The White Stripes Interview From The Archives -
Jack White. image by Ros O'Gorman.

Jack White. image by Ros O'Gorman.

The White Stripes Interview From The Archives

by Edina Patsy on April 23, 2016

in News

For White Stripes fame came suddenly on the heels of their third album ‘White Blood Cells”. No-one really paid that much attention until then.

When the media finally did discover White Stripes, it was equally about the personalities and the music. Suddenly Jack and Meg White became the subject of the tabloids and gossip columns. It was a sudden left turn that has taken Jack especially by surprise. One piece of gossip even suggested the brother / sister act were really husband and wife.

As far as Jack is concerned, he’s just a muso from a Detroit garage band.

With their 4th album Elephant piling onto shelves, Jack White took time out to talk to Paul Cashmere.

Paul Cashmere: Welcome back to Australia. You are becoming a regular visitor.

Jack White: The first tour ever out of the United States was New Zealand and Australia a couple of years back. That was out first time ever on a tour outside the US. It was great. It was very odd.

PC: That first time you came to Australia people wouldn’t have known who White Stripes were.

JW: No, not very much. We had a small following here and there from our first album or second album but it was okay. I liked those days a lot.

PC: You have started setting your benchmarks for success now Jack. You have appeared on the Letterman show.

JW: Right, right, right. They rebooked us being on that show nine different times. We always said ‘yes’ and then they’d come back and say “oh no, U2 is going to play that night, sorry”. Nine different times they rebooked us.

PC: You must have felt like the band destined to be permanently bumped.

JW: It felt like that for a while, yeah.

PC: Have you ever seen The Larry Sanders Show?

JW: Yes I have.

PC: They had a running gag on that show with Bruno Kirby who right up to the very last Larry Sanders Show got bumped.

JW: (laughs)

PC: But Letterman doesn’t do that anymore to you. You finally got there.

JW: Yes.

PC: So was it worth it?

JW: I don’t know (laughs). Probably not (laughs).

PC: After they kept bumping you, why did you keep saying yes when they’d ring back?

JW: It wasn’t like we were there. It was on the phone. They’d ring and say they would have to change it again. We’d say “yeah, sure, I guess we’ll do it”. It became an ambiguous thing.

PC: Congratulations on the new album ‘Elephant’. It’s a great new album.

JW: Thankyou very much. We enjoyed making it. I was pleased. I like to have fun when I’m doing those kind of things. I am very pleased how it turned out.

PC: I’m amused you have chosen April 1 to release it.

JW: Fools that anyone would be for buying it (laughs). You know that is the first time I have heard that mentioned. I didn’t even think of that.

PC: Why did you choose to put it out on vinyl?

JW: We wanted to make the first listen more of an event. We wanted people to take part in it and that was a nice way to do it. It sort of became a nice artefact you can hold in your hands. I think we are approaching a dangerous age of invisible music with MP3s. I am going to be very sad if that actually happens where you don’t hold a real album in your hand anymore.

PC: One day it might get there.

JW: That’s too bad. I hope not.

PC: Back in the glory days of vinyl an album was about 40 minutes long. Did it surprise you when you produced ‘Elephant’ on vinyl that it turned out to be a double album?

JW: Yeah, it was a way to keep it stronger. Once you go past 18 minutes on a side of vinyl you start to lose volume and bass. If someone goes to the trouble of buying vinyl we wanted them to get something nice. So we made it a double so the song quality was really good. Actually, the vinyl is better to get than the CD because the vinyl was cut directly from the two track master recordings. It is actually closer to the real recording than a CD would be because a CD has to go through digital equipment in order to burn it which is another extra step. Actually the vinyl is closer.

PC: You known you’ve just blown the rationale for billions of dollars of technology out the window.

JW: (laughs)

PC: Congratulations Jack.

JW: (laughs) Thankyou.

PC: And the album has six different covers.

JW: That’s right in different territories all over the world. It is just a way of knowing where something is coming from if someone had the you would know if it came from Australia or came from Japan or South America.

PC: The track ‘Seven Army Nations’ you have designated as the lead song.

JW: Yeah, yeah. It felt strong when we mixed the album down. It felt like it should be the first track on the album. It just felt like an opening, explosive thing. I thought it would be interesting to release that at first.

PC: Have you had a chance to road-test these songs yet?

JW: Not at all. We were keeping away from this material during the last year because we wanted something to look forward too. We were doing so many shows for ‘White Blood Cells’ and the albums before that. We wanted something to look forward too.

PC: ‘White Blood Cells’ was met with great media reaction around the world. Has the interest in that record pressured you into making something similar?

JW: Not at all. ‘Elephant’ is a good example that we were unaffected creatively. It felt like we were the same two people in the studio like we have always been. I think we have done a pretty good job of ignoring the unnecessary thoughts.

PC: There has been a lot of media reaction to White Stripes over the last couple of years. How do you handle it? Are you just the guy in a rock and roll band who doesn’t understand the attention?

JW: It is sort of best to just put it away and think about it later. I will enjoy it later in life. There is too much to think about right now to be concerned with what people think with what we are doing. Something is happening and it is electric and I want to feel that the vibration that is happening right now when I am onstage or recording. That is what I want to focus on. It is too hard to think about other peoples opinions all the time.

PC: Some website even printed a wedding certificate for you and Meg at one stage. Did you notice that?

JW: The world is a gossipy place and people are always interested in making up things. It is a problem that all bands have. If you have a male and a female member in a band people want there to be some sort of controversy when it is nothing of our doing really.

PC: Do you have a sense of humour about things like that?

JW: You just have to realise there is nothing you can do about that. The process is completely out of our hands. Someone showed me some press clippings they were saving for the band and they got a whole book of them in the last year. It was hundreds of pieces of articles and reviews and I swear only about 2% of it was actual interviews with the band. There was so much press generated about the band just by people writing about us on their own merit. It was so funny how out of control it is and how out of our hands it is.

PC: So do you feel like a rock star then?

JW: No (laughs) Not really (laughs). I don’t know if you can feel that way. You can only feel that way if you embrace your own ego and really try and live that fantasy. I don’t embrace that ego very much. I am scared of that ego. It worries me when I have to grab hold of it at times.

PC: At the end of the day White Stripes is a minimalist, garage rock and roll band.

JW: I think so, yeah.

PC: It’s not like you are putting together ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ is it.

JW: No, not at all.

PC: So on that level, it makes the media reaction all the more interesting.

JW: It is very bizarre. We still don’t understand that or know what the angle is. It is very interesting that they would even care.

PC: Is it true you have posed for wax figures at Madame Tussards?

JW: No, that was a joke someone made. (laughs). That is the funny thing. We are now at a point where people don’t even think that is strange.

PC: Do you feel like you are riding the crest of the new wave?

JW: It is hard to wrestle with labelling and be put into a theme sometimes. All I know is I am a Detroiter first and a songwriter second and a performer third. That is as far as I go.

PC; There’s a lot of great reaction to new wave bands and particularly out of Australia with The Vines, Jet, The Casanovas who are all out of Melbourne. Are you aware of these bands and agree you are all in a similar category?

JW: Yeah, I am totally aware of them and we were doing our best to support what was happening down under from the get go. We bought The Datsuns out on tour with us and we have played shows with The D4. Australia has some great bands. Lots of great rock and roll has come out of Australia in the past. The Scientists, AC/DC, there is some amazing rock and roll, especially in the 60s coming from Australia.

PC: So when you were a teenage kid living back home in Detroit were you listing to Australian bands other than AC/DC?

JW: I didn’t get into the more obscure things until later on. But AC/DC was happening somewhat for me.

PC: What’s happening touring wise for White Stripes?

JW: The album comes out in April and we are going to play shows in England first. Meg’s wrist is broken right now and she gets her cast off in a week. Then we do out first shows.

PC: How many celebrity signatures does she have on her cast?

JW: None, she is keeping it pure.

PC: None? C’mon.

JW: (laughs) None. I am kind of proud of her about that. That is kind of nice.

PC: I can’t believe that. She should get the Australian fans to sign it while she’s here. Take it home, cut it off and stick it on the wall.

JW: (laughs) Maybe so.

PC: Hey tell me about your Christmas song ‘Candy Cane Children’

JW: Oh yeah. We wanted to give a little gift to our fans. It was sort of in the tradition of The Beatles Christmas greetings, the 45s from the 60s that they used to put out.

PC: How did you distribute it?

JW: I am not so sure what happened with that. Only 3,000 copies were printed and they immediately sold out. Before I knew it I was on to 13 other things to worry about. I like it like that. You kind of look back and some crazy things happened while you were doing something and sometimes interesting, obscure things pop up that you can look back on and are funny.

PC: I love the song titles from ‘Elephant’. It seems like you must come up with a song title first and then write a song around it. As an example “The Hardest Button To Button”.

JW: Yeah, that’s true about that song. Sometimes that is how it happens. I will sit down at a piano and sometimes the first thing that comes out of my mouth is the title and the story at the same time. It is an interesting way to write a song. I don’t do it that way all the time.

PC: A lot of the great Meatloaf songs were written by Jim Steinman that way.

JW: Really, that’s pretty obvious. I can tell that.

PC: ‘Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine’. Now that’s a great line just by itself.

JW: (laughs) thanks. I suppose it is just about this tongue in cheek take on male and female relationships when things are bothering girls about headache medicine. Aspirin, Tylenol and things like that. Its like men can take anything like a sugar pill and it will make their headache go away but there is always some sort of special care for women. It is sort of a metaphor for taking the time to care for someone I guess.

PC: Did Meg inspire it?

JW: I don’t know. I normally give Meg the headaches, not take them away.

PC: And you’ve covered Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’. Have you heard from them yet?

JW: No, we haven’t. I am not sure they know about that yet. Possibly when the album comes out we will get a note or something. Meg wanted to do that one. It was one of her favourites of Bacharach. We were coming off the back of the Dusty Springfield version. We started to play it live and started to make it our own. I like the idea of keeping someone’s songs alive for the next generation if we can.

PC: The title that amuses me is “The Air Near My Fingers’. What could ever have been in your head to come up with that line?

JW: (laughs). That was where the title came at the end of the song actually, the opposite really. It just seemed to be whoever the character was in the song that was what was happening around him at the time.

PC: Will you be doing the European festivals this year?

JW: I don’t know. I’d like to do a lot less. We did a lot last year and it is not my favourite thing to do. We want to do less, do more intimate settings. I like smaller clubs when people are more forced to experience something. It is harder at a festival. I don’t think electricity and daylight mix really well.

PC: On a final note with all the world troubles right now, what is your opinion of America in Iraq?

JW: You know I really don’t know too much about it. I try to stay away from political thoughts. It is too much for me to think about. I am more socially minded on a personal level with people that I know and to embrace ideas in a worldwide sense is very hard for my mind. It confuses me too much. I try and stay away from it.

PC: But are you concerned as an American the reaction to America outside the USA?

JW: I suppose so, yeah but these things come and go in the world. It is like how do we look at Germans these days. Things come and go and next year we’ll all be crazy about the French or something. That’s what history is, you know.


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