- 13 Apr 04
The Von Bondies were finally vindicated when Jack White pleaded guilty to assaulting their lead singer last month. Oh, and they’ve just released one of the albums of the year.
Cast your mind back to an instalment of CD:UK about six weeks ago. In the background, two women and two men wait to begin playing on a darkened stage, heads bowed; in the foreground, golden and glittering, is your host, Cat Deeley.
“Our next guests made the headlines last December when their lead singer got into a fist fight with Jack White of the White Stripes,” Deeley informs us, as if the brawl that left Jason Stollsteimer requiring two eye operations was not actually all that different to the more usual CD:UK scoops about chart positions and inter-band collaborations (the kind that don’t end in court dates).
So this surely hasn’t been the way anyone would hope to send their second – and really quite wonderful – album out into the world.
“It is really disappointing and unfortunate,” sighs Bondies bassist Carrie Smith, whose blazing sophomore LP, Pawn Shoppe Heart, is somewhat ironically “about the important relationships in your life and how they change though the years.”
Depending on whom you believe about the night White and Stollsteimer came to blows in Detroit club The Magic Stick last December, either (a) there were two of them in it and Jack was acting in “self-defence” (his words) or (b) Jason was angrily approached by Jack, who then became infuriated to the point of fisticuffs when Jason refused to speak to him. The result of the March 9 court case, however (Jack pleads guilty to assault and battery, pays a fine, agrees not to contact Stollsteimer again and is ordered, hilariously, to attend anger management classes; Stollsteimer is not charged at all) certainly seems to bear out the Von Bondies frontman’s version of events.
“Yeah. Well, I was standing right there that night,” Carrie says. “So, y’know, I knew from the get-go what the real truth was. And so when he tried to say that it was self-defence, I mean, we obviously kinda knew that wasn’t true.”
So what exactly was his beef with Jason?
“You know, I can’t tell you,” says Carrie, in damned-if-I-know tones. “I’m not him, and I don’t know what he thinks in his mind. I didn’t hear the verbal part of the altercation, so I don’t even know what he was trying to… scream at Jason.”
So what’s going on? Rumour: it was over the Bondies’ guitarist Marcie Bolen, an ex of White’s and an alleged “possibly” of Stollsteimer’s. This is unlikely, as Marcie and White’s subsequent girlfriend, Renee Zellweger, get along just fine, and Stollsteimer has gone on record as saying that every song he has ever sung has been about the same woman: his on-off childhood sweetheart, whom he married in 2003. Rumour: that Pawn Shoppe Heart is full of disses on the Detroit music scene. Close listens reveal nothing more vicious than an affectionate pisstake of Ben Swank of the Soledad Brothers (in the shape of hilarious, dog-howlingly depressive blues screamer ‘Been Swank’) which Swank reportedly loves and requests at gigs, and ‘Broken Man’, which refers to the “broken land called Detroit city” (“It’ll always be home to me, but you know, it’s a tough, tough city’, Carrie explains). That’s it. There’s certainly no hidden track called, perhaps in homage to the Flaming Lips, ‘Fuck You Jack White’.
“Believe me, there’s no intentional potshots on anyone,” Carrie assures us.
The most popular and credible theory, which Carrie herself suggests, is: “Some people were saying it was because we were a bit critical of the production of Lack Of Communication [the Bondies’ debut album, which Jack White co-produced]” – and indeed, Jason is quoted as saying the Bondies “were never happy with the sound of our first record” on no less than the official Pawn Shoppe Heart press release. But, as Carrie explains, the fact that Lack was lacking was chiefly down to the band’s then-newness and inexperience.
“The record captures us at a certain point in our careers,” she reflects, “and in hindsight we do kinda look at it and go, ‘Ooh,’ you know, we wish that it could be better. But that’s what new records are about.”
Sure enough, Pawn Shoppe Heart is a huge step forward from their debut: it finally delivers, in spades, on the promise of their blistering performance at Green Energy 2002 (which, with sad irony, they were invited to play in a spirit of proud Motor City solidarity by Jack White).
Before we have a chance to put it to Carrie that, as more than one cynic has written, the events of last December could certainly be viewed, from a marketing-department point of view, as the best thing that ever happened to the Von Bondies, Carrie pre-empts us, a little sadly.
“Personally, I can’t look at [any of this] in a good light,” she says. “You know, someone that I care about was attacked, and that’s seriously not cool. But we also really believe in our record. It started to get airplay and good reviews before any of this happened, and we know people are eventually going to get tired of it. At that point the record will speak for itself.”
Pawn Shoppe Heart is out now on Sire