Dead, White and Blues

Jack White is a throwback: an analogue artist living in a digital age. He’s a musical chameleon, but stands out as a White Stripe and Raconteur.

He owns a record label, Third Man, built its headquarters in Nashville and has already released a dozen records (both albums and 7-inches) through the shingle this year.

He is currently producing albums for multiple artists.

He and his wife, British supermodel Karen Elson are, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, worth nearly (US)$40 million.

He recently joined Nashville’s 46-member Music Business Council, which strives to preserve and improve the city’s music community.

Earlier this month, White released a new solo single through iTunes, called Fly Farm Blues, featured in the soon-to-be-released Davis Guggenheim documentary, It Might Get Loud, a study of the electric guitar through the eyes and ears of White, former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and U2’s The Edge.

He’s mixed a bunch of songs for a White Stripes film, due out at the end of this year, and insists there will be another White Stripes album: “I just don’t know when and where it’s going to happen,” he says on the line from Dead Weather’s Toronto tour stop. “This film coming out has taken a lot out of me. I had to mix 60 different songs and all the editing for the film. So I’ve actually worked more on The White Stripes this year than anything else.”

Add to that drumming, producing and touring duties for The Dead Weather, a band that formed in March, released its debut album, Horehound, last month and is playing two sold-out shows at the Commodore.

Jack White is busy.

“I really don’t plan,” White says. “That’s probably the biggest misconception about me. People think I’ve got it all mapped out. I can tell you honestly, in January of this year, I had nothing planned. My calendar was empty.”

Obviously, that’s changed.  And White, never been known for kicking back, says his busy schedule enables the creative process: when something feels right, he goes for it.

And so it went with Dead Weather. But the project started on a sour note: When White injured his back at the end of last year’s tour with The Raconteurs, and Alison Mosshart, singer for opening act The Kills, couldn’t find her tour bus (which, it turned out, had been stolen by its driver, who was later arrested), White suggested they jam together to bolster team spirit.

“We were supposed to just do a single together,” White says, “and it turned into an album and a whole band.

“I think that’s mostly because of her,” he adds. “I’ve been playing with the other guys in other projects, but she was what turned this into something bigger.”

What does Mosshart bring to the equation? “I think she’s the best frontwoman out there in rock ‘n’ roll. The energy she brings onstage, her sexuality and her connection to the blues is unfound in that world right now.”

That hardly means the collaboration was easy.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had an easy collaboration,” White says with a laugh. “I think I always pick the tough ones. The easy ones aren’t interesting. You’re always finding new ground, finding places you can take yourself as a songwriter or a producer or whatever creative person you want to call yourself.

“Sometimes tough is how much time you got to do it.”

So is Jack White a control freak?

“Part of me would like to micromanage a lot of it, and part of me completely lets go, gives the reins to everybody else around me and lets them come up with whatever they can come up with.

“I ride the fence very carefully and decide when and where it’s right to have one of those personalities.”

When it’s time for Dead Weather to take the stage, though, White takes a backseat on drums, an instrument he hasn’t played professionally in years but an experience he calls “exhilarating and fulfilling.”

When it’s suggested he could probably play with the Muppets and sell out a reasonable-sized venue, he laughs. “We could easily get involved with projects that very few people care about. I’ve definitely been part of records that no more than a hundred people care to own.

“But there are times too when people are looking for something interesting to share and especially something powerful when it comes to art and music.”

There’s no denying the power of Horehound. It’s raw, gritty and more honest than any of White’s other projects, but he insists his presence isn’t the only common denominator.

“There’s something very close to the blues, which is the truth,” he explains. It’s a harsher form than we’ve done in any of our other bands, but those are all blues bands as well.

“People need to re-evaluate what [the blues] mean,” he continues. “It doesn’t just mean some caricature of an old black man on a porch. Or the Blues Brothers. And I think that’s what the new generation is just starting to learn more and more about.”

Jack White ain’t black. And he plays the blues.


Story by Graeme McRanor originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun

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