What a difference a year can make. Alison Mosshart ended 2008 as the shy, reclusive singer for London-based duo The Kills, who played most shows facing her partner Jamie Hince instead of the crowd, her face obscured by her long black hair.
But that was before she made two grim, Gothic-blues albums as the feral frontwoman for Jack White’s latest project The Dead Weather.
Her metamorphosis is remarkable. The band’s new Floria Sigismondi-helmed “Die By the Drop” video finds her robed like a voodoo high priestess, snarling while crawling into the mud to dig a grave with her hands.
“Music speaks to you — it tells you what to do, and I’m just the commentator,” Mosshart explains of her new Tura Satana-tough persona. “It’s really powerful stuff.”
The Dead Weather — who play The City on Thursday — began by accident, when White was too sick to sing for a gig with his earlier White Stripes spinoff, The Raconteurs.
He asked Mosshart — whose Kills were opening said concert — to fill in. Impressed, he then invited her to record a single (“Hang You From the Heavens”), then a full album (2009’s “Horehound”), then another (the just-released followup “Sea of Cowards”), as well as a contribution to the latest “Twilight Saga: Eclipse” soundtrack (“Rolling In on a Burning Tire”).
“It’s been an incredible learning experience for me,” Mosshart says. “Like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.”
Mosshart, 31, could feel the electricity when she started working with White (on drums), Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence and guitarist/keyboardist Dean Fertita.
“Since the first day we were in the studio together, we didn’t have any control over what was happening,” she recalls. “We didn’t plan anything or say how anything was going to look or what any of it was going to mean. The music just dictated every single drop of that.”
Mosshart acknowledges her spooky new look. “The band is kind of Goth — it’s pretty dark,” she says. “So everything’s quite dark about it. Lots of black clothes, black eye makeup, black hair everywhere.”
Her lyrics delved deeper into blues vernacular, until she arrived at wicked phraseology like “Hustle and Cuss.”
“That’s the beautiful thing about playing with these guys,” she says. “They write music so fast, you’ve got to keep up. There’s no digging around in past lyric books looking for ideas.”
Only one part of Mosshart’s Dead Weather image is an illusion: Her bouffant-big mane. “I can put an entire can of hairspray on it,” she says. “But as soon as I play, I sweat so much that everything just ... just falls!”
IF YOU GO
The Dead Weather
Where: The Warfield, 982 Market St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Contact: (800) 745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com