The Kills

Music Features

A mixing console is an unlikely subject for an urban legend, but Jamie Hince—aka Hotel, the six-string-slinging half of U.K. blues-punk duo The Kills—was intrigued enough to spend a month in the American Midwest in its presence.

While producing another outfit in France, the admittedly obsessive musician caught wind of a mysterious Flickinger mixing desk, one of only three manufactured in the late ’60s, this one personally tailored for Sly Stone himself. As the mythology went, recalls Hince, “Sly had wanted it to levitate in his house, and he had it all black-lighted so he could see his cocaine on the top of the board. And when the guys came to fit it into his studio, he had armed guards that held them at gunpoint and basically kidnapped these guys for a week and said ‘You’re not leaving this house until you fix this console up and show me how to work it.’ Then he piled a bunch of coke on the desk and actually kept these guys there at gunpoint. So there were all these ghostly stories about this desk, but,” Hince pužs up proudly beneath his black leather jacket, “I managed to locate it, the actual desk that all these stories came from. And it was in Benton Harbor, Michigan.”

Naturally, Hince hopped the next jet to Chicago with his partner Alison “VV” Mosshart in tow, and drove deep into the Midwest night to their mixing-board destination. A couple kids had somehow gotten hold of the Flickinger and installed it in a warehouse studio. “And the story continues,” adds Hotel with a creepy shudder. “Because these kids phoned up the guy that had originally fitted it into Sly Stone’s studio, called him a dozen times but he’d just hang up every time, until finally he said, ‘I don’t want anything to do with that desk. I don’t wanna remember that time in my life—at all!’ So we were just desperate to use it.” Which they promptly did for the writing/demo sessions for No Wow, the bare-knuckled followup to their primal-blues Rough Trade debut, Keep On Your Mean Side. And they made themselves at home, he says, “in that poor tragedy of a town. We stayed at the studio, and it took us three days to get onto our Kills schedule, which was waking up at dusk and going to bed at dawn. So we just wrote and wrote and wrote, just kept going, really.”

“We knew we were going to nowhere,” adds the Florida-bred, now-London-based VV, who plays most Kills gigs standing sideways at the mic, facing Hotel with her long brown bangs obscuring her face. “We knew there’d probably be no inspiring art or writing available to us, so we brought our typewriters, journals, notebooks, and art and poetry books—stuž from home to build our little camp in the wilderness, and then lock the door and not leave for a month.” Several new Kills cuts, like the fuzz-guitar-heavy “The Good Ones” and the handclap-rhythmed “At The Back Of The Shell,” were inspired by tiny Benton Harbor and its curious weekend nightspot—the Myers supermarket, where local singles regularly hook up.

VV and Hotel quickly high-tailed it to record Now Wow in New York. But was the fabled Flickinger everything Hince imagined? He scratches his chin, thoughtfully. “Well, when there’s something that you’ve imagined, and there are all these legends surrounding it, it kinda grows in size in your mind,” he finally decides. “But when I finally saw the console, my first reaction was … ‘It’s really small!’ Because I’d built it up into this huge … thing with all this history around it. So yes, it was a physically small desk. But it sounded absolutely amazing.”

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