The Dead Weather is the latest freewheeling project for Detroit-bred musician Jack White, who relocated to Nashville in 2006.
White sounds relaxed but energized as the group, which includes band mates Alison Mosshart (the Kills), Jack Lawrence (the Greenhornes, the Raconteurs) and Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age), winds its way across the country on this latest tour supporting its sophomore album, “Sea of Cowards.”
Life has been a whirl for White since landing in Nashville. With the White Stripes on and off hiatus, he’s kept his hands in a slew of pots: forming new bands the Raconteurs and Dead Weather, ramping up his Third Man label with a bustling store and studio, diving into collaborations with the likes of Loretta Lynn and rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson.
It’s the Dead Weather that has kept the bulk of his attention for the past year. Spawned from informal jam sessions at the Third Man complex — White is the band’s drummer — the group found itself with a set of songs that became the album “Horehound,” and hit the road facing a world that wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all.
“We’re in a studio and working together, the four of us all writing in the room together — it’s the first time I’ve been in a band that does that — and we sort of have our own little world going on,” he says. “And it’s strange to walk outside the studio and have to say to each other, ‘Oh, that’s right, we have to give this away now to everybody, and they have all those preconceptions of who we are, and the other bands we’ve been in, etc.’ So that becomes our challenge to try to overcome that. But it’s almost an impossible task. It’s not really something that can be achieved, you know. We just have to go out and play. There’s not much we can do about all those preconceptions.”
The new album has met a more positive reception, bringing cohesion to the lusty, tempestuous rock introduced on the debut album. Recorded in spurts last year, the 11-song effort was issued in May, just 10 months after “Horehound.”
That quick turnaround was a product of the band’s creative momentum — “the songs just kept coming and coming,” says White — but it also meshes with his ideas about the way music can work in the modern era.
“I have a grand idea in my head — and I don’t know if it’s true — but I have this feeling that the short attention span provoked and encouraged by the Internet will translate itself to music in some way,” he says, “and people will produce more, and albums will come out two or three times a year like they used to 30 years ago.”
White thinks in broad strokes like that: Concepts get chewed on. But when it comes to career planning, he prefers to keep it loose.
“When we started recording the Dead Weather, we had no plans to make an album, no plans to go on tour, no plans to start a new band. Definitely no plans to put out a second album 10 months later,” he says. “It’s all been off-the-cuff. And I don’t know what I’m going to do when I go home after this tour. Those guys are going on to the Kills and Queens of the Stone Age, and I’m going back to finish Wanda Jackson’s record, and then I don’t know what. Maybe another White Stripes record within a month. I really just don’t know.”
But that spontaneity shouldn’t be translated as disregard for detail, and that’s clear when he reflects on the White Stripes’ early years. The duo’s cryptic color schemes, mythology and hands-off relationship with the press were all part of a carefully orchestrated concept — a showbiz sensibility, he says, that “I still have inside me.”
“The easy way to rebel early on for us, the White Stripes, was not to give out information like everybody else was doing, and not give it to them in the way they wanted it,” he says. “Rock ‘n’ roll and punk rock rebelled in 50,000 ways, and what’s left? There’s not much left. The thing that always bugs me as a person, as a creator of things, is that (music acts) are sort of giving everything away, which seems to be anti-showbiz, in a sense.”
White is fond of the old-school approach, when “all those (showbiz) rules made sense.” But he’s still an artist underneath it all.
“I mean, I’m breaking one of the big ones right now for music, which is to not stray away from the idea that works: I should be a good little puppy and just make White Stripes records for the rest of my life. That’s what you’re supposed to do,” he says. “We don’t want Mick Jagger making solo records. We want him to be in the Rolling Stones. But that’s where, I guess, me as a producer of records collides with me the performer and the songwriter.”
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