Alison Mosshart Expands on the Spirit of the Road That Inspired Multimedia Project ‘Car Ma’ and ‘Sound Wheel’
There is an unspoken relationship between cars and music. The same impulse that drives artists to get on stage and unleash is what compels people to get on the road, and just drive. Moreover, the aesthetic appreciation for muscle cars, in particular, has a certain elusive similarity to the inclination toward certain sounds. There is a calling for freedom and rebellion, alongside a resonance with shapes and structures that somehow make a visceral impact. Alison Mosshart is best known for her work with the Kills and the Dead Weather. Alongside her musical output, she has spent the last decade turning her inspirations into visual art, with gallery exhibitions on both sides of the Atlantic. Mosshart has combined her artistic inclinations in a multimedia project that celebrates her fascination with cars, and the spirit of life on the road. She has released her first book, “Car Ma,” a collection of paintings, photographs, poetry, and short stories. Her first offering of the collection was extremely limited, but it will now be made widely available alongside an album, “Sound Wheel,” that finds her mainly speaking selected bits of her verse, but occasionally bursting into song.
“Sound Wheel” is a wild ride, and a work of unflinching artistry, although just a tease for the fully fleshed-out word and art offered in “Car Ma.” Together, the project speaks to the same instinct that makes Mosshart’s voice and lyrics resonate in the first place. It amplifies them, and directs them toward a subject perpetually noted, but hardly documented, until now. Mosshart spoke with Entertainment Voice about the project, the appeal of cars, her specific poetry, and her work at large.
Your new multimedia project, “Car Ma,” includes a book of original artwork, photographs, and poetry, and is being released alongside your largely spoken word album, “Sound Wheel.” Although people generally know you from your work with the Kills and the Dead Weather, you have long had your artwork displayed in galleries. What made you decide to take a multi-disciplinary approach now?
It was kind of accidental. It actually started with an art show that I did in Los Angeles in November 2018. I was there for a month, and I just let Los Angeles be the thing that inspired the show. There were so many cars. I went home after the show, and I started working on this fanzine thing, and I looked up, and it was 112 pages, and it was a book. I just got incredibly carried away. So that’s how the book came about. And then, “Sound Wheel,” the record — completely accidentally, I started recording myself reading it to see if it was working — is the rhythm right? Does this feel good? And I had so much fun doing that (laughs). I was in a meeting with Third Man about publishing the book and I said, “Well, you guys are a record label. What do you think about doing a sonic version of the book?” and they were into it. So I spent the next month coming up with this record, you know, whatever it is.
You have stated that the project is about “cars, rock ‘n’ roll, and love” and the “never-ending search for the spirit under the hood,” What do you think it is about cars and music that tends to trigger similar spirits and persuasions?
I think something to do with freedom — freedom of expression, going where you want to go, and doing what you want to do. They at least go hand in hand, to me. There are a lot of people who don’t think cars have anything to do with music, and they might be right, but I surely listen to music in cars (laughs). I don’t know, I’ve spent my whole life on tour, since I was 14. My dad was a used car dealer. I’ve grown up around tours. I’ve been on the road my whole life. Everything is about the highway and going from one place to another. It’s just an adventure, you know? I’ve always had an absolute love affair, as far as everything to do with the idea of being on the highway.
One of the entry images of the book depicts a muscle car with a front tired morphed and warped. Being that its placement makes it seem a rather definitive statement, what did you intend to say with this image, and how does it relate to the works as a whole?
So, that’s the car that is in “Vanishing Point.” That’s my favorite movie. That movie has inspired so much for me, in my life. That’s my car, and it’s the ultimate, it’s basically a car chase across America. The car is a little unrecognizable, with what I’ve done to it.
On “The Distance,” you write “that moment when before you panic… when you just laugh… the high before the impending doom.” This is an intense statement. Elaborate on the relationship between fear and ecstasy.
I mean, it’s probably the greatest relationship. It’s about adrenaline. It’s about being excited about something. It’s about living in the moment. You could spend a lot of time sitting and thinking, “Well, this is probably going to go pretty badly, but what if it’s the most unforgettable moment of my life?”
On “Sound Wheel,” “Oh Say” has a distorted, warped screeching snippet of the national anthem. What’s your overall political statement in this work?
Well, there’s not too much political statement in this work. I was in Florida for a wedding, in Lakeland, Florida, and I was outside my hotel, smoking a cigarette, and there was a car show. It was actually incredible. Weaved into this car show, there was something that I find totally imposterous to understand. A huge group of women, like “Women For Trump,” they were marching around, outside of the hotel, kind or harassing people. It was really quite insane. I bizarrely felt under attack by these women. I felt like they were such traitors.
Several of the spoken word tracks have snippets of found footage, for example “Eliminator.” Is this a real phone call, and what does this particular track represent — what’s the personal story that led to its fruition?
“Eliminator” is not one whole, exact phone call. That is a combination of the same damn phone call, over and over again, that’s so common if you are in a touring band, and you’ve been touring all day. Your significant other wants to talk, and you’re starving and you’re dirty, and you’re tired. It’s just a really common fight (laughs).
I was just trying all sorts of things until it felt right to me. It was just fun, it was just free. Doing this record and this book, there were zero rules. There was nothing I was trying to necessarily go in and do. I was exploring. I was trying to see what I could come up with. It was really fun. This sort of thing reminds me of the kind of art and writing I used to do when I was 20. Nobody was ever going to read it, and some of that is the most beautiful work when I look back at it now.
On “Sexy Pontiac,” you write of “the ass of a pontiac. All hips and ass,” and there’s a picture in the book of a girl with tires as eyes. What do you think about the sexualization of cars?
I think cars are sexy. Yeah, I do. I’m dazzled by car design. I feel like there is mystery in protective places and getaway cars, especially these muscle cars — huge wheels in the back. It stands. It’s like “Fuck you,” and I think it’s pretty hot.
You make summer sound quite awful in the spoken word track of “Summer Time.” Do you think winter has more edge? What’s your overall statement in this piece?
(Laughs) Yeah, again, this was a touring thing. Summer time is when you play 75 fucking musical festivals all over the world, and it’s hot, and it’s uncomfortable, and it’s day after day, but it’s like you’re in the army. That’s what I’m talking about.
You first went solo with your single “Rise” this April, and then released, “It Ain’t Water” the following month. What can we expect in terms of upcoming solo output?
I mean, that’s it. I’m working on a Kills Record. I was hired to write a song for a television show, and it turned out so good that the record label really wanted to release it, and I was like, “That sounds great. More people are going to hear it, so that’s awesome.” That’s how that came about. I don’t have plans for an album or anything like that, but you never know what’s going to come up. I’m in full-on Kills mode right now.
The Kills’ last release was a cover of Saul William’s protest song “List of Demands (Reparations)” in 2018, which is currently a relevant protest anthem in light of recent events, and the general sentiment sweeping the nation. Do you have any thoughts on the unanticipated relevance of that track now?
No. I think that track has always been relevant (laughs). I’m very, very happy that the world is waking up and doing more, and it’s on everybody’s mind. That is so wonderful I can’t tell you. That story was as relevant in 2018 as it was in 1960 or whatever, the story remains the same.
You and Jamie are cast in the upcoming film “Habit,” starring Paris Jackson, and you mentioned you are in full-on Kills mode right now. Do you have a release date set yet for the Kills’ upcoming album?
We’re just working on a record right now. It’s been a really weird time, being in quarantine for like six months now. It’s pretty hard to make plans. So, we’re just writing music, and we’re hoping that we’ll have a record done, so we can go into the studio.
The last Dead Weather album came out five years ago. Will there be more music from the Dead Weather at some point soon? Anything in the works?
I have no idea. That’s always a massive surprise to me. It just comes out of nowhere. We make it in like two weeks. I don’t know (laughs).
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your art project, overall?
Well, the book is kind of like the inside of my brain — every kind of media, all the things I’ve been working on for many, many years. There’s paintings, there’s collages, there’s photographs, there’s drawings. I’ve been using cars forever, and they always show up because I’m so attracted to them. One thing I think is really fun, I went to Graceland once, and I took a picture of a tire of every single one of Elvis’ cars. That’s one of my favorite pieces. It’s crazy, if you know what it is.