THE PERFECT STORM: We Corner The Dead Weather For One of Their First Full-Band Interviews

[Lead photo by Floria Sigismondi; live photos by Andrew Parks]

By Courtney Balestier

In case you haven’t heard the news, Jack White’s in another band. That’s right–the musical mastermind behind the White Stripes and the Raconteurs is on the road again with the Dead Weather. Any White fan–hell, any modern rock fan, period–will recognize the lineup: on vocals, Alison Mosshart of the Kills, who toured with The Raconteurs last year; from the Raconteurs, bassist Jack Lawrence; and from the Raconteurs’ touring lineup and Queens of the Stone Age, guitarist Dean Fertita. That leaves Mr. White not with his familiar guitar, but with his long lost lover, the drum kit. White also produced the band’s forthcoming album, Horehound, at his soup-to-nuts Nashville studio, Third Man.

Before you start freaking out about when the next White Stripes album is coming out, or whether the Ambassador of Rock is stretching himself too thin, know this: the Dead Weather is fierce, a sexy/dirty listen that’s the sonic equivalent of locking lips with a stranger in the dimmest corner of a dive bar.

self-titled spent some quality time with the band on Monday night, as they touched down in New York for their first public gig. (That’s excluding an invite-only gig at Third Man, which we’re pretty sure you weren’t invited to. Unless your name is Sheryl Crow … or Meg White. In that case, we apologize for making assumptions.)

“There was nothing written down. It was just recorded as we were making it up.” – Alison Mosshart

So seriously, now–logistically speaking, how many bands can you be in at the same time?
Alison Mosshart: [Everyone laughs] Like, loads.
Jack White: Looks like we’re all in two or three right now. I don’t know! I’m working on four or five projects right now.

How did Alison join the mix for The Dead Weather? She was filling in for Jack on tour, right?
JW: Yeah. I’d lost my voice and slipped a disk in my neck–I was just ready to go. We only had like five shows left. You’re supposed to stop, but we were like, “Let’s just make it through.” We were playing Ryman Auditorium, and I’d never played a set with a band of mine there. Had to make it there. So we asked her to sound check and try out [“Steady As She Goes”], because I couldn’t sing anymore.
AM: To be fair, it was high even for me! And because I kept doing that song every night, I lost my voice by the last show. I had to get a shot in my hip just to be able to speak.
JW: Perfect time to record vocals.

How long afterward did the recording start?
JW: Twenty-four hours.
AM: How much time did it take on the bus from Atlanta to Nashville? That many hours.
JW: On the last day of the Raconteurs tour, within 24 hours, we had a new band. [Laughs]

Alison has talked about how dizzying it was recording Horehound in three weeks. Did recording this feel foreign?
AM: It was foreign, but in a super exciting way. I’ve never been in a band that can jam, where everyone can play at the same time. So it was really fun and totally different. It was a challenge I’m up for.

Why do you think it came together so quickly? Was it a perfect storm?
JW: That’s a good question. We thought it’d just be a 7-inch and we’d go back to work at our respective jobs. Then we started writing a couple things and had another session. Then Alison came back from the end of her last tour, and we were like, “Why don’t you come back and finish this song? We’re doing a bunch more.” Dean was in town, and it was like, “Wow, this is turning into another band.” Why is it working? I don’t know. I know why it worked for me: I was on drums, finally. I’d been waiting so long to play drums again.

Did they feel different than before?
JW: Of course, yeah. I produced the Alicia Keys/James Bond track (“Another Way to Die”) from the drummer’s seat. I liked that. I was like, “Well I’m going to do that again, whatever the next project is I produce.” Then we did this 7-inch and it turned into a band with me as the drummer.

“It has a mood to it that none of our other bands have.” – Jack White

Jack, you’ve talked before about the whole point of it all–call them side projects or whatever you will–is to just get music into people’s hands quickly. How much of the Dead Weather was an industry-focused pursuit, a way to try the DIY approach from start to finish?
JW: I’m just trying every thing I can think of. You know, for [the White Stripes’] Get Behind Me Satan, we recorded “Blue Orchid” and put it up on iTunes two weeks later.

With the Raconteurs, Consolers was like, “Everything is turning all these different ways. This Radiohead thing has happened. People don’t want to spend money on videos, no one’s playing videos, etc., etc., etc.” With that one, we even tried putting out a long statement on exactly why we’re doing this, which is I think the only mistake we did on that record. People were just turned off by it, almost like it was an insulting ‘f you’ to somebody, which it really wasn’t. It was just trying to say, “Before you think it’s all about us trying to beat the leak or make money…” That sort of insulted us in the end–come on, that was like the worst business move ever. We took a big hit in sales to do it that way. We thought, “I hope people recognize that.” I don’t know if people really did.

But with this band, I was able to finally get a headquarters I designed in this incredible building in this industrial area of Nashville. I was just trying to put it all together: Where’s a place where we can do this all? I can stop renting the storage units, the photo studio. Why don’t we even have a record store here? Let’s do everything here! Merchandise and record design, the photos themselves, a dark room. We’re doing everything we can there. And then we have the studio in a separate building to record. It’s great. It’s so involving in all the creative processes.

Was the chemistry there for the Dead Weather right off the bat?
AM: It was so easy. I think it was fine from day one.
JW: The last song on the album [“Will There Be Enough Water”]–the last song we recorded that first session–I think that song is the chemistry. LJ (bassist Jack Lawrence, a.k.a. “Little Jack”) is even on drums on that song, too. That’s everybody taking on a new role and doing something different. I think it has a mood to it that none of our other bands have.

It almost feels alive, that song. It’s very organic.
AM/JW: It is.
AM: There was nothing written down. It was just recorded as we were making it up.

Just one take and done?
JW: Yeah.

Did the Third Man studio bring a whole fifth element? Did you feel different recording there?
JW: Yeah. I designed the studio to record, so the first couple sessions I did, it was just like, “Wow, I hope this works.” I had so many strange ideas in the acoustics–let alone all the wiring and equipment–hoping it all made sense and worked and sounded good, you know? You can put a lot of things on paper mathematically, but acoustics–I mean, even people who design opera houses, they know a bit, but in the end they’re just hoping that the grace of god is gonna bless that room. The same thing with the studio. And it sounds unbelievable. I was extremely inspired by the sounds coming from there.
AM: It’s amazing, all the studios you go to and you spend days fighting shit. Just waiting around, and there are problems with everything…
Dean Fertita: Days getting one sound going.
AM: There was none of that. I never even thought of it once; it’s so easy.
JW: It’s an 8-track studio; there’s just not room to mess it up.
DF: And even if something does mess up, you’re forced to get something new.
JW: Yeah, exactly. It makes you do something you’ve never done before.

“I mean, I was really drunk.” – Alison Mosshart

So, in writing the songs, did everyone fall into the same roles they’d played in their other bands?
AM: I only fell into it because I always write lyrics and that’s my favorite thing to do. I don’t know, was it like it is in your other bands?
JW: We let LJ play bass again, because he was crying. [Everyone laughs]
AM: Sorry, LJ.
JW: We’ll never do that again.
Jack Lawrence: … I like bass. [The laughing continues]
AM: Everyone just did what they wanted to do, really.

Sounds like a very utopian experience.
AM/JW: It kind of was, yeah.
JW: Well, the doors were locked; they didn’t really have a choice. It’s that kind of utopia. [Laughs]

What are the immediate plans for the band now?

JW: We’re touring [from] June through August and probably more. In the last couple days, we just recorded covers and B-sides, if we need them for later. We wanted to record while Alison’s in town, because she’s going back out with the Kills–which we’re allowing her to do. [Laughs]
AM: Thank you.
JW: Everyone can leave whenever they want to. You’re free to go. It’s not frowned upon. [Laughs]

How’d the first, friends-only show go? Were there any kinks?
JW: It was a scary situation, because it was on a stage that had just been built, you know, nobody had ever played there before.
AM: It was fucking awesome. It didn’t matter. It’s a total blur of perfectness in my head. It was so much fun … I mean, I was really drunk. [Laughs]
JL: I was gonna say, drinking helps.
AM: It was really one of those nights I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
JW: It was bizarre–all of us listened to the album with the press. Together. We didn’t plan it like that; it just happened.

That’s a whole lotta putting yourself out there. What was the reaction?
JW: Everyone, I think, felt really strongly about it. People were visibly reacting–you know, because we were staring at them.

“And I had a knife…”?
AM: [Jack] did have a knife! He had a switchblade in his jacket the whole time.

So what can the folks at Bowery Ballroom expect Tuesday night?
JW: I don’t know what to expect, really. We didn’t really try to perfect any of the songs; I didn’t want to do that, personally.
DF: We’re just going to sit on a couch and play. [Everyone laughs]

Do you have any plans to–or would you be opposed to–playing each others’ songs?
JW: I think we probably shouldn’t. It just takes it down a road all of a sudden–you know, you’re in Vegas playing a revue before you know it.

As you might know, this show sold out crazy fast. Any secret gigs or additional nights in New York?
JW: [Cracking a devious smile] Maybe…We haven’t decided yet.

What’s in store for Third Man?
JW: There’s a lot going on! I’m producing four or five records right now. There’s this new artist Mildred that we just worked with, who’s incredible.
AM: She’s awesome.
JW: She’s got a 7-inch coming out very, very soon. Then another girl named Rachelle Garniez–a beautiful songwriter–we did one song with her that’s coming out. We’ve got this whole series coming out where people are just taking a photo at the Third Man building with a blue background, and you just hear the music and look at their photographs. And I’ve been producing and playing drums on all these records as well.

Then there’s some other stuff I can’t tell you about, but other pretty big records. Then also, Third Man Films. The White Stripes are releasing a film this year, and when I go back home in a few days, I’m going to mix all the music for that, which is like 40 songs, so that’s going to take a lot of time.

When do you sleep?
AM: He doesn’t, really.

All right, last question. Everyone always wants to know, “Is this a side project? Supergroup? Is this band taking the place of that band?” So, make up a new name for this group–right now.
JW: Ohhhh, that’s a good question.
AM: It’s a band, right?
DF: Super side project.
JW: Side-band-ject. An obj-band.
AM: See, don’t let him do this…
JW: Yeah, I’ll do this for hours. … This is actually Dean’s territory. Dean?
DF: I got nothing.
AM: [Petting a blond wig on the back of the couch] It’s a coat made of human hair.
JW: That’s what it is. A coat made of human hair.