- 26 Jul 19
"It's really cool to be part of, especially when you're in a band where you get along and are inspired by one another." - Jack White
“A typical day in the studio? Well, we all start by rubbing Brendan’s back and then get Brendan his paper and slippers…. “ Jack White breaks into giggles before composing himself.”No way! There’s too much to do! It’s a great place to be, if you’re ever in a studio and you’re sitting there for an hour and a half and you don’t know what to do - you’re in a bad place!”
He and fellow Raconteur Brendan Benson are chatting to Hot Press about Help Us Stranger, the band’s first album in 11 years. Throughout our exchange the pair are effusive and playful, their natural chemistry obvious, as is the excitement at their return - the catalyst for which can be traced to the track ‘Shine The Light On Me’.
“I tried to record that song in a studio in LA with a whole band of people I had never met before,” explains Jack. “Something seemed off and it occurred to me it sounded like a Raconteurs track. So I thought I’d ask Brendan - at that stage I didn’t know when we were gonna record again. I played it for him when he came by the house. He comes by to pick up a cheque once a week, he does the laundry and whatnot. But luckily Patrick (Keller - drummer) was on tour and happened to be in town and we all got together.”
And how have things changed in the intervening years? “I think I can speak for all of us when I say we’ve all just grown and accumulated more knowledge and experience,” states Brendan. “I learnt so much from working with different bands, writing and recording with them. I know Patrick and LJ (‘Little’ Jack Lawrence - bass) had so much more to offer. Patrick’s drumming is better than ever.” The new record is also much more of a band effort than previous releases.
“What’s really cool about this album is that all four of us produced it together - it wasn’t like the first album where it was mostly me and Brendan,” says Jack. “Patrick and LJ are quite shy and reserved people but they’re not anymore and they’re very involved in the decision making now - everything from reverb and compression to the order of the mix of the songs to the artwork. It was great to have all four of us putting our heads together.”
White also enjoys the energy and dynamic of creating music in a group scenario.
“When you work by yourself, there’s no one that says ‘come on let’s do this now!’” he adds. “You have to do that yourself, it’s so much easier in a group situation. There’s also more people coming up with ideas which really takes the pressure off. It’s really cool to be a part of, especially when you’re in a band where you get along and are inspired by one another. I bet if you’re in a band where everyone hates each other’s guts - it must be the worst experience in the world. But luckily, everyone in this band trusts each other a lot.”
The troupe are also relishing the return to live performance. So far this year they have played headline and festival dates in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Europe.
“We really didn’t know what to think,” admits Brendan. “We thought it would be our fans from ten years ago just ten years older but there’s been a tonne of kids just loving rock ‘n’ roll. And it helps that we’re doing the phone-free shows.”
In this era when mobile devices are akin to another limb what has been the response to this bold decision? “It’s been amazing, people are raving about it,” gushes Brendan. “They’re not only saying the shows are incredible but how much more they are enjoying them. I’m happy to hear it because that’s how we grew up, going to shows with all senses firing, going home with memories we’ll never forget”
The first Raconteurs show back after the hiatus was Jack’s Third Man Records 10th Anniversary Show in Nashville. What has been his proudest achievement helming the label? “Oh my goodness I’d have to think about that,” he exclaims. “We’re about 600 records in, the label has won Grammys, put out amazing box sets of blues artists, re-releases of Elvis’ first recording and played the first vinyl record in outer space! It’s just wild.” One highlight for Jack occurred in 2017 when U2 teamed up with the label for Record Store Day to release a 12” version of ‘The Blackout’.
“Oh man that was just great! “ he enthuses. “The Edge and I started up a friendship after we made that film It Might Get Loud together. I remember telling The Edge at the end of the filming that I used to listen ‘Mysterious Ways’ on my headphones in high school before I went to bed. It was like, ‘I just wanted to let you know that we’ve traversed through time and space that I’m now talking to you about the guitar for some reason’. U2 just wanted to do something really raw and rock ‘n’ roll at Third Man. It was very, very cool.”
On the subject of anniversaries, The White Stripes’ first album celebrates its 20th birthday this year. What are Jack’s memories of the creation of this seminal confection?
“Yeah, the anniversary was yesterday,” he nods. “I remember we had 250 bucks and five or six days to make it. It’s a record that White Stripes fans would go back after we released more albums and still see it as the best one we did. It’s very raw and very Detroit sounding, it’s almost like a time capsule for Detroit garage rock.”
“I think there were three songs I recorded myself at home,” he continues. “It really gave me confidence, realising that I could record, produce and engineer things myself with a tiny bit of equipment - without being a gearhead and going crazy down that road. And then the next album, I recorded all that myself in my own home. Then all those steps led to other things and then The Raconteurs became a reality because me and Brendan wanted to work together.”
Before our time expires I point out there are no Irish dates scheduled.
“Coming soon!” quips Jack cheerfully.
I for one, cannot wait.
Help Us Stranger is out now.