For the Kills, doing things the easy way has never been an option. Three years before the release of their 2016 album Ash & Ice (Domino), guitarist Jamie Hince almost his ability to play guitar. He’d had some hand issues from playing guitar in the past, and in 2013 he slammed his hand in a car door. After some treatment and still more complications, he lost the use of his left middle finger and had to seriously reassess his career as a guitar player. He chose to persevere, and he and singer Alison Mosshart issued Ash & Ice this June, five years after the band’s previous album about about 15 years after the two launched the band out of South London in Hince’s native U.K. It is without a doubt one of Hince and Mosshart’s heaviest records to date.
Resting in the Hollywood Hills before he, Mosshart (who moved to Nashville a few years ago) and the rest of the live band hit the road again, Hince spoke with Playboy.com about the injury, the evolution of the band and why riding the Trans-Siberian Express is good for rock ‘n’ roll.
How has touring been so far?
We’d been playing festivals in Europe, but before that Alison got an ear infection. She got walking pneumonia a month ago. We were in Australia and all of that flying—27 hours to Australia and New Zealand—and shooting a video in the pouring rain in Melbourne, it was just too much and she got sick and couldn’t fly. We’re slowly starting to tour again.
It’s never easy for you two, is it?
Nah, it never is. After I hurt my hand, I was definitely considering whether or not the band would still be able to continue with me as a guitar player. Every thing we do, even if it’s shooting a video like we did in Australia, it seems like something happens.
Has there been theme to your videos? Are you building a visual album a la Lemonade or Frank Ocean’s Endless?
After 15 years with the Kills, you start to realize, Ah, we’ve got an aesthetic, where before it was just this chaos. I didn’t think anything really connected together like with an album. This is definitely not a concept record and we’re not pretending that it is. With this, I was on my own journey to make sure that I expressed myself with writing while making sure that the Kills didn’t turn into a cliché. That was important for me.
How do you define the band’s aesthetic?
We’ve never had a manifesto or mission statement. The only thing we ever wanted to do was to adapt to whatever, but that’s been the biggest change. The fucking world has changed so much in that time since we first started making music. I remember having to mail and fax things out, and now everything is done digitally, like booking a tour entirely on email! As for our aesthetic, I didn’t really what it was until I tried to remove myself from it. It’s a mix of all of the things that made our hearts pump. Things like DIY and poverty art. All of the things that inspired us growing up are what we still have with us today. It’s all very comfortable and are all the sorts of things like punk and fanzine art coupled with the crazy things that used to take a couple of weeks to do that now take an hour.
Have things changed between you and Alison over the years?
We used to do things together, but suddenly there was a gap: What used to be across the road became thousands of miles. We’ve always written by ourselves before eventually coming together. The first stage of creating songs is a dictatorship, where you really let yourself loose. Working with each other at that early stage of writing makes you hold back a bit. But we know, at this stage, what works for us and what doesn’t.
How’s your hand holding up with touring?
It’s good, but I don’t know, I’m living in pain a little bit. I can’t use that finger obviously, but that’s not really bothering me playing guitar for a set. But it’s had an effect on my other fingers. I have to do a lot more now, my hand gets really stiff in the bones because they’re working so hard. It’s taking some getting used to, yeah, but it’s not really bothering me, thankfully.
What exactly happened to your hand that left you unable to use that finger?
I’ve had cortisone injected into my knuckles because I had problems from playing guitar too much. I play with really thick strings and have really high action. I don’t play lightly and I really dig in, like bending strings off with my little fingers. So, I get these problems with my knuckles and my fingers would lock up, so I’d get the injections. By accident—obviously by accident—I slammed my finger in a car door, and it crushed it totally flat. I went to my hand specialist like, “I fucked up!” and he said I had a broken finger and he injected it with cortisone again. He did and I happily went off on holiday, and it turns out it was a bad decision. I got a really bad infection from the cortisone and it went septic, and I lost my tendon, and needed a transplant, and ended up having multiple surgeries to fix it.
Did you think that this was the end of your music career?
I’ve always operated with this notion that I’m more valuable with ideas than I am with ability. So for me, I’m always trying to play music in some fashion, either as a producer or a songwriter or a player. I never really thought that I wouldn’t be a musician, but I’d be in the studio and programming or things like that. I wasn’t restricted, as a musician, to guitar playing. It did make me think that I wouldn’t be a guitar player anymore, and I panicked for a couple of days, and it gave me resolve to try and get it together to play again.
Prior to Ash & Ice, you rode the Trans-Siberian Express for two weeks. Why?
There was a lot going on in my life. A lot of noise, a lot of parties and it was a mess at that time. When you’re trying to write a new record, it’s like… [screams]. I can’t write things when people are around, and I really need to be on my own to delve into my brain. That was the idea to go across Siberia on my own and dig into writing and perfect my lyric writing. When you starve your body of food, it starts to turn on itself, and the same goes for starving yourself of stimulus. The landscape there was pretty barren, so your brain starts to turn on itself. Your imagination starts getting really bizarre.