10 Highlights From Jack White's Interview at Making Vinyl Conference
Getting Jack White to talk about vinyl is like Donald Trump tweeting about Hillary Clinton -- not hard at all, in other words.
The lifelong vinyl devotee delivered a lively and passionate keynote Q&A for the Making Vinyl conference on Monday evening in White's home town of Detroit, where he opened Third Man Pressing -- the first plant in 35 years to open in the U.S. with brand new presses -- over seven months ago. Accompanied by his mother and several Third Man staffers and questioned by his nephew and Third Man principle Ben Blackwell (a White Stripes roadie during his teen years and drummer in the Dirtbombs), White spoke to the gathering of nearly 300 manufacturers, suppliers and retailers, rallying the troops about his love of vinyl and his hopes for the industry's continued growth.
White's talk did not dismiss more contemporary modes of listening to music -- or experiencing any art, for that matter -- but the 35-minute session made a convincing case for the value of vinyl, speaking to but also gallivanting the converted.
Here's 10 takeaways from what White had to say...
* White's first vinyl manufacturing experience came during March of 1988, when he sat in on the mastering of the first White Stripes album for Detroit's Italy Records label. "That was a mind-opening experience because I had no idea about the magical moments about how vinyl was cut or produced in any way," White recalled. "They were just these discs in my home like everybody else's. I couldn't wait to see how this was going to go down. I'd never seen a lathe in my life...We had all kinds of questions and we learned so many things...I still remember this conversation to this day, any time we talk about a record we work on at Third Man, in any capacity."
* White said that the vinyl industry has "a lot of gratitude to throw out towards the techno world and the house music world. They really kept vinyl alive for those couple of years" when CDs drove the pressing world largely out of business.
* "Vinyl in the music world is one of the most reverential ways that you can experience this music," White explained. "It's very hard to pause vinyl. It's not like CDs and then digital and then streaming where you are in control...you can stop whenever you want, you can pick and choose. Vinyl is dropping the needle, sitting down and paying attention. And I'm sure you can say 'Oh, there's some nostalgia thing of laying on your stomach as a teenager and looking at the album cover and liner notes and reading who's on there,' and that may be lost nowadays to a lot of teenagers. But I think at some point if you love music, no matter who you are you will get to that point, you will care who played bass on track three and who produced the B-side of this record. That's for people who really love music."
* White said he doesn't have to look hard to see signs of the vinyl resurgence. "Last week I saw a TV show. I'm watching and there's a commercial for an insurance company and someone drops a needle on a vinyl record. Five minutes later there's a commercial for some drug company and there's somebody dropping a needle on a vinyl record. My kids are watching 'The Price Is Right' and they're giving away a turntable on 'The Price Is Right' in 2017! We should all in this room be proud of that. That's a big deal. It's almost an avant garde thing on its own."
Third Man's all-around success has been a huge surprise, according to White. "When we first opened the third Man store in Nashville we had a buzzer on the door and...we're like, 'Well, a couple of people a week will come by and maybe we’ll sell 'em a 45 or something,'" he recalled. "It was not in our minds to open a record store; We just wanted to release our vinyl and get it back in print because I'd come into ownership again. We were very incorrect about that; Hundreds of people were showing up and it hasn't stopped since. And Third Man, we only sell our own records. We don't sell Mariah Carey and Eminem records; We only sell the records we produce and for a record store to succeed with that methodology is very strange. On paper that should not work, but it has and it's helped us fund other ideas."
* White let drop that "we were supposed to press the Beyonce record (Lemonade) at Third Man Pressing. For some reason it didn't happen. That would've been nice, especially since I'm on it, but the business changes and you don't really know the reasons why for certain things, and we just do the best we can with every scenario. It was hard at the beginning and it's still hard. I think it's something that will always be hard."
* White said he's confident that "people got sick and tired over the last 15 years of having so much disposability and invisibility in music. A big part of this resurgence in vinyl is reverence -- that should be you’re preaching the gospel to people. This isn't nostalgia. This isn't being retro. This is reverence to the beauty of music and sitting down and paying attention in a world where everyone is texting every five seconds and can not look away from their gadget for a moment to actually listen to an entire song let alone an entire side or an entire album as one consistent art piece. That's a beautiful thing, and I think we should all appreciate that's what's happening now. I think that's a big deal."
* White said that while he's proud of what he's achieved with all of his Third Man endeavors, his stardom eclipsing the company's somewhat. "Nothing makes me more upset than when it says U2 is pressing their new record ('The Blackout') with 'Jack White's Third Man Records.' I don't want my name to be in there. I want it to say 'Third Man Records,' and I hope more and more as time goes on that just becomes its name and I can slowly disappear from that."
* White called bringing people back to vinyl "a two-part thing, a double-edged sword. I do really love things that have a novel aspect to them. If I see a 12-year-old kid get turned on by a glow-in-the-dark vinyl and that gets him into records, then, man, go ahead (and) have all the glow-in-the-dark records you want...And if someone wants to look down on that and say that's gimmicky and that's getting in the way of the respect of that, don't worry -- we have you covered on this side, too. We'll also spend an insane amount of money putting out a Paramount box set of music no one's ever heard. We got you covered."
* Pressing the flesh during a cocktail reception after the talk, White told Billboard his next solo album -- the sequel to 2014's Lazaretto, is "practically done, just some finishing touches. It's a bizarre one. I've just got to let it settle. I need to listen to it by myself. I haven't been able to listen to it by myself for awhile." The set is expected out during the first half of 2018.