on my own. It’s so interesting what other people bring to the table, and I love the way other people see things, hear things, and how it makes them feel.”
Prior to the shutdown, Mosshart regrouped with Jamie Hince in LA to work on new material for The Kills and hopes they can finish writing and get to the studio to record in time to tour once everything opens up again.
“We have this group of songs we’re obsessed with, and we were just on a roll before all this happened,” she says. “So I’m trying not to get off that roll, and he’s trying not to get off that roll, but this is really heavy. It’s like an anxiety in the air that’s different.”
Finding some levity in the gloom surrounding the Covid-19 isolation, Mossharts says she may have a knack for producing “quarantine songs.”
“It’s funny listening to these two tracks,” she says. “It seems like songs you would write during the quarantine. There are different meanings, like overcoming great troubles. That’s what ‘Rise’ is about.” Meanwhile, “It Ain’t Water” speaks to Mosshart’s latest past time: wine. “They’re both perfect,” jokes Mosshart. “I’m totally drinking alone, and everything’s going to be fine, but it’s totally okay to get drunk every night right now. So there you go. Those are the two tiers.”
While it’s not something she takes lightly, she’s just being realistic about the current state of life around the pandemic. “There are no rules to how to behave or how to feel,” says Mosshart. “There’s nothing to look back on and say, ‘well, these people dealt with this this way.’ It’s like a new frontier, but it’s also incredible. We will live through this, and we’ll remember this, and it will teach us.”
When asked what the first thing is she’d like to do once the lockdown subsides, it’s simple.
“I’d like to visit every single member of my family and give them a huge hug and a kiss,” says Mosshart. “I want to see my parents. I want to go to New York and see my friends, and I want to go back to LA and work with Jamie and just want to give everyone a cuddle.”
At the moment, Mosshart is working through her creative distractions, alone. This summer she will re-release her book “CAR MA” through White’s Third Man Records. Originally released in limited edition, the book is a love letter to automobiles via her collection of photography, art, and writing, and will have an accompanying spoken word audio. “I asked them if I could do spoken word record, which turned into the most crazy thing,” says Mosshart. “It could be a career ruiner, it’s so bizarre.”
Moving away from the traditionally recorded audio book format, Mosshart recorded snapshot 20-second to one-minute recordings using sound effects, different voices, and made-up characters. She even sings some poetry. “It is wacky as hell, so I’m excited about that,” she says. “It’s boring just to read the book as a typical audio, so I wanted strange sound effects and characters. I’m also making little videos to go with the spoken word tracks, and those are getting weirder and weirder by the day.”
For now, she’s sinking deeper down the video editing vortex. “I wish I had a really good recording set up here and I could just start making a bunch of strange music videos and make stuff up,” she says. “I’m just going to start making stuff up and pushing it out into the world.”