Jack White Is Searching For Something Different


Apple Music’s Zane Lowe travels to Third Man Records in Detroit for an extensive conversation with Jack White ahead of the release of his two new upcoming albums, ‘Fear of the Dawn’ and ‘Entering Heaven Alive’.

Jack tells Zane how creativity and collaboration drive Third Man, the pros and cons of not owning a mobile phone, pursuing uncharted territory in the studio, and collaborating with Q-Tip on “Hi-De-Ho”. He also reveals that he has unreleased music in the vault with Jay-Z that he thinks will see the light of day at some point, reflects on the early days of The White Stripes and being baffled by their mainstream success, what he’s learned from the music industry, the guitar advice he received from Prince, advice for creatives, the vinyl resurgence, and much more.

Jack White Tells Apple Music About The Collaborative Nature of Third Man…
This is for other people to play with. This is a palette for other people to create, is my hope. I don’t want it to be Jack White records. I want it to be for others to come in and discover something that, God, I wish I had seen that on tour when I was in the van.

Jack White Tells Apple Music About Unreleased Music In The Vault with Jay-Z…
Zane Lowe: What else is in the vault because the other rumour that we have is that you and Jay-Z are sitting on heat?

Jack White: Yeah. That’s true. It’s not me who doesn’t finish stuff so it’s … I’m not that guy. No, I’m just teasing but I’m more … The personality that I got, I’ll be there tomorrow. So it’s different working styles. So some of that stuff I think will see the light of day when those guys aren’t busy with other projects and stuff.

Zane Lowe: Is it fun working with Jay?

Jack White: Yeah. It was. It’s so different because when I went in the studio with him, there was just one microphone which is … I kind of was, “Oh, what? Where are the other microphones?” But I was like, “Oh, wow, okay. Yeah, I guess why would you need another microphone?” So yeah, it’s different worlds. And so Jay was learning about the way I did it and I was learning about the way he did it. That’s like seeing anybody use a method. And if you see anyone using any method, it’s really, really interesting.

Jack White Tells Apple Music About Not Having A Mobile Phone…
Jack White: There’s so many things now I can’t do anymore that … Like during the pandemic, trying to get a COVID test and pull into a place and say scan the QR code. Well I don’t have a phone and they were like, “Then you can’t get a test.” And I’m like, “Ah, man.”

Zane Lowe: So you’re telling us you finally have a cellphone?

Jack White: I don’t have one yet but I think my days are numbered.

Zane Lowe: That’s fucking mind-blowing. I mean how you’ve gotten through this? But man, look what you built. What about your kids? They don’t have them either?

Jack White: They do. I think every parent I know complains about how much their kids use phones but I had an epiphany a couple years ago which was, it’s a little bit strange for me to say, “Hey, you’re on your phone too much, you’re on your phone too much.” And then turn to my adult friends who are on it just as much as they are. I missed my flight to Detroit yesterday because the bag cut off. It was 45 minutes before, they couldn’t take the bag. So now I’m stuck and I don’t have a phone so I can’t call an Uber. So I had to go catch a cab home and I don’t have a phone to call somebody to pick me up, okay? And I didn’t see any pay phone. So okay, I’m not complaining. I don’t care. So now I’m in a new scenario that I would’ve never been in. And what happens? I end up talking to this amazing cab driver and learning about his family and how he moved from Minneapolis and all this. But there’s 20 people in line for the cab and I’m the only one standing there. Everyone is on their phones and I’m the only one standing there with nobody to talk to. And I started thinking, “Wow, what did we all do before? Did we all just kind of stare?” I guess we stared and started conversations and all that.

Jack White Tells Apple Music About Starting To Make Solo Records and Winding Down The White Stripes…
Maybe about 2010, I got the feeling, yeah, I don’t think we’re going to be making any more White Stripes records. Just when me and Meg would hang out or talk, it seemed like, yeah, this isn’t going to be happening anymore. But we didn’t want it sounding, oh, no point in telling people that. You never know, in five years from now, things might change. But then I had a feeling, maybe it’d be healthier for me and her and for the fans … Because I’m about to release a solo record and if I hear someone say, “Well why didn’t you just make a White Stripes record?” I don’t want to hear that. So that was one of the reasons for the health part of it.

Jack White Tells Apple Music About Pursuing Uncharted Territory in The Studio and Playing All The Instruments on His New Albums…
Every time I go in, I’m trying to do something I haven’t done before. And it’s not like something that other people have never done before. It’s just something I have never done before. I wanted to try to do it this way. I want to write the song from this perspective. I want to write the song on the bass this time instead of the guitar. Whatever it is, to get me to a different zone so I’m not repeating myself. So that’s always progressing in that way. So this album was me playing all the instruments on a lot of tracks. Just based on the lockdown and not really being able to do sessions with other people. It’s hard to … I made mistakes. I would play drums last which you’re not supposed to do. But then I started to feed off of that. I thought, I like that. I liked that it was wrong.

Jack White Tells Apple Music About Collaborating With Q-Tip on “Hi-De-Ho”…
Well he’s brilliant. And I remember I was in a room once with him and Busta Rhymes and I was telling Busta that I really liked the microphone sound on Microphone Fiend, Eric B. & Rakim and I loved the tone of it. I said, “Busta, your voice and Q-Tip’s voice are some of my favourites.” But the delivery is so unique and so powerful. So Q-Tip and I got along great in-person like that and working on … He invited me to work on tracks on the Tribe Called Quest album. But then by the time I was working on this album, there was several tracks Q-Tip was sending back and forth with me. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind, could we focus on finishing this one track Hi-De-Ho because I think it really fits in with this record. I sent him the music with the Cab Calloway sample on it and then he sent back him scatting in that way five minutes later. So I knew he was inspired instantaneously. Oh wow, this is great. This is going to be great. But yeah, by the time I ended up even getting to mixing, what genre is this song?If someone was going to label it, I don’t know. It was really interesting.

Jack White Tells Apple Music About The Time He Met Prince and the Guitar Advice He Gave Him…
I met Prince one time. Yes. It was incredible. He had come to see Zoe Kravitz sing with… My wife at the time, Karen Elson, had a musical troupe called the Citizens Band. The show started and the lights went down and somebody bumped me and said, “That’s Prince sitting right behind us.” So I’m like, “Oh yeah, that’s Prince.” He started to talk about nobility and he started to talk about… The phrase he had said to me was like, “No one is going to tell you how to play your guitar, Jack.” And he talked about the James Bond song I had just done. And he said, “I really like it.” And I said, “Oh, that’s great. Because some people, it’s like making a song for Star Wars fans or something. You’re throwing yourself into the sea of… It’s a very divisive track.” And he goes, “Oh, I thought it was real strong.”

Jack White Reflects On The Early Days of The White Stripes…
It felt powerful, right off the bat. It just felt cool, but I didn’t think it was going to be something other people would like, but I think that I really like the feeling of this. It feels so dirty, and just raw and simplified. I wasn’t trying to play complicated guitar solos, or learning seven chord changes or anything like that. It was just really visceral. That was more and more, let’s dig deeper and get more Detroit sounding, more on it. The garage punk movement of the 1966 era, that was really coming to full froth with all of our friends, loving and searching for all those nuggets collections. Like, “How can we make this more Detroit sounding?” The very first White Stripes album we had, the goal of my brain was like, “I want this to sound like the city, the streets we just walked down.”

Jack White Reflects On The White Stripes’ Legacy…
I’m very lucky to have been part of something that connected with people in that way and it’s such a strange connection that people have with this band too. I still don’t fully understand why there was a lot of bands interesting, more interesting, more talented, and there was just, we went through three albums too before people were digging in the mainstream. So what’s that all about? I remember telling a musician the other day, they were talking about getting a manager. I was like, wow. Three albums we made with the White Stripes and we toured all over the place. Nobody ever came up and said, Hey, I’d love to manage you guys, and no record label, major label came up to us and said, wow, have you guys ever thought about signing with a major… Three albums and touring the country constantly, no one ever said anything like that to us. So of course, we didn’t think anyone would care in the mainstream about what we did. So it was still a mystery to me. I’m surprised people still get something out of it. It surprised me then, and it surprises me now. There’s never been a moment where I felt like, “Yeah, that’s a good song, people should like that.” I never have felt that. I was like, “Well, that’s felt good to me, we’ll see. We’ll see.”

Jack White Tells Apple Music About Blending The Past, Present, and Future…
When I work on music, I always feel like I’m trying to do something new. But I know quite often I’m taking things that I think worked from the past that I think are less well known, or they’re interesting, or idiosyncratic or whatever it is, and juxtaposing it with something I’ve never done before that’s brand new, and see if I can blend the two together. You’ll see that I think a lot when we’re walking around Third Man too, like the old recording booth. But we can do this, and then figuring out a way so that people can post it online and post the fans’ record that they made in this booth, in the 1940s online right now digitally on Instagram… if you want to do something new to turn people on and get people’s imagination going, you have to blend different things together and attempt to break new ground. You could have a surf solo in the middle of something that’s brand new that no one’s ever heard before, and then now you’re in a whole new place. That’s the place I try to live in.

Jack White Tells Apple Music What He’s Learned From The Music Industry…
Zane Lowe: Did you enjoy your time in the music industry at all?

Jack White: Yes, I did. Yeah. I really did. And I learned a lot. I abandoned sort of like that hipster cynicism of things pretty quickly. We were on a one man label for years, the first three albums of the White Stripes. We were on a lot of little bedroom labels, punk labels, for 45s and things. So we had gotten that side of it. And then we got signed to major labels and I got that side of it too. And then started to do publishing deals and things like that and tried to learn about that. And you just kind of start seeing all the things we complained about, once you become in a position of power yourself where you get to call the shots on it you start realising that, “Oh wow. That was a lot of us just whining and looking for somebody to blame.” Now, that I’m in that spot and I can see, “Oh, okay, well, yeah, that was my problem. That was my fault.” I had to abandon all that. Like, “No, it’s not anybody’s fault except your own in a lot of ways when you’re an artist.” And yeah, there’d be times where people made mistakes. So what? Who cares? They are human beings. But the whole point is you’re the artist, you’re going to do it. And if you’re writing powerful things, nothing is going to stop it.

Jack White Tells Apple Music His Advice For Creatives…
You have to do it. You couldn’t even help it if you wanted to. I’m going to wake up, I’m going to pick up an instrument in the house. If it’s there, I can’t stop myself. And that’s the … If you don’t already have that naturally, it’s an uphill climb, I think. But then the other part is finding that little zone, whatever it is, just to say …And I think we had that in the White Stripes. We had a little room and it was in the attic and we painted it our color scheme and we had everything that was ours there. That was our little world. It was hot as hell. It was in an attic in Detroit. It was 110 degrees and nobody would find this really a comfortable place exactly but it didn’t matter. It was where the creativity was going to happen.

Jack White Tells Apple Music About The Vinyl Resurgence…
I think jam did a great job in the early nineties keeping it alive and then house DJs kept it alive in the late nineties and then some of us garage rockers, and then by the time the early 2000s, White Stripes, we were holding it up on every record on every TV show we were on. Could you hold up the record, not the CD, and I remember us getting asked, why would you want us to do that? So then when we came out with ‘Elephant’, what was that? 2003, that was, we sent out the record on vinyl to journalists, which was a bold move. That was a huge statement we wanted to make about vinyl at that time. So then you fast forwarded to 2009 when we opened Third Man in Nashville and we started to do these different variants, trying to focus on split colours and try colour records and glow in the dark records. And just trying to turn people on like, look at what you can do with this format. Let’s think of things that’s never been done with this format. So yeah, within the next few years, the lines around the block that were happening at third, man, you started to see a couple years later, a record store a day and then record stores in Nashville and Detroit. We started seeing those lines too, lining up for limited edition variants all the way up to now, we have the Olivia Rodrigo, Taylor Swift, Paul McCarty coming out with nine variants of an album on vinyl. It’s amazing. It’s crazy. That’s my one man goal now on every interview I do is just to say on camera to the major record labels to please build plants again like this because it’s time for them to realise it’s not just a fad. 10 years has gone by, 12 years has gone by. It’s time for them. It’s like a drop in the bucket. Build a pressing plant for universal, pressing plant for Sony because it’s just, it shouldn’t be guys like me having a hold onto, to carry the load here. I mean, they could do it so easily.

Jack White Tells Apple Music About The Art of Mastering…
Mastering is sort of like that magic dust at the end of a recording where you need somebody to make sure that every song on your album is a similar volume. For vinyl, you need to make sure there’s not some peaking frequency that’s going to make the needle pop out of the groove physically. On radio, you need to be, as they call it, the loudness wars for many years of being compatible with what’s being played before and after your song. It’s that final magic dust of making the record just perfect for all formats.

Jack White Tells Apple Music About Detroit’s Resurgence…
I love the resurgence that’s happening right now, the Renaissance that’s happening again. We’ve been waiting like 40 years for this and now it’s finally happening.In the last few years, last five or six years, this city’s just had such a Renaissance and it’s just so great. We’ve been waiting for this since the riots in the late 60s, that we’ve been waiting for this to come back in this moment and it’s finally happening. I love being a part of it with the pressing plan, and Third Man location. You’re creating jobs in the neighborhood, trying to make something beautiful in the neighborhood that was notoriously the roughest neighborhood in the city. It’s so beautiful to be part of that history, and to keep extending and take it for another 10 years, another 20 years if we can.

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