Metamorphosis—it isn't just for doomed existentialist writers or Joaquin Phoenix. Rock stars (blah blah Bowie blah) have famously squeezed lots of mileage out of changing their look and sound in radical ways. But some rockers morph on a smaller, if no less uncanny, scale. Submitted for your approval: Alison Mosshart, frontwoman of The Kills (playing tonight at 9:30 Club) as well as of Jack White's new project, The Dead Weather. There's not a huge difference between her two current groups; in fact, the latter could be said to be a louder, heavier version of the former. But before starting The Kills with guitarist Jamie Hince in a London hotel—presumably as a way to express her love of the bluesy sludge of Royal Trux and early PJ Harvey—Mosshart was a bubbly, chubby-cheeked Floridian fronting the pop-punk band Discount.
Discount, "Math Won't Miss You" and "Half Fiction" (live in Germany, 1999)
It's clear from her vaguely Ian Curtis-like stage robotics in the clip above that Mosshart had hipster inclinations even back in Discount. Still, her transformation from a scrappy, DIY punk into a fur-coated, chain-smoking vamp was anything but gradual. Discount broke up in 2000, the same year The Kills formed. It was as if she woke up one morning and—instead of some Kafkaesque bug—found herself turned into Kate Moss' arch-nemesis. The video for The Kills' 2008 single "Cheap And Cheerful" could almost be read as a belated fuck-off letter to her old band—indeed, to her old self: "I'm bored of cheap and cheerful / I want expensive sadness," Mosshart sneers, then adds, "You're boring, baby, when you're straight."
The Kills, "Cheap And Cheerful" (2008)
So what could explain Mosshart's abrupt and total metamorphosis? The easy answer: heroin. But short of any evidence to back that up, let's just assume the singer—as "Cheap And Cheerful" implies—simply got sick of being cute. Not to mention poor and unknown. Mysteriously, Mosshart herself offers little insight. She makes only casual, "It was a learning experience"-style mentionsof Discount in interviews, and her old band's website has been excised of pre-Kills photos of her. Which, incidentally, are hard to find anywhere on the Internet. Zealous publicist? Personal reinvention? Stalinist revisionism? The world kinda wonders.
The Dead Weather, "You Hang From The Heavens" (live in New York, 2009)