According to Jack White, his critical preparation for going solo came by producing The Party Ain’t Over for Wanda Jackson in 2010. While The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather had featured co-songwriters and autonomous musicians, White was faced with the prospect of arranging and commanding a 12-piece band, then taking them out as Jackson’s backing band on a few tour dates. Previously he had been, he realised, worried about “about having an ego, expressing my ideas. I would wish this drumbeat had an extra snare hit in it, but it would look like I was bossing people around, so I’d just keep my mouth shut. Hopefully that stupid hang-up has gone.”
Isn’t it slightly dishonest to suggest you don’t have that kind of ego?
“It’s naïve of me at times to think that my name doesn’t mean more. I know when I go onstage with The Dead Weather, and I’m sitting behind the drums, that the majority of people there would like to see me play guitar. I know that, but I don’t want to do that. You guys might not know that what I am in my head is a drummer.”
How do you think this record fits in with what you’ve done before?
“For a long time I always thought the rule is: be in a famous band like The White Stripes; when the famous band is done, make solo records for the rest of your life, and die. That’s the showbiz rule. People say, ‘Alright Jack, I like The Dead Weather, but can you please make the solo record?’ You look back now at the Cream albums; someone at the time might have called Cream a side project, but to me that’s the best thing Clapton ever did. In 20 years, someone will think that about The Dead Weather. Time changes people’s perception of that sort of stuff.”
So are you going to play old songs on tour?
“Yeah I’m gonna do everything from my career. The Raconteurs never played any White Stripes songs, The Dead Weather never played any Raconteurs songs. But if I saw Lou Reed perform and he didn’t play any Velvet Underground songs, I’d be a little disappointed. Now the ticket says ‘Jack White’ on it, I think I can finally do the songs I feel are mine.
A lot of the songs on Blunderbuss seem to deal with sexual politics.
“We all think that we don’t have prejudices about males and females, that it’s a level playing field. But I think that is completely untrue and will never be the case. There’ll always be preconceptions in people’s minds about what they see, whether it’s a beautiful girl or a girl that’s homely, a person who’s an amazingly technical musician compared with one who can barely string two notes together.
“We go onstage and present things for you to judge, that’s what we do. I can pretend that I’m just going onstage and playing my song and it’s totally pure. Bullshit! I’m selling myself, I’m selling the way I look, I’m selling the way the song sounds, I’m selling the story that I’m telling in the song.”
One of the main responses that Blunderbuss is going to attract is that it’s the Jack White confession record, the divorce record [White and Karen Elson, singer and model, announced their divorce with a party in June 2011]. He’s come clean! There’s no brother and sister routine, this is the real him…
“If me and Alison [Mosshart] had been caught in some motel somewhere, we’d be on the cover of every magazine in Britain and The Dead Weather would have sold a million records [hysterical laughter]. We have to acknowledge that the outside story influences everything. If I’d called it Jack White instead of The Dead Weather… I mean come on, I could call this album The White Stripes. Maybe I should’ve done that…”
But let’s be straight about this, you’ve written a bunch of songs about the inconstancy of women and the problems of machismo, you’ve written a song about adultery, and it’s public knowledge that you got divorced last year. It’s not a great leap of faith on the part of listeners to think, aha, here’s the Soul Stripped Bare.
“But the funny thing is they’ll see the credits and see that Karen [Elson] sings on three of these songs. Now what are you gonna do?”
You have a track record in this…
He cracks his knuckles. There is a rare pause. “Write my press release for the record. Is it smart to say who’s played on the record? Is it smart to say Patrick Keeler [Raconteurs drummer] and Jack Lawrence [Raconteurs and Dead Weather bassist] played on one song, or is it smart to say that Karen Elson sang on three songs? That’s where we are all the time, and I don’t mind that. I don’t mind whatever gets thought about this record this month, because a year from now any reviewer would write a different review of this same record.”
When did you write these songs?
“Most of them in the last six months of last year, written and recorded. But this is the first album I didn’t do all at once. I mostly write when it’s time to write, and I didn’t think I was going to do a record like this for five or six years.”
What did you think you were going to do?
“Just produce 45s. That’s all I wanted to do. My kids are young [Scarlett Teresa, five, and Henry Lee, four] and I want to be with them at this age so that I don’t regret it later.”
Do you think you could’ve made this record if The White Stripes still existed?
“No. Absolutely not. I wouldn’t even have considered it, and that was a reason for me and Meg to have a discussion and finally say that the band was officially over. I said, ‘Look I’m doing other things now, and eventually I’m going to do a solo record and I don’t wanna tell them a week before I put out that record that, by the way, The White Stripes aren’t around anymore.’ Because then it looks like I’m exploiting that band to sell this record.”
Would you rather be sitting here, with Meg by your side, promoting a new White Stripes record?
“I think that I’m supposed to do this right now. If you’d asked me before I started I’d say probably not, and probably the best way to fulfil myself would have been to do the White Stripes. But now I feel this has happened exactly the way it should have.”
Can you be specific about the thing you’re most proud of with The White Stripes?
“I still can’t believe that anyone cares about that band. For a long time I thought, ‘We’re popular, wow, that means we’re not good. We’re doing something wrong, we fucked up.’”