But before that you'll find my cover feature on White, who released his second solo effort, Lazaretto, on Tuesday and will headline Bonnaroo on Saturday. While we squeezed just as much of the interview as possible into the print edish, we only had so many dead trees at our disposal. So if you follow me after the jump, you'll find a full, uninterrupted transcript of my chat with White. (See also: fellow Creamster Adam Gold's 2011 chat with White.) Goodies that didn't make the print version include: the two lesser-known Voice-O-Graph booths White also owns (one of which he hopes to get running and tote around behind the Rolling Record Store); recent songs he's covered snippets of during his set; plans for The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather; and plenty more.
Where you guys at today?
We're in Shreveport, Louisiana.
How have the first few shows on the tour been? Are you pretty pleased with the crowd response so far?
It’s really nice. The shows have been sort of strange in a different way or another. They're not in conventional places. Cain’s Ballroom [in Tulsa, Okla.] is such a beautiful, historical place and such an amazing place to perform the first show of our tour. We were in Lubbock, Texas — sort of a wild, sort of a Western roadhouse. A wild place to play. And you know, Shrevport [Municipal Auditorium], where they used to have The Louisiana Hayride [radio and later television program]. It's pretty incredible to play in these historic places to start off the tour. It just feels like there’s already soul in the room, before you even get onstage. That's been really amazing. Sometimes you don't always get to pick where you start because of where festivals line up, they kind of pick it for you. And luckily, this one we were able to backtrack a few days and start where I wanted to start, at Caine’s.
And you just picked places that seemed a little less likely for a rock show maybe?
Yeah, every time I end up playing in an arena, when it gets past about 3,000 to 5,000, when it gets past that size, the place starts to feel really lifeless and just cold and concrete-laden. It's because it's very hard to put on a show that I like to put on, because it sort of feels like you need to have fireworks and explosions to keep people's attention, because some people are so far away from you. And yeah, I don't know, every time I've ever done it — I'd rather play multiple nights at a smaller place in that town. The shows will be better. I get something out of it, and I get to play different songs every night. It seems fulfilling for all the musicians onstage. But whenever we go play a 12,000-seat arena, it’s just like, I don't know, you're supposed to have all this pyrotechnics or something. Something's expected in that kind of environment that I guess I'm just not that interested in. But in certain places we'll be doing it. You go to a certain town, you wanna play a certain town, and sometimes the size you wanna play just doesn't exist. We wanted to play Lubbock; the size of the place we played, I don't know what it was, a few hundred people I guess. Even if you wanted to play a 5,000-seat place, they don’t have one in that town. So you just kind of figure out what do they got and what makes the most sense for what you wanna do.
I wanted to start out a little bit by talking about Nashville and Third Man and your presence here and everything. I think when Adam Gold talked to you it was about three years ago, before Blunderbuss and everything, when Third Man was just starting to grow into what it was. You had mentioned to us that part of why you left Detroit was because you were really engrossed in the local scene there and kind of felt hindered by it. Now you guys have put down roots here and gotten involved with working with local artists — you know, JEFF and PUJOL and that sort of thing. Do you ever feel hindered in any way here, or do you feel like you have a lot more freedom in Nashville?
No, it feels perfect to me. I really love it. It's got every bit of the environment that I desired to have when I was younger, just where I had some of that, but not all of that. Nashville has always felt perfect. I don't think Third Man Records could exist in any other town that I know of in America. Anything smaller or larger than the size of Nashville, and also the music — the attention that's paid to music in that town is sort of the right kind. It's not too hipster and it's not too fake; it's something in the middle, which is really good ground for a place like Third Man Records, that aims to be genre-less. It's great to be able to have that kind of access. If we did it in some other city we wouldn't have access to Appalachian music and bluegrass, and rockabilly, and all the things. It's just such a location for so many different styles to happen in. It's great for something like what Third Man's been doing with the Blue Series records and live albums direct-to-acetate and, you know, local bands, and bands that are coming through town. You know there are certain towns that, bands just don't come through that town like that, or if they do, the town’s so big that there's so much going on that it's hard for something to be special. That's why Nashville seems to be so perfect for all of that.
Over the past couple years Nashville’s gained, if you’ll pardon the cliché, this “It City” status. And it seems like every time there's some kind national or even international piece about Nashville, of course your name's invoked every time. Are you comfortable with the association? Do you think you and your operation had a lot to do with the renewed interest in Nashville?
I don't know, I guess that's for other people to say. I can only say we just wanted to do what we wanted to do. I don't know how much was happening before I got there, because I didn't know Nashville that well. When I moved there, I didn't know anybody at all. I moved there totally cold. And now, years later, so many people from my music world have moved there. All of The Raconteurs and Dead Weather now live there. So many people from Detroit and London that I knew have moved there and are working at Third Man or work in our world somewhat. Things changed so much in that sense. I know that a building like where we bought Third Man Records, which to me in that neighborhood, felt like a really interesting neighborhood — to me it felt really alive, in a way. Business managers from LA who came to see what we were about to do were like, “Are you out of your mind? There's a methadone clinic right there, and a homeless shelter!” To me, it always felt like an amazing neighborhood. I’ve never had any problems with anybody, none of us have. It feels really visceral and inspiring in that neighborhood. And just that neighborhood has changed so much since the time we built that building. So I don't know, it's hard to say. Someone from England, I think, was asking me [about this]: This is the second time I've been living in a city that's supposedly the “coolest city in America.” That happened in Detroit when everything was blowing up in the garage-rock scene too. But that’s a scary thing to say, because you have to be able to disperse that kind of fleeting attention for a town, for a town to able to withstand that. Because the only way to go is down after that, if you're not careful. Well, I shouldn't say that, it's not the only way to go. It's just dangerous that it could very well go down if you're not able to withstand that.
But I'll repeat what I said earlier that Nashville, also just any town, could maintain that kind of feeling. I think Nashville is like that. There are other cool towns in America that focus on arts and focus on music — Portland and Austin, and towns like that. They have their own personality too. What’s interesting about Nashville is it has that super-commercial side of town that other towns don't have. That real business mindset, and I've always thought that's really interesting — Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn, and their publishing companies that they owned and things like that, and that's a whole different way of looking at music, from a business angle. And the Grand Ole Opry-style showmanship that's brought into it. It's all really interesting to me. Even if it's stuff that I don't even care for, I’m still interested in seeing how those people do that, because you're forced when you're a musician — when you go onstage and things — you get more attention, and you're forced to really understand how you present yourself in the business side of things. You know, the economics side of what you're doing, you're putting on shows, and how much equipment costs, and how much it is to put things out on the road, how much it influences people what vibe you're putting out to the world, and how much that influences people's attention spans. Third Man is such a cool central location for anything I'm involved with, because so many different things can come out of that building, and we just release what we want to the world, and if they're interested, some people come and check it out. But it's going to happen no matter what. So I'm always interested in seeing what connects with people and what doesn't. It's impossible to tell, to figure out, it's a mystery.
Another thing you mentioned last time we talked is that you guys, you specifically and Third Man, it's not all quite so calculated as people seem to think. They see it after the fact and think, “Oh there must have been this elaborate game plan ahead of time,” when really you guys kind of make it work as it goes along. So has more of a game plan developed in your time here and you think things out ahead of time? Or is it still just trying out what works and moving forward?
It feels very much like Day 1. It feels exactly the same to me. I mean, take something recently like the Ultra LP we’re putting out. We were going to make that no matter what, whether people are interested in it, or not interested in it. Or if we make videos explaining everything about it or if we didn't, it was still going to exist. We know whenever we do anything like that, that some people are going to think it's really cool and some people will think it's gimmicky and won't dig it, and it doesn't really matter to us. We just want something to exist like that and we make it happen. We always say, “We can just do it, just put out a record, or you can make an album cover like that, you can go on stage like that, or you can do it like this.” And I'm always interested in seeing what I can get out of the presentation of things. I love to obfuscate people and make people think, “Oh that's just a gimmick,” and they can't see past it.
It was funny, because Neil Young, when he came, I realized that his mindset is very much in the same realm, where he knows exactly that the idea of him putting out the digital Pono system at the exact time of him recording an album in a ’40s recording booth — most lo-fi you can possibly do — and how so many people won’t people able to get past that or see the meaning behind either of those ideas and how they clash with each other. It's a difficult pill for people to swallow. I think a lot of people have maybe even given strange, half-good reviews of that record because they can’t see past what they think is a gimmick. But if you can get past that, then you can get closer to Neil Young than I think anybody's ever been able to do. He's writing a letter to his mother in heaven. How much closer do you want to get to him? If you can't see past the idea of a recording booth, then you'll miss out on something beautiful like that.
Actually, I wanted to ask you a little bit about the Voice-O-Graph booth. I think it was The Tonight Show, you said you'd been hunting that down for a while. Was it the sort of thing where it was like, “Man I'm fascinated by this object, I want to see if I can find it,” or did you have these ideas for it, like how you could use it?
I’d always thought I was going to find one on the road somewhere when I was touring when I was younger. “I'll bump into one of those at a drug store in, you know, Serbia, or something like that. I can’t wait till I do.” As time went on and I didn’t find one, and then with the rise of the Internet where you can look for those things, realized, “Wow, there just isn't one anywhere. There's not one in use anywhere.” I couldn't even find one for sale, or anyone who even had a picture of one that they owned in a warehouse or anything like that. It just seemed like a phantom thing, that they're all gone. And it wasn't until I got involved with a lot of these coin-operated machine collectors that we were able to find a couple of different models of that machine that people had in storage, behind 15 pinball machines somewhere in Pennsylvania or whatever. So I bought them. I bought of couple of them. I bought three different models. One from the ’40s, one from the ’50s, one from the ’60s, and the one that we got working was from the ’40s. The other two we haven't been able to figure out how to get working. My goal is to get one of the ones from the ’60s working and take it on a trailer behind our roaming records store, so wherever that goes, you can make records right behind the truck. So that's the next goal.
With Neil Young, was that the sort of thing where he sort of expressed an interest in it first? Or did you kind of present this idea to him?
I really like him because so few musicians do things like he does. Do things sort of capital letter, quotation marks, he really “Does Things.” He’s got an electric Lincoln, electric car, he worked on Lionel Trains for people who are disabled, the Pono system — he’s really hands-on with mechanics. And I've always had the same feeling myself, and a lot of that creativity has gotten a chance, with Third Man, I’ve been able to do a lot of that stuff, where before I was so swamped with touring and recording, I never got to do anything else. So, yeah, he came and saw us [unveiling the Voice-O-Graph booth] last year at Record Store Day, and it was right up his alley. Of course he flipped out. Tom Waits had told me — I had told him a couple years ago that I was looking for that booth, and he had never seen one or recorded in one, and he said no. Tom suggested I build my own from scratch, and I was about to take his advice and do that, but that was when we found the ones hidden in storage.
It seems like there's not a ceiling to the expansion you do over at Third Man, whether it's the lathe room or the new warehouse, the forced-perspective painting you guys put in there. Do you ever feel like there's a ceiling you hit, where you're like, “Ok, we can show movies here, we can do all this, I think we're good”? Or do you feel like it's going to be more organic than that and just continue to grow?
For me, I would like it to be much like the Winchester House in San Jose [Calif.], where the woman who owned it was superstitious — a fortuneteller had told her she had to continuously keep building the house until she died. And she did, and I think that Third Man should always keep building. It should never stop and rest. Every room in the building has a chance to grow and become even better as time goes on. You can always take and reinvest yourself. It’s always beneficial, because when you look at everything that's in the place, anytime we build something in one of the rooms, none of it was an idea that was a moneymaking venture. It's interesting, yeah, but it isn't profitable to do something like that. But by the time you keep doing two or three of [your ideas] or 20 of them or 50 of them, all of the sudden the place sort of brands itself, it stands for itself, it stands on its own feet, and it becomes something that people want to come and see for reasons totally different than they were built, which is really interesting. That has plenty of room to continuously keep growing on and on. Even after I'm dead and gone, I hope that it would continue to do the same thing.
Do you guys have any plans for anything next with the building with Third Man?
Well, not right now because of how much touring I have to do with this album. Probably this year's going to be lighter than the other years have been. We're playing catch-up to a lot of our ideas that we incorporated a couple of years ago. There's a lot of things to do in the shop that we've been wanting to do and catch up, and just to bring it up to speed. So this year's going to be sort of like that I think.
I wanted to start talking about Lazaretto a little bit. Is that Daru Jones playing drums on most of the tracks?
Probably half of them, and then the other half is Carla Azar.
Something you were known for in past projects, or at least you had in those, you had a clear-cut foil to work off of: Obviously you had Meg in The White Stripes, you had fellow songwriters in The Dead Weather and Raconteurs. Do you miss having sort of that built-in foil in a band, or does anybody in this live lineup serve as that for you?
It's a completely different scenario when people are hired guns to record and to perform. When you're in a band and you rehearse and record and no one's getting paid for, it you just keep doing it. You also kind of really can't tell your other band members what to do during a cool riff or a change that much. You can suggest ideas to each other, but no one's bossing each other in a band. But when you're hiring everybody, whether you like it or not, you basically have to tell everybody what to do. And people may not know that about me, but it's not really my favorite thing — it makes me very uncomfortable. I think people probably think of me as the exact opposite, because of things I've built or created or whatever, that I'm some kind of control freak, that I like to boss people around. But I really do not get any buzz from that at all. It makes me very uncomfortable to have to open my mouth and say things like that, so I find different ways to sort of get what needs to happen in a song without telling people what to do so much. You also have to let God in the room and let those people be able to do what they're really talented at and they're really good at. If you have a vision for a song, it's different in a band than it is with hired musicians. It's really interesting too. I really love it, because everybody who's on tour with me right now: Daru [Jones, drums] is from a hip-hop background; Lillie Mae [Rische, fiddle and vocals] is from a really bluegrass-y, country background; Dominic [Davis, bass] is from a really folk area of music; and Ikey [Owens] on keyboards is from really punk and spaced-out psychedelic-sounding things; Fats Kaplin is an amazing session musician, multi-instrumentalist, who’s into Middle Eastern stuff all the way to folk. And I'm coming from a rock ’n’ roll base — and also 15 other areas, county, folk — so it's really funny when it's onstage, I really don't know what this band is. And it's really become what I'd hoped for, which is a sort of genreless-sounding band. And we got that on a couple songs on Lazaretto. The song “Lazaretto” itself, to me, I don't know how you could call it any genre, because it changes every 10 seconds. It changes to something else. It wasn't really intentional, it was just written and became that way. All the people in the room made it so.
And that's what I was wanting to talk about, sort of the ground you cover stylistically on the record. You know, you take a song like “Entitlement,” that's a pretty straight-up country ballad. And then you’ve got the Blind Willie McTell homage with “Three Women.” “Just One Drink” kind of reminds me of Faces, for instance. So with the solo stuff, do you feel like you have that freedom to explore more ground?
With everything I've been involved in, I always try to make every song have its own personality. I’m really bored with albums where everything sounds the same, or it sounds like it was all written together. Even in a two-piece band like The White Stripes, I’ve tried very hard to make every song sound like its own personality. I know it's a lot harder to do that in The White Stripes setting than it is now in a band with say, eight people in the room recording, but I'm glad that this was even more select. When you're in a band, it’s the same people playing the same instruments, but in this scenario, with an album like Lazaretto, I can ask someone to play an instrument they don't normally play, or to play in a style they normally don’t play. What was once a scary notion of having that many people as hired guns — like when I produced an album like Wanda Jackson's record, when you had 12 people in the room, horn sections, string sections, and rock ’n’ roll section — where that was a scary notion, that became the set-up for me in how I arranged Blunderbuss and Lazaretto, I was able to figure out how to produce in that style, and I hadn't really attempted that before in any other production.
I think you've said that recording this record took longer than most in the past. Is that just kind of a logistical matter, you were just between touring and between other projects? Or did you want to take that amount of time with it?
I wanted to take the whole year off last year to be with my kids as much as possible because of how young they are. There's just no reason to tour as much as I used to anyway. I want to tour the way I want to — two weeks on, two weeks off. That way I can not be away from them that long. And they also come out on the road with me now too, like I've always had them. So that was the main emphasis, was spending more time with them. I also had about 20, 25 songs I had started. So I thought, “Well, I don't have to finish this album right now, because I'm not going to put it out for another year anyway, so why I don't just take it in bits and pieces?” I've never done that. I’ve always trie not to do that. And I realized months into it that that's why I don't do that, because it's not good for me. It's not a healthy place for me to create. But I dug myself out of the hole, I got myself out of the scenario. I figured out techniques to make those songs not wither away and die. But a few months in, I thought, “I may have to scrap all these and start over again, because I just don't write like this, and I don't work like this." But I dug my way out of it somehow.
I think it was the NPR interview when you were talking about the idea of the “lazaretto,” the quarantine, and this kind of fantasy you had about being locked away by some other force, rather than imposing these restrictions on yourself. So what restrictions specifically are you talking about there? And I know you say you don't necessarily write these narratives as yourself. You might be talking about a character, for instance. But do you do that with your professional or personal life, where you put these restrictions on yourself?
Yeah, because I really want to get somewhere. Sometimes I’ve stopped by and seen other people record music, and they’re really aiming to have fun and do fun things that please themselves. I’m really jealous that people are able to do that. I'm not able to do that. I'm not able to figure out a way to make it a “fun” thing for myself. It's never been that way. I think I said before, even when I was in The White Stripes, it was hard to enjoy things when they were a real accomplishment. I made a line in the album about whenever a character says something like — like in “Entitlement” — whenever I'm doing what I want to, somebody comes and tells me it’s wrong. Whenever I'm doing just as I please, somebody comes and cuts me down to my knees. I think that's a sacrifice I made a long time ago, that I really am not allowed to enjoy that, and I don't blame anybody else for that, except me. I am the cause, the root of that problem that will never be solved, and it's nobody else's fault but my own. Because I asked for it. I asked to be someone who purposefully puts himself into a struggle, instead of purposefully puts himself into a place of ease and comfort.
That’s hard to say in print, because that’s one of those things that sounds sort of, I don't know, taking yourself to be something holier-than-thou or something like that, I have no idea. But all I can tell you, that's just how I work, you know, I wish I could say to people, “We had fun making that record!” or “We had fun doing that show!" People ask, “Did you have fun tonight at your show?" I always don't know how to answer that question. It's very strange for me. I wish I could. Sometimes I tell them, “I wish I could.” You know, but I don't know if I know how.
Well it doesn't sound like it's necessarily about fun for you, but do you at least sort of get that sense of fulfillment, even in the moment, like say live, rather than in the studio? Maybe it's work for you, but do you still feel fulfilled by these moments you create?
I guess I don't imagine Vincent Van Gogh having fun when he was painting, or Michelangelo having fun when he was sculpting David. I imagine that the best I could ever hope for is someone like Orson Wells, who was probably laughing out of one side of his mouth when he was constructing certain things. And that's basically the most I can get out myself is that there's things that I think are funny that there's no one else in the room laughing with me, but that’s all I can ask for. I'll look across stage and I'll see Ikey [Owens] doing some incredible solo, and to me that's funny that this moment is happening in time, and how amazing that this is occurring right now. I guess that's my fulfillment.
Touring with the one streamlined combo which I accidentally called “Buzzcocks” a minute ago —
Yeah I wish we could call it the Buzzcocks, you know? We could do like what the English bands do, just add another word or change a letter. There's a band called Eagulls in England now, not even The Eagles, Eagulls.
Are there elements to that volatility of having the two lineups and bouncing between each that you miss shifting from night to night? Or are you happy to dig in with this one group of folks?
I wanted to go out with both bands again, but the scheduling was really too hard with everybody's projects. People had their own albums coming out by then, Carla was doing Autolux’s record, she's recording right now. It just wasn't going to happen. Everyone didn't want anyone to suffer from anything, especially from our tour. I didn't want to let down 13 people or something by not being able to make a few of the weeks. So we just said, “Let's combine the two, make the ‘Buzzcox’ with an X or whatever.” Maybe just have no name, I don’t know what it is. But there’s a combined band. It's so interesting. It’s like, Fats Kaplin, he keeps saying, “I keep looking around onstage and saying, ‘What a bizarre-looking band this is.’ ” I mean, it really is a band of misfits. The equipment that people are using, the way they look, it's just a band of misfits. It's so great. Nowhere else could that happen except for Nashville in my mind. It's the only city that could have conjured up that group around me.
I mean I have to say, just alone getting Daru and Fats on the same stage, that's not exactly something I ever thought I would see before you did it, but I'm glad to see it now for sure. I got to see when you did the live “Lazaretto” recording at Third Man, and those guys are explosive, you know? Every individual you've got there has a big personality.
It’s wild. You would think on the surface it's a really heavy rock ’n’ roll band, where actually none of the components are rock ’n’ roll. Maybe my guitar, but everything else is hip-hop, bluegrass, psychedelia — it's all mixing into this thing, and at full force, it seems like a very heavy rock ’n’ roll band. They can play a Dead Weather song or a White Stripes song, and it has its own personality and sounds just as heavy.
And you got a dude that was in Old Crow Medicine Show onstage too.
With festivals, you've sort of said, it's not your favorite thing to play. Is there any sort of different approach you take with playing a festival that keeps it more interesting to you?
It's very difficult for me. I don't know what to do. I really don't know what to do. I just try to give as much energy to it as I possibly can. Sometimes it feels like that energy just dissolves into black hole in front of us. It's depending. My heart goes out to anybody who's standing for 12 hours in the sunshine, and can't go to the bathroom, and can't go get another drink or something like that, in the middle of that sea. My heart goes out to them — that's an incredible devotion to music that I would never be able to do myself, so I salute them at all times. You can't expect people like that to be that energetic. It’s a bizarre scenario.
You also see, like when I first went on tour at a festival in Australia called Big Day Out, and we were on tour — maybe it was a different festival, I don't know what it was. But there were a couple bands, like System of a Down and Prodigy had played these festivals back then, and the crowd just goes insane. They just have that kind of music that's meant for that amount of people. Some acts are so perfect for that environment, it's the best place for them to play. For me, the best place for me to play is, like, a 100-person club. Or Third Man Records-size. That's where I get the most inspiration, I feel everything bouncing off the walls in the room, and the bigger and bigger it gets, the less and less inspiring it is for me. Don't get me wrong: If we can connect with a crowd and play “Fell in Love With a Girl” and 30,000 or 50,000 people are responding to it, it's incredible. But I guess I only have a few of those bullets in my rifle, in my repertoire. I just figure out ways to make them make sense in the set. You have to be more conscious of that since there's no set list. You have to be conscious to really make sure you're keeping things alive in that sense, where in a club show I wouldn't have to do that. I wouldn't have to make those descisions.
Bonnaroo's obviously a really big showing for you. It’s the week the record's out. It's technically not exactly a hometown show, but your current home state. You're between Kanye and Elton John. Personally, does it feel like a significant show, or is it just another night and you'll feel it out when you get there? I know you don't make the set list ahead of time, so is it just sort of, “We'll just see how it goes when we get there”?
Bonnaroo is always an incredibly well-run festival from the back side of it. I've always felt great pulling into that place and performing. When The White Stripes first played there, I didn't know what to think. But when we got onstage I thought, "Wow, this is a really well-done festival.” It's well-executed. There's a lot around the world that aren't, and you're sort of like, "Wow, I'm just sitting in a puddle of mud back here, and I don't know why we're booked between these two bands.” Or something strange like that. Bonnaroo seems to really know what they're doing, and it's always felt good. With The Raconteurs it felt good. I don’t remember if I played there with The Dead Weather or not. But it's an amazing time each year that happens to be right around this time, releasing new albums — pretty interesting to be able to do that.
Yeah I saw The Raconteurs there. But I don't think Dead Weather played there.
I don’t think so. I think Karen Elson did, now that I think of it, that’s the one that I'm remembering.
Actually some guy kind of gave me shit during your Raconteurs set one year, because I was taking notes. He was like, "What, you're writing in your journal? Get the fuck off the ground!” He started giving me shit, and I'm like, “No it's my job, OK, all right.”
That’s funny [laughs].
I guess you've said you don't really do the set list thing, but I noticed — at least according to some set lists I dug up from the past few nights — you've been covering Dylan and The Velvet Underground, and I think even Zeppelin your first night out. Is that something you do on the fly?
Yeah, those were very on the fly. They were just, I think, one verse of each of those songs. I was just on a trip of showing how similar the chord structures can be from “Coal Miner’s Daughter” to “I'm Waiting for the Man” to this Bob Dylan track [“She Belongs to Me”], to show it doesn't matter what the chords or the structure is. It's the story on top of it, and how it's told, that starts to make a bigger difference. I was just trying to make a point to myself during the set about that.
Yeah it's the character of the song. They always say there's only so many notes to play with. It's what you do with those. So I guess you're just illustrating, “Here are these similarities, but here's how remarkably different these songs are”?
Yeah, it was just an idea onstage during in a moment, a quick moment.
So I think, Elephant was 2003.
Yeah I think so — yeah I think 2003, yeah.
So over 10 years, you've pretty firmly cemented your place as a rock star on a landscape that honestly nowadays is largely devoid of genuine rock stars in the old-fashioned sense. And this touches a bit on what you've said with Rolling Stone and the thing on your site over the weekend, but where do you stand on the legacy you’ve created and are creating, and do you think you've helped open a door for others to step through? Or is that oversimplifying it too much?
I don't know. I guess it's really for people to decide on their own. I mean, how much does — like the songs I did the other night — what effect did Loretta, Dylan and Lou Reed have on each other? Maybe absolutely no effect on each other, or maybe one had [an effect] on the other. I have no idea, if you get deep down into the musicology side of things. But what usually needs to happen for the musicology of things is time. You know, time has to go by. And I think people will think differently about Fats Domino and Chuck Berry and all those guys. Like Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry arguing over who was the king of rock ’n’ roll and all that back then. It just takes time before people can see where it all fit in. There's still musicologists arguing over what the first rock ’n’ roll song was. Was it ‘Rocket 88’ or was it some other song back then? It’s very interesting. We'll still be debating all the things we don't have answers for. Robert Johnson, the legacy of some of those artists, Charlie Patton. I have not very much of an opinion about mine, because I think what's harder for me, is that I'm almost in an age where I'm sort of a misfit. So I find it shocking when anybody pays any attention to the stuff that I do. It's eye-opening to say the least.
How do you feel like you're a misfit? Do you just mean playing rock songs on the size stages you’re playing? Is that what you mean by “misfit”?
You still see things on TV, like an award show, and you think, “Yeah, that makes sense that that band is on there. That makes sense that that singer's on there and in popular culture.” I guess it didn't make sense to even me or Meg when The White Stripes broke into the mainstream. That didn't really seem logical. We had already done three albums, and we had already made up our mind that obviously we're doing some very strange thing that has its own tiny little world of 100 people in every town that might be interested in it. People always said we were blues-based, and we really were, but our very first single had a Marlene Dietrich song on the B-side. Our second single had an acoustic ballad on it. From the get-go, the band was always doing 15 different things.
But I remember when that band broke into the mainstream, it was a video we had where we were made out of Legos. And I remember my nieces and nephews — I have like 20 nieces and nephews — I remember being at my brother's house and my nieces and nephews were watching this video on MTV and loving it and saying, “Play it again! We want to see it again!” I’m like, “You what? You want to see that again?” You gotta remember, I was making 45 vinyl records and expecting most of my family to say, “Oh, that's nice. Whatever.” [Laughs] I mean, even when we're making a video out of Legos I still thought, “Oh, that's something almost no one is going to think is cool, but we think it's funny.” But you never know what will have an interesting appeal. There was a TV commercial that came out a few months later and it was a car, like a Honda, made out of Legos, red, white and black legos. We thought, “Wow, that looks like our video.” And somebody said, “Oh, it doesn't have anything to do with you. You guys don't own Legos” or whatever. I said, “Yeah, you're right.” Then Michel Gondry, the director who directed the video, I was talking to him, “Oh, did you see that commercial?” He said, “Yeah, they asked me to direct that commercial and I said no, and that's what they made instead.”
That’s sort of a same way as when an artist turns down letting them use a song and then they do the sound-alike.
Yeah, that happens to a lot of artists in commercials and stuff. It’s a thing that happens with directors and actors and voice-over guys — people who do voice-overs for radio commercials and things like that.
Like getting Daniel Baldwin instead of Alec Baldwin or something like that.
It’s interesting that you say that you were kind of surprised when that song and The White Stripes hit. But I think a lot of it had to do with people wanting to revisit something that felt a little more real, visceral. You’re a dude with a guitar, and there’s a girl with a drum kit. This is on the tail of boy bands and the late ’90s, and any band you do see are Limp Bizkit or something like that. I almost felt like it was just a natural response to that. People are like, “We want to hear fucking guitars again,” you know what I mean?
Tom Petty said something once in an interview, where he said every 10 years, rock ’n’ roll gets sort of wild and down-to-earth or real, or whatever words he was using. You know, when rock ’n’ roll first came out it was Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis for a while. Then it got kind of quiet and tame by the early ’60s. It got really “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window.” And surf bands like The Shadows and instrumental bands were becoming hits — it was kind of not raucous anymore. And then all of the sudden it came out again — The Beatles and the English Invasion of 10 years later exploded. And 10 years after that was punk, and about 10, 12 years after that grunge started happening. And 10 years after that it was the garage-rock explosion. And now, we’re kinda like, “Wait a minute, it’s been like 13, 14 years now. Maybe that pattern is going to slow down in the Internet Age. Maybe things are going to change.” It’s got to change because of the Internet. There’s no way that it won’t. It’s just too much of an influence on culture. But yeah, we’re sort of due for that next injection of visceral grittiness again, aren’t we? We’ll see what happens.
It seems like you said everything you wanted to say with your post on Saturday on your website. Is that just where you’re trying to let the whole thing lie? I read the Rolling Stone article over the weekend, and I was kind of surprised people took from it what they did. Take, for instance, people taking the Adele-Amy Winehouse parallel and calling it a slam; I didn’t understand that at all. It was this reasonable parallel: Would Adele be where she is if it wasn’t for other artists kind of opening that door. Do you feel like it was just sort of taken the wrong way?
I mean, I love Adele. The Raconteurs, we worked on a song with her, “Many Shades of Black.” I love what she does. And I like that she was doing the soulful thing — she’s got pipes, man. She’s got real pipes. I think I was just saying that Amy Winehouse broke open a new market for soul singers, which was not there for a long time. We came up in the garage-rock world with these bands like The Detroit Cobras and stuff that were really into the soul side, the obscure world of Motown-era music. The obscure kind of soul singers. You know, Mary Wells and those kind of singers. Winehouse was obviously interested in bringing those ideas out. I’m saddened that Winehouse is gone too. She was a beautiful singer. It was nice to be able to work with her and there a couple places and get to be semi-friends with her too. I’m sad she’s gone.
Like, in a video interview, like me on Charlie Rose or me sitting with Conan O’Brien for an hour, nobody ever says anything when they can actually hear me talking and the tone of my voice and see that it’s actually happening in a real conversation about whatever —the music industry or the state of music in popular culture. I’ve never gotten any negativity back from actual visual interviews with me. But print interviews with me, I think maybe I’m sort of like how you can’t write sarcasm in an email. Or you can’t read my tone of voice. You can’t hear the smile in someone’s face when they were saying it, in print. I think it’s a very different world now, where people are desperate for a sound bite. So, how many people out there have that strong of opinions? Good question. Probably not that many. So I’m probably easier to take sound bites from that sound salacious or sound negative, when in reality they kind of aren’t really. But it’s a shame to have to say, “Hey, I’m sorry to you guys. I’m not trying to say anything [negative]. We’re talking about music.” I don’t want to be fluffy about something I love so dearly and think about so much. I love the musicology behind what goes on in popular culture. It’s very interesting to me what is a hit and what not.
Prince just said something interesting about me, saying something like, “Jack White doesn’t have hit songs. How come he doesn’t?” I didn’t take insult by that. He was making a valid point. I don’t have hits like other people do. It’s strange when people pay attention to the songs I write, because I’m always shocked that they find any mainstream appeal. And that’s not trying to say that I’m cooler than that. I’m not saying that. But I’m always astonished. So he’s right. He’s talking about music culture. I applaud him for that. I want to hear more ideas from him like that.
So you said The Dead Weather’s going to have a record in 2015, or at least that’s the plan. I imagine you’re going to complete your cycle with Lazaretto and then kind of go there. Do you know about The Raconteurs? Is that something that’s just sort of always a possibility?
Yeah we talked, me and Brendan [Benson] talked about some songs recently. It’s just that now that Blunderbuss and Lazaretto have been put into the mix of my life, it’s just even less time is — and Third Man Records, for God’s sake man, time for me is so few and far between to do everything I want to do. It’ll make its way back for sure. Brendan just put out an album, and he’s touring. And The Kills are touring right now. Queens of the Stone Age are touring — Queens did a big album and they’re touring. So we’re doing what we can. We just recorded a couple more Dead Weather songs and we’re gonna put that out in the [Third Man Records] Vault [Collection] soon. That’s what we told everyone we were gonna do, we were just going to keep releasing singles in the Vault, so that makes sense to do that again. And we’ll put a collection of that out next year maybe. So that’s what we’re hoping for. Hopefully there’s time for all that.
Do you do downtime, really?
[Laughs] I tried to last year, and I really did spend a lot of time with my children last year. I made a point to do that. We didn’t go on vacations or anything like that. It’s just spending day-to-day time with them all day long. It’s very easy when you’re as busy as I am to let other people raise your children. And I always try very hard to not do that — to not have other people just raising them for me. That would be a real shame. I would not be proud of myself as a parent, so I do best to just be with them any time I possibly can. It can be hard. It’s hard to take children on tour too — you’re at work, so it’s hard to do it. But I do it, and these amazing moments happen. I guess really, if I do have any downtime it really just goes to them.
Didn’t you catch a Sounds game last year at some point?
Oh yeah, I love the Sounds, and I love baseball. I just went to the Astros game yesterday. And I’m going to a Tigers game in Detroit pretty soon. Baseball has become a nice new thing to include in my whole tour this year whenever we could possibly do it. And funny you should say that, because we just took the photo for your cover at a baseball diamond today here in Shreveport. The kids asked us if we were “the halftime show.” Little 7-year-olds.