Jack & Meg White's Satanic Pact
Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.The White Stripes have a credo when it comes to promotion of their upcoming album, "Get Behind Me Satan": Less is more.
Unlike other platinum-selling rock acts with new albums on the way, the White Stripes have neither a pre-street mini-tour nor late-night TV appearances scheduled to boost the hotly anticipated release. Likewise, there will be no special performances for AOL or any other online services; even press interviews are being kept to a bare minimum.
Instead, the band is on a little-promoted 12-date swing through Central and South America playing to first-time audiences.
Just days before the release of "Satan" (June 6 internationally via Third Man/XL and June 7 in the United States via Third Man/V2), the duo of Jack and Meg White will be in Manaus, Brazil, trying to win over a crowd of 700 at the Teatro Amazonas—an ornate, 123-year-old opera house in the middle of the Amazon rain forest.
"My attitude is, 'Let's just go play shows and release the record, and that's it,' " Jack White tells Billboard by phone from Santiago, Chile.
For White, who picked up a Grammy Award in February for his production work on Loretta Lynn's "Van Lear Rose" and has spent the better part of two years under the persistent glare of the media, the tour has provided a degree of anonymity and an opportunity to perform without expectations. The duo has been playing for curious crowds in places like Panama City, Panama, and Bogota, Colombia.
"I wanted to go to places where no one had ever seen us before, so we [could] get that feeling back of those live shows where we used to have to prove ourselves," White says.
It's anything but a textbook setup for a potential blockbuster album from one of the most popular rock bands to emerge in the last five years. But the White Stripes -- coming off the biggest album of their career, the Grammy Award-winning "Elephant" -- have achieved success by navigating the music industry waters on their own terms.
"We are being somewhat unorthodox," Ian Montone, the band's manager/lawyer and head of Monotone Management, says of the promotional plan. "It's a no-frills approach. Jack and Meg have recorded a brilliant album, and we're letting the music do most of the work."
Even after "Satan" is released, the White Stripes will tour out of the limelight in Russia, Greece and Eastern Europe through June and early July.
Outside of a handful of festival dates -— including a headlining slot at the Glastonbury Festival June 24-26 in the United Kingdom, and appearances June 6 at Atlanta's Music Midtown Festival and July 29-30 at San Diego's Street Scene festival —- the band will not tour major North American or European markets until the late summer/early fall. And when it does, it will not play venues that sacrifice intimacy for size. In most cities, this will mean 3,000- to 5,000-seat theaters.
To be sure, an analog-loving boy/girl two-piece with no bass player that's steeped in blues, country and Led Zeppelin would hardly have been projected for success with modern rock audiences when the band rose to fame just a few years ago. Yet 2003's "Elephant" —- reportedly made for less than $10,000 —- has sold more than 1.6 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and more than 4 million units worldwide. It also spawned one of the biggest rock singles of 2003, "Seven Nation Army."
The bet is that the band can do it again with a similarly budgeted set that is already generating strong critical buzz.
"Satan" is a largely acoustic, piano-driven work recorded at Jack White's home studio in Detroit. It features only three electric guitar-based songs. But those who have heard the album say it has the depth and breadth to attract new audiences.
The band has been in the market for more than a month with "Blue Orchid," the first single from the album. The track was serviced to iTunes and radio just two weeks after its completion.
So far, radio traction for "Blue Orchid," a prickly rocker reminiscent of Jack White's work two years ago with Electric Six, has been solid, but not on the level of the anthem-like "Seven Nation Army." "Blue Orchid" debuted at a career-best No. 43 on The Billboard Hot 100, thanks to a wave of early iTunes sales. The song has since fallen off that chart and the Pop 100 (where it peaked at No. 36); it is No. 9 on the Modern Rock chart after five weeks.
Second single "My Doorbell" is expected to hit U.S. radio in mid-summer. That will be just ahead of a U.S. tour in August, September and possibly November, which will include multiple-night runs in major markets.
Additionally, V2 will look to service another song, the bluegrass-inspired "Little Ghost," to country and Americana radio to build on the popularity of the Lynn project, an album that has sold more than 367,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
For his part, White isn't concerned with potential sales and airplay performance. He says he has taken a lot of the pressure off of himself to succeed, and he is happier than he has ever been as a performer as a result.
"Success is doing what you love to do and nobody telling you how to do it. We've luckily always had that with this band," White says. "Meg says this is her favorite White Stripes record. That made it a success to me immediately ... I can't wait until it gets to the point where the record comes out and people are familiar with the songs and we can go even further with them."
Excerpted from the June 4, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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