Jack White Talks Music Making, White Stripes History in Rare Interview

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Jack White speaks at the P&E Wing Event honoring Jack White at The Village Studios on Feb. 8, 2017 in Los Angeles.

Jack White doesn’t do many interviews. But when he commits, he’s all in. 

The multihyphenate former White Stripes frontman is typically portrayed as a talented, elusive and rather perplexing character. Few get to peer in and almost no-one gains full access. In a new feature-length piece for The New Yorker, White opened his doors for a rare study of the man and his machinery. Writer Alec Wilkinson goes deep with White Stripes history lessons, and family tales (White, born John Gillis, was “very energetic, always doing something. He still has the same personality,” we learn), we get insight into his obsession with detail and how three, for White, really is the magic number. 

On the White Stripes, White says the duo “had no business being in the mainstream.” Though that’s exactly where Jack and Meg White found themselves in the 2000s, when they peeled off three top 10s on the Billboard 200, (Icky Thump peaked at No. 2, Get Behind Me Satan got to No. 3 and Elephant stomped to No. 6). “We assumed the music we were making was private, in a way. We were from the scenario where there are fifty people in every town. Something about us was beyond our control, though. Now it’s five hundred people, now it’s a second night, what is going on? Is everybody out of their minds?”

White shares, or gives up, a trove of fun facts. He reads scripts in the hope of someday directing a movie, we discover. He also collects esoterica (James Brown’s Georgia driver’s license from the 1980s is among his stuff), rare comics and, of course, he owns a number of pieces of taxidermy, including an elephant head.

And we learn of a young White who, as a 21-year-old furniture upholsterer, opened his own store and named it Third Man Upholstery, a brand that lives on through his company Third Man Records, which has locations in Nashville and Detroit.

White invited the writer to his Nashville apartment, a home away from one of his other homes which is intended for the purposes of extracting art. It’s a place where White abides by a specific set of rules. “I’m going to try to write songs where I can’t be heard by the next-door neighbor,” White said. “And I want to write like Michael Jackson would write -- instead of writing parts on the instruments or humming melodies, you think of them. To do everything in my head and to do it in silence and use only one room.”

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