Jack White

Why he’s bid farewell to “Mr Old Timey Ana­logue Guy”

UNCUT - - Contents - Photo by theon del­gado

To Liver­pool, where Uncut joins JACK WHITE in his on­go­ing bat­tle against com­pla­cency. White has spent 2018 tour­ing in sup­port of his Board­ing House Reach al­bum, the lat­est chap­ter in a re­mark­able ca­reer of in­ven­tion and rein­ven­tion. Here, he re­flects on the need to be con­trary, and the highs and lows of 2018. We hear about au­dio­phile scams with The White Stripes, the re­turn of The Ra­con­teurs and why there’s no more “Mr Old-Timey Ana­logue Guy”. As he tells Peter Watts, “It’s about putting my­self in un­com­fort­able places and see­ing what hap­pens.”

J ack White sips his sec­ond cup of cof­fee and looks out over the Liver­pool sky­line. al­though it is early af­ter­noon, White has only been up a few hours. He had stayed up all night, he ex­plains, catch­ing up on base­ball. The World Se­ries play-offs are tak­ing place while White is on his lat­est Euro­pean tour, so ev­ery night af­ter the show he re­tires to his ho­tel room or tour bus and watches the day’s game un­til 6am. “This is proof that I don’t plan ahead be­cause I would never tour dur­ing base­ball play-off sea­son,” he laughs, a man who loves the sport so much he co-owns a com­pany that makes base­ball bats.

Even with­out the on-field tri­als of his beloved Detroit Tigers, 2018 has proved event­ful for White. as the af­ter­noon pro­gresses, he talks at length about the year’s as­sorted projects – al­bum, bands, tours, the ex­otic em­a­na­tions from his Third Man em­pire – as well as the long-an­tic­i­pated re­turn of The Ra­con­teurs be­fore tak­ing us to meet his band. Later that evening, he charges around the stage of the city’s Echo arena like a de­mented buf­falo. al­though it’s the penul­ti­mate date of the tour, there’s no in­di­ca­tion our host is lack­ing en­thu­si­asm – and crit­i­cally, there’s no sign from the packed house that ear­lier this year he re­leased the most con­tro­ver­sial record of his ca­reer.

March’s Board­ing House Reach, White’s third solo al­bum, gained him an Amer­i­can No 1, but it also left a few peo­ple scratch­ing their heads. Along­side bluesy sludge-rock like “Over And Over And Over” came dig­i­tal ef­fects, spo­ken word and a bold at­tempt at rap­ping. This was ev­i­dently not the record ex­pected from an artist who has spent the last two decades staunchly per­fect­ing his punk blues­man per­sona. Even friends were con­flicted. “They would come by when I was mix­ing,” White re­calls. “They’d say ‘Holy shit, that’s amaz­ing!’ Then five min­utes later, ‘Oh my God… are you re­ally putting that on the record?’

“I knew this record would be di­vi­sive,” he con­tin­ues. “There would be songs that peo­ple didn’t like. There were three spo­ken word songs. It was a way of mak­ing things harder for my­self, putting hand grenades in front of my­self.”

Ben Swank, one of the three own­ers of Third Man, was one of those ad­vo­cat­ing increased strange­ness. “It needed to be over-the-top and packed with ideas,” he says. “He didn’t need to make Blun­der­buss 3 at this point in his ca­reer.”

That ‘ca­reer’ has so far in­volved 14 stu­dio al­bums spread over four dif­fer­ent bands and cover­ing mul­ti­ple gen­res. White touches on all of them dur­ing the show in Liver­pool. He also plays with­out a setlist, re­ly­ing in­stead on the crowd’s re­ac­tion to guide him. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to see how this works at close quar­ters, as White takes his cues from the mood of the room. But even from the side of the stage, it’s hard to see how he com­mu­ni­cates his in­ten­tions with his band. “I’d say it’s ESP but I don’t think he be­lieves in that,” says Swank. “He’s wired into a kind of psy­chic un­der­stand­ing. When you watched The White Stripes there was very lit­tle com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween Jack and Meg, it might just be a raised eye­brow. The way he plays with no setlist and a high de­gree of im­pro­vi­sa­tion and no safety net, there has to be a de­gree that th­ese dudes get it. That stretches out across ev­ery­thing, from the band to the la­bel to ev­ery­body he works with in all the dif­fer­ent ar­eas.” With such a vast, far-reach­ing em­pire, you might won­der how White stays on top of all this. Al­though it’s often tempt­ing to peg him as an in­flex­i­ble tra­di­tion­al­ist – that ded­i­ca­tion to ana­logue equip­ment, the uni­forms, the ob­ses­sion with the num­ber three – but per­haps the ran­dom na­ture of Board­ing House Reach is more indica­tive of his mind­set than you might ex­pect. White re­sponds in­stinc­tively, but then drills down into the fine de­tail to get what he wants. “I worry that I’m way too spon­ta­neous,” he con­fesses. “I can’t plan even five days ahead. Now my friends have chil­dren, I call them and say I want to see a movie. They say they need five or six days’ warn­ing. I have kids but I can make it hap­pen. I don’t have that level of plan­ning. Spon­tane­ity is al­most a dis­ease.” Al­though White is very much his own man, Swank ac­knowl­edges that Neil Young might be an “an­tecedent”. “There isn’t a tem­plate but they are both like light­ning rods trans­lat­ing what­ever comes to them at any given times,” says Swank. “I like artists that

“Friends said, are you re­ally putting that on the record?” Jack white

sur­prise me and I still pick up most Neil Young records be­cause at last he is still try­ing to do dif­fer­ent stuff all the time. What’s the al­ter­na­tive? Do you want a com­pla­cent artist who isn’t try­ing to do any­thing dif­fer­ent?”

“Peo­ple think I’m some kind of con­trol freak,” says White. “But I’ve never stood and told a song what to do – you are go­ing to be this kind of song, and then put stuff in, force it to em­u­late some kind of song from the past. Peo­ple want to put you in the box, it’s eas­ier for them, and so I be­came Mr OldTimey Ana­logue Guy. Then you do some­thing dif­fer­ent, as I al­ways have, and they are thrown.” W HITE’S live band in­clude a mix of old friends and new faces. Uncut talks to all four mu­si­cians in var­i­ous lo­ca­tions – ho­tel rooms, back­stage and on the tour bus, a sur­pris­ingly plush ve­hi­cle with two lounges, a well–stocked kitchen and bunks. “We talk constantly about the de­sign of tour buses,” says key­board player Neal Evans, who has a shock of white hair be­neath a base­ball cap that reads HU­MAN BE­ING. “This one is very well de­signed.” Evans is one of the new faces, ini­tially re­cruited for the

Board­ing House Reach ses­sions. The al­bum was recorded with more than a dozen other mu­si­cians, and in Jan­uary, White chose the band to ac­com­pany him on the road. “There were, like, four key­board play­ers on the record­ings and at first I wanted to bring them all out and take turns, but I needed to con­dense it down to some­thing work­able,” White ex­plains.

The play­ers on the al­bum had been a mix­ture of “high-level pro­fi­cient mu­si­cians and more pri­mal au­to­di­dacts”, says bassist Char­lotte Kemp Muhl – one half of The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger with Sean Len­non, and who places her­self in the lat­ter cat­e­gory. Muhl first met White at Beastie Boy Adam Yauch’s funeral in 2012. She played in ses­sions in New York and de­scribes them as “very ca­sual... I thought he would be re­ally in­tense like James Brown but he was quite the op­po­site.” She says it was like a “cool lit­tle fam­ily”. This sen­ti­ment comes up re­peat­edly – the sense that White, the youngest of 10, builds teams he can trust but whose com­pany he can en­joy. Muhl says that as a pro­ducer, White is a “horse whis­perer”, qui­etly sup­port­ive. Even when be­ing in­ter­viewed, he of­fers sev­eral “good ques­tion” nods by way of en­cour­age­ment.

The al­bum was recorded by two dif­fer­ent bands – one in New York and the other in LA – and then fin­ished at White’s stu­dio in Nashville. A big in­flu­ence was White’s ex­pe­ri­ence on 2016’s A Tribe Called Quest al­bum, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4

Your Ser­vice. White wanted to record with hip-hop and R&B artists who could play live. He watched YouTube videos and then signed up con­trib­u­tors like Kanye West bassist NeonPhoenix. “I wanted peo­ple I’d never played with be­fore,” he says. “Peo­ple who would re­ally branch out. If you are play­ing a song with a coun­try struc­ture with a room of coun­try mu­si­cians, it’s go­ing to be a coun­try song. But if you do that same song with R&B mu­si­cians it can be to­tally dif­fer­ent, and that’s the space I was look­ing for. It’s a very spe­cific kind of mu­si­cian who can em­u­late songs that were prob­a­bly made from sam­ples and con­structed by a pro­ducer. That was the type of mu­si­cian I thought would be fun to record with.”

One was Louis Cato, who has recorded with Q-Tip and played drums, bass and gui­tar on Board­ing House Reach. Cato played in New York with Muhl, key­boardist Neal

Evans and per­cus­sion­ist Bobby Al­lende. “You do a rock ses­sions with rock cats, it’s a dif­fer­ent kind of fun,” ex­plains Cato. “You do a rock ses­sion with a bass player who is a singer-song­writer and a key­boardist from funk and a Cuban per­cus­sion­ist – it makes for a dif­fer­ent soup. It is clam chow­der ver­sus gumbo. But Jack is the through line for all the places the record goes.”

When the al­bum came out, some were sur­prised White used so much synth and elec­tronic per­cus­sion and edited with Pro Tools. It seemed this was a be­trayal from a man who had once boasted about us­ing the old­est equip­ment around. White says this read­ing is not en­tirely ac­cu­rate. “When we did Ele­phant, we told ev­ery­body that all the equip­ment we used was made be­fore 1963 but that was re­ally just a joke to us,” he says. “It was a funny line for the press re­lease, we didn’t even know it was true. It was ana­logue, it was done on an eight-track and very raw but when you say cer­tain things peo­ple seize on them and sud­denly I was some­body who only worked on old equip­ment, like ev­ery­thing I do is so dog­matic.”

For the tour, White brought in two key­boardists from the ses­sions, LA-based Quincy McCrary from Un­known Mor­tal Or­ches­tra and New York’s Neal Evans of Soulive. They were teamed with White’s live rhythm sec­tion – Do­minic Davis, a friend since school in Detroit, and drum­mer Carla Azar, who has known White since her band Au­tolux opened for the White Stripes. The live band in­cluded mem­bers from all ses­sions, as well as two old and two new mem­bers, two white and two black. That bal­ance might be co­in­ci­dence, but with White it feels de­lib­er­ate.

The be­quiffed Davis first per­formed with White in a high school duo called The Fuck Ups, play­ing surf and blues cov­ers. Even then, he says, White was ex­per­i­men­tal. On one oc­ca­sion, Davis came back from col­lege to find that White had turned a cup­board into a record­ing booth and stuck a plas­tic cup on the mic to get a rat­tle. But there was also a strain of tra­di­tion­al­ism. “I pulled out one of our tapes at Third Man the other day,” Davis says. “It was, like, seven Bob Dy­lan cov­ers.” The pair had dis­cov­ered clas­sic rock in their early teens, and by the time they were 16 were al­ready get­ting deep into Howlin’ Wolf and Chess blues. “Play­ing with Jack is spe­cial for me be­cause Jack’s is the first voice I ever heard on a record­ing,” says Davis. “He will still play some­thing by Link Wray or Dick Dale that we first learned to­gether as kids. Ev­ery­thing Jack does is what he has in­gested com­ing back out. Whether it’s surf rock, blues, garage, hip-hop or soul.”

In her dress­ing room at the Echo Arena, Carla Azar sits on a couch in semi-dark­ness. You could be for­given for think­ing the gloom is de­lib­er­ate, bring­ing some Goth cool to the in­ter­view, but the an­swer is more mun­dane. The lights aren’t work­ing. The all-ac­tion Azar has a dif­fer­ent drum­ming style to Meg White, but she and White en­joy a sim­i­lar bond. Dur­ing shows, he constantly ca­reers over to her side of the stage, tim­ing his power chords with her beats and send­ing a cym­bal crash­ing to the floor in the fi­nale. At times, it feels as if they are the only two mu­si­cians on the stage.

Azar has a dead­pan sense of hu­mour and drums in bare feet. Be­fore the show, she gives an in­di­ca­tion of White’s record­ing style. “He loves throw­ing peo­ple

to­gether and mak­ing a sit­u­a­tion,” she says. “He’ll never stop an idea be­fore he’s heard it through. He can al­ways press delete at the end – that’s where he has the con­trol.” White works fast – some­times com­plet­ing a take be­fore Azar has set­tled on the part she wants to play. So she’s learnt to make de­lib­er­ate mis­takes, forc­ing him to go back and do an­other take. “I trick him into play­ing what I re­ally want to play,” she grins. “I’ve never told him that – put it in, he’ll love it.”

For Evans and McCrary, the chance to tour with White was un­ex­pected and ex­cit­ing. They had played their re­spec­tive ses­sions and ex­pected to hear noth­ing more, but then get a call from White’s tour man­ager, Lalo. The chal­lenge in re­hearsal was in­cor­po­rat­ing th­ese new mem­bers as well as the com­plex sounds of

Board­ing House Reach with­out sur­ren­der­ing White’s love of im­pro­vi­sa­tion. Some songs took time to work out. Wear­ing dark glasses to shield him­self from the late au­tumn sun, McCrary says, “On ‘Con­nected By Love’ we use a dif­fer­ent key­board to the one on the record and it took a few shows to get that right. It wasn’t heavy enough, it wasn’t sit­ting well, then fi­nally we got it and Jack turned round and said, ‘That’s it! Don’t move it from that po­si­tion!’”

Azar had it hard­est, White ad­mits. The new songs often had two or three drum­mers, and she had to learn to sam­ple her­self and then play over the top of her own loop. McCrary and Evans, mean­while, had to get to grips with the “no setlist” pol­icy, which meant learn­ing pretty much ev­ery song in the White canon – The White Stripes, solo, Dead Weather and The Ra­con­teurs – plus any cov­ers he might throw in given his mood. As the new band pre­pared for their de­but at Third Man in Nashville, the laid­back Neal Evans says he could tell White was ner­vous. Sprawled on a sofa on the tour bus, Evans re­lates what hap­pens next. “I said, ‘We got your back, man. We got your back.’ Then we went out there and it was like a bomb went off.” R EgINA McCrary mulls over the char­ac­ter­is­tics that Jack White shares with Bob Dy­lan. McCrary has, af­ter all, sung with them both. She toured with Dy­lan be­tween 1979 and 1985. For White, mean­while, she and her sis­ter Ann pro­vided back­ing vo­cals for three songs on Board­ing House Reach; then she ap­peared on TV with sis­ters Deb­o­rah and Al­freda back­ing White on Satur­day Night Live and The Tonight Show

With Jimmy Fal­lon. gospel singers from Nashville, the sis­ters were un­fa­mil­iar with their lat­est ad­mirer. “I’d heard Jack’s name but not his mu­sic,” says Regina. “I liked his style. It was like when I met Bob Dy­lan. I didn’t know who he was and he was stand­ing right in front of me and I was think­ing, ‘Who is that white man?’ It’s kind of like how we met Jack, he was there in the stu­dio but we didn’t know he was Jack. But just like I fell in love with Bob Dy­lan, I fell in love with Jack. He’s downto-earth and real, very cre­ative. A good per­son, not hard to talk to or work with at all.”

In Lon­don, White played a free solo show at the ge­orge Inn in Bor­ough – Lon­don’s old­est ex­ist­ing coach­ing inn, which White chose in a nod to the al­bum ti­tle. He was also con­nect­ing with some more per­sonal his­tory. “I wanted to play a small club like we had with the 100 Club years ago,” he says, re­fer­ring to the White Stripe’s leg­endary Lon­don ar­rival in 2001. “It re­ally was elec­tric, and so hot in that room, we were just sweat­ing stand­ing still. It was a great one, be­cause we thought it was just an­other gig and it was 100 times more im­pact­ful or ex­cit­ing than we thought it would be. You don’t get those mo­ments very much in mu­sic. We’d al­ready done three al­bums and thought it was just some­thing a few peo­ple in each town would like. I had no as­pi­ra­tions, we just thought it was go­ing to be nice to have this one time in our lives when we could play a few shows in Eng­land.”

White wears the legacy of The White Stripes well. He plays their songs on stage with­out hold­ing back, and many ideas first tri­alled with the band re­main in­tact – the im­pro­vi­sa­tion, the colour scheme, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween drum­mer and gui­tarist. “Let’s also not for­get The White Stripes were a pretty ex­per­i­men­tal band,” says Swank, point­ing out an­other link to Board­ing

House Reach. “It’s a very weird thing that band were as pop­u­lar as they were, it makes no sense.” Al­though White seems to have ex­tra­or­di­nary self-be­lief – and

Board­ing House Reach is, if noth­ing else, a very con­fi­dent piece of work – he ad­mits he has mo­ments of self-doubt. When he’s record­ing new songs, he says, he likes to pre­tend he’s do­ing a cover. “I’m more com­fort­able cover­ing other peo­ple’s mu­sic so I pre­tend my song has been writ­ten by some­body else a long time ago,” he says. “I started that in The White Stripes and have car­ried it in all my projects. I used to write my own songs and think they were OK, but then cover some­body else’s and find the chord changes amaz­ing and felt so alive, more com­fort­able. So I be­gan to pre­tend I was cover­ing my own songs and it frees me up.”

In his con­stant bat­tle against com­pla­cency, White loves to set him­self chal­lenges. This year, he has been play­ing with three gui­tars de­signed by mu­si­cians, in­clud­ing one by St Vin­cent in­tended for women. “It’s about putting my­self in un­com­fort­able places and see­ing what hap­pens,” he says. “Peo­ple think that as you gain more free­dom, things be­come eas­ier – some­body will tune your gui­tar, they’ll find you nicer mics – but that doesn’t make it eas­ier. If you are a painter, you can’t have some­body else mix your paints, you can’t del­e­gate the heavy work to some­body else. You need to find ways to make things harder. Paint on a jagged rock. Paint on dirt.

“I’m not a pop star, so I don’t have to come up with hits to stay alive,” he con­tin­ues. “I’m very glad I don’t have that sort of pres­sure, be­cause that wouldn’t be in­ter­est­ing. I get to serve the song rather than any im­age. That’s some­thing peo­ple might not know about me, but it’s al­ways about the song. What­ever it takes to keep the song alive. It’s not about, ‘This is who I am, or this is who peo­ple think I am, or this is what peo­ple ex­pect so I’m go­ing to give them what they ex­pect or be con­trary.’ That’s a lot of work that doesn’t in­ter­est me. With me that would turn into com­edy.”

“I trick him into play­ing what I re­ally want to play” carla azar

“The best way to care about money is not to care about it” jaCk white

W ITH Jack White on tour, the team at Third Man have been hold­ing the fort in Nashville. Hav­ing a Jack White record on the shelves is al­ways the big­gest event in their year, but that doesn’t mean ev­ery­thing else goes on hold. This year there have been reis­sues of Trout Mask Replica and a box set of Supremes rar­i­ties, a Fa­ther John Misty live al­bum and a new record by Sleep. That’s be­fore you throw in the seven-inches, books, live shows and ev­ery­thing else. “We had no plan and it’s turned out way big­ger than we thought and can often deal with,” White says. “But it’s al­lowed me to give back to so many of the things that gave to me as I was com­ing up in ways that peo­ple will never know about.”

Ben Black­well, White’s nephew and an­other Third Man ring­leader, ex­plains “there’s no grand five-year or 10-year plan. We got a lot of pots on the stove and some are ready be­fore the oth­ers. You deal with what you need to at any one time.”

A case in point is the Third Man photo-de­vel­op­ing stu­dio, which was an­nounced in Oc­to­ber but be­gan op­er­at­ing qui­etly in June. White had pur­chased the equip­ment nine years be­fore, but hadn’t yet found the right per­son to run it. Get­ting the right per­son­al­i­ties is vi­tal for White, who likes to “work closely un­til he knows you’ve got it”, says Swank. As with the band, it’s not just a case of find­ing some­body who has the tech­ni­cal chops – they also need to be good com­pany.

The suc­cess of Third Man sur­prises even White, who bought the build­ing to store his equip­ment and then set up a la­bel when he be­gan reis­su­ing White Stripes 45s. Ev­ery­body as­sumed it would be a van­ity project, but Third Man is ex­pand­ing its re­mit each year – there’s also a Third Man in Detroit, com­plete with record-press­ing plant. White might not look like a CEO, but he’s never been afraid of busi­ness. Do­minic Davis says in high school White took a busi­ness ma­jor then opened Third Man Up­hol­stery while his friends were at col­lege. Even when he was 15, he’d mow lawns so he could save up money to buy a drum kit. “What was very dif­fer­ent to the other Detroit garage rock­ers was that he al­ways had a job,” says Davis. “He didn’t have the at­ti­tude you had to make money from mu­sic or you failed. He wasn’t do­ing it for that. He was do­ing it to do it.”

“I’d never have picked my­self to run a record la­bel 10 years ago,” says White. “But it’s so dif­fer­ent to any record la­bel, it doesn’t feel awk­ward. I have two dif­fer­ent heads and I can’t think too much on the artis­tic side or too much on the busi­ness side. I need to have the split and that’s why I need other peo­ple to talk to about it. That was the prob­lem when I had my up­hol­stery shop. I didn’t care about the money at all. I only cared about the work and the art be­hind it, and putting art be­hind things that weren’t there be­fore. But I know now that you have to care about the money to keep it rolling and that can be dif­fi­cult. In some ways, the best way to care about the money is not to care about the money part and trust your in­stincts.”

One ex­am­ple Black­well picks is the mo­bile record­ing booth. When this was ac­quired, it was as­sumed it would be a fi­nan­cial write­off. White told them there was no way it would make money on this but it needed to ex­ist. “Then Neil Young makes a record in there, we take it on TV and holy shit, we made a ton of money from this thing we had chalked up as a huge loss,” says Black­well. “That was only be­cause we had fo­cused on mak­ing it as beau­ti­ful as it could be. If we’d stuck to our bud­get it would never have got to that point. But you also have to know when it’s OK to step away. If you are on year six of an al­bum you can stop spend­ing thou­sands pro­mot­ing it.”

Orig­i­nally, there were stunts such as launch­ing a record and turntable in space or see­ing how fast they could record, press and re­lease an al­bum. Th­ese have since slowed down as the la­bel has ma­tured. “Early days it was a lot more about us sit­ting in a room and mak­ing jokes and then try­ing to make them re­al­ity,” says Swank. “Now we are try­ing to con­cen­trate on projects we care about rather than crazy ideas.”

The is­sue is al­ways how much to in­volve White, es­pe­cially when he is busy record­ing or tour­ing. White doesn’t want to know ev­ery last de­tail but stays in touch via daily emails. “The la­bel has been around long enough with­out him hav­ing to al­ways cheer­lead for it,” says Swank. “We can tell him, but it’s his call how much con­trol he wants. Right now he’s on the road and he’ll come back and in a meet­ing, drop two or three points that will be the best ideas of that cam­paign. His brain is hard­wired that way.” T HIRD Man’s 2019 sched­ule is far from set­tled, but it will def­i­nitely fea­ture a new record by The Ra­con­teurs. In Liver­pool, “Steady, As She Goes” is re­ceived al­most as rap­tur­ously as “Seven Na­tion Army”, and there’s clearly a lot of love for the band. Why have they sud­denly come back? “How do I de­cide which project to pick up?” White says. “I don’t know, it’s about what feels right I guess.” For the al­bum, he wants to record the band’s live sound but he doesn’t rule out edit­ing via Pro Tools, as he did with Board­ing House Reach.

“We recorded live to tape but edited on Pro Tools,” he says. “That’s the best part of Pro Tools. What we usu­ally do with ra­zor blades and record tape is dan­ger­ous, you can screw things up – and I have – and you can’t get it back. Now I could do the things I’d al­ways imag­ined. But it’s not nec­es­sar­ily a great place for my brain to live, the knowl­edge that I can fix things on a com­puter. I need to keep one foot on the ground and re­mem­ber where mu­sic comes from.”

This tour has also al­lowed White to think about where he per­son­ally comes from. On Oc­to­ber 9, the band played in Poland, where White’s ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents were born. The show in War­saw fell on his mother’s 88th birthday, so he brought her on to the stage for the crowd to sing “Happy birthday” in Pol­ish. It’s a clas­sic so­cial me­dia mo­ment, but no­body was al­lowed a phone to record it. “When I turned 30 we were in Poland on my birthday and the tour man­ager flew my mum out as a sur­prise,” he says. “It was a fes­ti­val and 20,000 peo­ple sang “Sto lat, sto lat” like we al­ways did in my fam­ily. So on my mum’s birthday I flew her to Poland and I got the crowd to sing. It was a great mo­ment. We had a Pol­ish up­bring­ing, Catholic, Pol­ish food, Pol­ish saints. I found my great-grand­mother and great-grand­fa­ther’s graves in this tiny vil­lage on this trip.’”

There are no birthday songs in Liver­pool, and not much in the way of con­ver­sa­tion. White in­stead puts his head down and plun­ders his back cat­a­logue. It’s hard to be­lieve the band have hit the stage blind. They know only that the show will prob­a­bly start with “Over And Over And Over” and end with “Seven Na­tion Army” (“we’ve tried to play songs af­ter ‘Seven Na­tion Army’ but it doesn’t make much sense from a show­busi­ness point of view,” shrugs White).

Be­fore the show, White cranks up the vol­ume back­stage, play­ing ev­ery­thing from the Yard­birds to JayZ. The band are in their own spa­ces – med­i­tat­ing, do­ing make-up, tun­ing up – but White calls them to­gether in prepa­ra­tion for the mo­ment. The pre-gig ri­tual in­volves tequila shots – or wa­ter if pre­ferred. By show time, White is like a spring. The band go out first and start to jam. Then White charges to the lip of the stage and shakes his gui­tar at the crowd like the head of a de­feated en­emy. He won’t stand still for a minute. “I am deadly afraid of dead air at any mo­ment,” he ad­mits. “There’s al­ways noise and feed­back be­tween songs.”

Two hours later, the band fin­ish with “Seven Na­tion Army”, and White still man­ages to make it sound as if he loves it as much as the crowd does. “You’ve been amaz­ing and I’ve been Jack White,” he bel­lows. Im­me­di­ately af­ter the show, he’s al­ready out­side the stage door, chat­ting to lo­cals. He strides over to shake hands. “You stayed for the show,” he grins. “That was fun.” Then he heads for the tour bus. Ed­in­burgh awaits and the base­ball is about to start. There’s a Ra­con­teurs al­bum to make and the MC5 are com­ing to Third Man for a 50th an­niver­sary show. And that’s just what he’s planned. For Jack White, 2018 still has a lot to give. Board­ing House Reach is re­leased by XL

blue pe­riod: (from top) Blun­der­buss, 2012; Lazaretto, 2014; Board­ing House Reach, 2018

Go West: White’s LA band fea­tur­ing Carla Azar and Quincy McCrary (far left)

The aboveav­er­age White band (clock­wise from top left): Do­minic Davis, Neal Evans, Carla Azar and Quincy McCrary

Old school: White plays a se­cret show at the Ge­orge Inn, Lon­don , March 28, 2018

Mama’s boy: White is joined on stage by his mother Theresa Gil­lis, War­saw, Poland, Oc­to­ber 9, 2018

Neil Young with White and the mo­bile record­ing booth where Young recorded ALet­ter Home (above), The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fal­lon, May 12, 2014

High five: tak­ing a bow at the end of the show, Liver­pool Echo Arena, Oc­to­ber 20, 2018

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