Still playing by his own rules
Jack White broke the mould with his latest record with the help of Aussie oddity CW Stoneking, writes Mikey Cahill
RULES are made to be broken. It’s a very rock’n’roll attitude, one that certified rock star Jack White can relate to.
“I make my own rules so I can bend them,” corrects the 42-year-old Detroit creative.
White is a songwriter, label boss of Third Man Records, talent scout, producer and furniture upholster.
The man who came up with the Seven Nation Army riff while soundchecking in Australia (more on that later) also harbours an ambition to be something else.
Deep down, White would like to be a badass rapper.
“There’s more freedom in hip-hop than punk rock ever had,” says the always-dapper, virtually-inexhaustible fellow. We can be thankful he hasn’t done an Ed Sheeran and spat verses about Galway girls. Warning: he does have a crack on funk burner Ice Station Zebra
from his new album Boarding House Reach: “In prison you can learn a lesson from the analog to the hot box session.”
“You can say you’re the greatest rapper alive but what if you were a punk-rock guitarist who said you were the greatest guitarist alive? Then people would say ‘Whoa, wait a minute’,” he says, a guffaw escaping his less-serious-than-you-think frame.
A recent New Yorker profile titled “Jack White’s Infinite Imagination” detailed his many wild ideas and flights of fancy, including owning an issue of Action Comics No. 1, from 1938, which includes the first appearance of Superman, that cost him nearly $2 million.
We wouldn’t be speaking today if The White Stripes hadn’t existed for six stunning albums. They had two rules.
Three colours: red white and black. And three instruments: drums, guitar and vocals.
Meg White called time on The White Stripes in 2011 (citing anxiety issues) which led Jack off to form other bands: The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather and embark on a solo career, now three records deep, Blunderbuss (2012), Lazaretto
(2014) and ‘Reach.
Boarding House Reach taps into a new language, that of our own CW Stoneking, the deep south wanderer, sleep mouth ponderer. He does spoken word on Abulia and Akrasia.
“He’s absolutely incredible. He’s one of those people I can’t
“HE’S ONE OF THOSE I CAN’T BELIEVE EXISTS, HE’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. ”
believe exists, he’s too good to be true. I wrote him a poem and luckily he could come over when he was in NY. I didn’t know if it was gonna work.”
Stoneking swallows a dictionary, saying vehemently, repudiation and irrevocably.
“It’s almost like you’re talking to a ghost,” White says.
Abulia and Akrasia is a hard sell but eventually it pops.
Boarding House Reach is like that, a white-knuckle ride through grandiose, stomping blues (Connected By Love),
bleepy piano jazz-funk
(Hypermisophoniac) and scuzzy noir (Over and Over and Over), with many songs crying out for choruses.
White and his band are busy on their own trip. Rules are bent right out of shape.
“I often read about other artists and what they’re doing but modern singers don’t seem to put rules down. I don’t say I’m gonna make a calypso LP but I set up rules then take control.”
Would he make a calypso record with CW Stoneking?
“That actually sounds great,” he says, taking a mental note.
White last toured Australia in 2012 with his solo project and not one but two bands. One male, the other female.
“It was probably one of the best artistic experiments I’ve been involved in,” he says, buffering. “It was very, very trying on everybody.
“If human beings are good at being creative they’ll have competition in them and will want to play it differently the next night,” he says.
White has more than a healthy level of competition. He had a heated altercation with The Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney at an NYC bar in 2015. It wasn’t a good look.
Now a divorced father of two (Scarlett and Henry), the hothead has mellowed. A little.
“If I’m watching Saturday Night Live and I see a band, I want them to blow me away and be entertained but I also want them to do something ...” he pauses, choosing his words like guitar picks, “that inspires me to take the next step with what I’m doing.”
Sometimes inspiration hits when you’re tuning up.
“I’ll always remember the Corner Hotel in Melbourne as the place I wrote the riff for Seven Nation Army at soundcheck. That obviously changed my life,” he says, laughing uproariously.
Writing a mega-hit at soundcheck?
That’s one way to rule.
US SINGERSONGWRITER JACK WHITE HAS JUST RELEASED HIS THIRD SOLO ALBUM.
HEAR BOARDING HOUSE REACH (Third Man/Colombia) out now