Behind the pale white face, jet-black hair and mysterious demeanor, Detroit- native Jack White is surprisingly funny. Anyone who has seen the interview he did with Stephen Colbert can attest to that. The banter between the mismatched pair is infectiously clever and White struggles to keep his own laughter at bay during the nearly 7-minute exchange. At one point, the former White Stripe divulges his marketing strategy for releasing his first single off of his new solo album, Blunderbuss, in which he attached 1,000 vinyl records of the song “Freedom at 21” to helium balloons and released them into the air for people to find. When Colbert asks how many had been found, White replies, “I’ve been told five of them have been found” to which Colbert says, “Really? Five out a 1,000? Are you head of distribution for your own label?”
The balloon idea is just one example of White’s eccentric charm that he has become synonymous with over the years. Since he burst onto the scene with The White Stripes in 1997, White has unfolded as a unique, almost bizarre entity all his own. For example, he’s obsessed with the number 3, refuses to vote for President, bought an elephant head for his collection on the T.V. show, American Pickers, and in anticipation for his impending divorce from singer Karen Elson, threw a fantastic party. This is to be expected from the guy who neither would confirm nor deny his marriage to fellow White Stripe, Meg White. Was she his sister? His wife? No one knew for sure until their marriage and divorce certificates were made public by the media. While White remains rather tight-lipped about his relationship with Meg and the dissolution of The White Stripes, he did tell The New York Times, “Meg completely controlled The White Stripes. She’s the most stubborn person I’ve ever met, and you don’t even get to know the reasons. There came a point where I said, ‘If we’re not doing this, we need to put an end to it right now.’ And that’s what she wanted to do.” He went on to admit, “I don’t know what her reasons are. Having a conversation with Meg, you don’t really get any answers. I’m lucky that girl ever got onstage, so I’ll take what I can get.”
While many White Stripes fans are surely drowning in despair over the death of the duo, they now have the opportunity to explore his other projects including The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs and, of course, his recent solo material. However, his experience with the White Stripes clearly infiltrates everything he creates.
“I work within a framework of about 2 to 3 minutes to get my point across. I have this time frame to really get my point across so I don’t have time to waste, especially with The White Stripes. We only had 2 people. It was a lot of learning for me. I didn’t have people to help me. I didn’t have a full band to help me,” he explains. “I was writing my own songs. I had to figure out how to do that quickly and get my point across, sometimes very simplistically. It was good training for me as a songwriter to be in a two-piece band like The White Stripes for so long because I didn’t have a safety net.”
And it shows. Blunderbuss is packed full with songwriting at is finest and perhaps the most confessional type of music the world will ever hear from Jack White. In “Love Interruption,” he tackles the most intimate subject he can: love. “It’s about the idea of love getting in the way of itself. You have to think about all sides of it. It’s not as simple as boy meets girl or boy loves his mother or whatever it is. It’s about all the intricacies of how people relate to each other and how sometimes we sabotage each other or sabotage ourselves, we hurt ourselves to get something better. What do we want love for in the first place? If we want love so much like everyone says they do, then why do we try so hard to hurt one another? It’s very interesting,” he explains. “If you’re going to mention the word ‘love,’ you better have your own take on it. That song answers it for me. It explains to myself that people who are hurting you, there is love behind it. They don’t know how to express themselves or whatever is, anytime you’re hurt, there’s love directly behind it. I think that’s the answer for me at least.”
Blunderbuss was released on Third Man Records, White’s label he founded in 2001 in Detroit, but relocated the headquarters to Nashville, Tennessee in 2009, the city he now calls home. When asked why he settled there, the answer was simple. “It just felt good to me. I was mixing in Memphis or recording in Nashville. I looked all over down south and Nashville was always calling out to me,” he says. Nashville, as everyone knows, is a magnetic musical mecca. It was there where he came up with the idea for his backing bands on the Blunderbuss tour, The Buzzards (all male) and The Peacocks (all female). The majority of the musicians are Nashville locals. Neither band knows who will be playing each show until the morning of, when White picks one or the other.
“I just didn’t want to take the easy way out. It would be easy to find 4 or 5 people to back you up on stage, play the way the songs are on the record and play them the same way every night. I want to try things differently and make myself work every night. We don’t have a set list so we challenge each other when we go out there,” he says.
That’s White for you. Nothing can be done conventionally. Even his statuesque 6’2” frame is unexpected. The fact that RZA of Wu-Tang Clan had booked studio time at White’s studio is also unusual. Had he actually shown up to record, Blunderbuss never would have happened. After all, the album was born out of that downtime and could be, quite possibly, one of the best records of 2012.
Jack White, August 6, at Omaha Music Hall, 1804 Capitol Ave., 8 p.m. Tickets are sold out. Visit www.omahacivic.com for more information.