Jack White on how his younger self influenced 'Lazaretto'

Jack White. (Hackney Marshes in east London in this June 23, 2012 file photo.REUTERS/Olivia...

Jack White. (Hackney Marshes in east London in this June 23, 2012 file photo.REUTERS/Olivia Harris/Files)

Jane Stevenson, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:46 PM ET

NASHVILLE - Nobody forgets the first time they fell in love.

Not even musician Jack White, whose sophomore solo album, Lazaretto, was somewhat inspired by that experience.

The 38-year-old blues rocker says an attic discovery of short stories and plays infused by first love when he was 19 years old led to the material on the follow up to his first solo album, 2012’s Blunderbuss.

“I kind of just found this box and (went), ‘Oh, wow, that’s right, something from half of my age,’” said White, smoking a cigarello and looking dapper - as always - in a tie and suspenders, while kicking back in his colorful Third Man Records’ office (on the front door it says John A. White, III, D.D.S. Family Dentistry) that’s filled with taxidermy and assorted props, musical and otherwise.

“And I just started reading the characters and they’re so simple and so direct. I just took them and turned them into characters of other songs. ... It was sort of taking from my younger self which is a strange idea too. Something I’ve never done before. Can you work with your younger self and make something new out of that?”

And despite my theory that we all remain essentially the same inside at a certain age despite growing older outside, White says he was wildly different as a teenage Detroiter than he is at 38, living in Nashville.

“This is the experienced version of me talking to the inexperienced version of me,” he continues. “There’s a beautiful mind meld going on there and something you can’t even explain to anybody. You just can only hear the fruit of that struggle between these two people.”

One thing White did discover is that he was envious of his younger self.

“It’s hard. You end up becoming jealous of your younger self. That old phrase of that problem with youth is that it’s wasted on the young. It is. And when you have children of your own, you realize how much they don’t realize how beautiful each moment of the day is. Even if you stop and look them in the eyes and tell them how beautiful this moment is, they still don’t know what you’re talking about. They’re just happy. That’s a strange thing. I’m in a period of my life where you’re not let off the hook. You’re let off the hook from a toddler to a teenager. You’re let off the hook when you’re a senior citizen, retired, you can do whatever you want. You walk in, take your pants down in the supermarket, no one gives a damn. But I’m in the middle period now where there’s no leeway.”

Can it be any wonder that the twice-divorced White – his first wife was The White Stripes’ drummer Meg White – has love on his mind.

He was recently divorced, amicably at first before contentiously (see sidebar), from second wife-model-and singer Karen Elson and shares custody of the couple’s two children, Scarlett, 8, and Henry, 6 whose morning routine with him sounds pretty cool.

“I took my kids to school this morning and I played them Supersonic by (‘80s rap girl group) J.J. Fad and they were asking a lot of questions about how fast they were rapping at the end of that song,” said White. “It’s just so nice to talk with them, on the way, in the morning about different songs. And I have a Tesla (electric) car and you can name any song out loud and it’ll play it. It finds it on the Internet. It’s unbelievable invention. So that’s nice. So I can pick a song from thin air and play it for the kids.”

The hip hop vibe made its way onto at least one new song on Lazaretto with That Black Bat Licorice, where White cleverly rhymes: “She’s my baby but she makes me get avuncular/ And when my monkey’s jumpin’ I got no time to make it up to her.”

“That’s basically a hip hop song,” said White. “I wasn’t going for it but I just found myself in the middle of it. I think I’ve done that a lot in my career and people haven’t noticed. ... Icky Thump is a hip hop track. Freedom at 21 on the last album was a hip hop track but I don’t think anyone really categorizes that.”

White has made Music City his home since 2005 and established a presence quickly with the development of the Third Man Records property four years later – now a vinyl record store, warehouse, recording studio, performance and photo shoot space – all painted in yellow, black, red and blue.

The employees wear black-yellow-and-white uniforms and the store’s coolest feature is a 1947 recording booth where anyone, including Neil Young, who most recently recorded his latest covers album, A Letter From Home, in it, can feel part of the creative process. (I, too, recorded My Bonnie with a fellow journalist in that booth during my visit.)

On Record Store Day back in mid-April, White recorded the “World’s Fastest Record” – a 7-inch of Lazaretto’s title track with an Elvis cover as its B-side – at Third Man's performance space. And he declares that the vinyl renaissance is here to stay.

“We’ve produced a million pieces of vinyl in five years since we started, and that’s from this place where I thought, ‘We’ll sell a few records here and there, and I’d just do something I like to do on the side,’” said White. “And it’s blossomed. Started out as baby steps but turned into took gigantic leaps where we were able to do things with that format that have never been done before. I thought everything had probably been done when we started... but we’ve attacked it in so many directions, that really blows my mind.”

It took the normally speedy White a year to make Lazaretto because for the first time he had the freedom to do so, taking a year off from touring and spending as much time as he could with his children.

Turns out working that way drove him crazy and he hopes he never makes a record like that again.

“There was some good things about it but a lot of bad things about it for me,” he said.

“It’s really the antithesis of how I work so it was a challenge to try to do that to myself. As I was going on I was like, ‘I don’t like doing this but keep trying, keep trying, maybe something new will happen.’ Some new things happened (mixing it entirely in his Tesla via radio transmitter and walkie-talkie for one) but most of all it was frustrating to me. It feels like wasted time. And you get so separated from the song you wrote a year ago. It’s like coming back to a painting and adding a couple more colours to it after you’ve painted it. It’s very hard to continue working. So that became my challenge, ‘Work under this condition. You don’t like this scenario. See what you can make out of it.’ In my own mind I succeeded, or I wouldn’t put it out.”

As for his current Lazaretto tour, which will play Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on July 31 and Montreal’s Osheaga festival in early August, it features a mix of the male and female band members he toured with separately over two nights for the Blunderbuss trek.

“I wanted to do that (again) but there’s too many schedules going on we can’t really make that work,” said White. “So it’s really just a combination of a lot of people who worked on the record of the two bands that went out with me last time.”

A guide to Jack White’s other musical adventures

Jack White’s many musical endeavours have included the following bands:

The White Stripes (1997-2011) - White paired up with his first ex-wife Meg (they called themselves brother and sister) on drums for a Detroit garage-rock duo with a minimalist esthetic and strict red-white-and-black colour palette. They released six studio albums, which included such hits as Fell in Love With a Girl and Seven Nation Army and even went on tour across Canada to remote locations like Iqaluit which was captured in the film, Under Great White Northern Lights, before they officially split.

The Raconteurs (2005-2011) - Technically on hiatus, White hooked up with The Raconteurs due to Meg White’s acute anxiety problems that forced the cancellation of the reminder of The White Stripes’ 2007 tour dates. The members were White, Brendan Benson, and The Greenhornes bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler, and their first single, Steady As She Goes, was followed by the release of two albums.

The Dead Weather (2009-present) - This group came together when White lost his voice while performing with The Raconteurs and asked Alison Mosshart of The Kills, with whom they were touring, to replace him on some songs. That led to a new group with White on drums, Mosshart on lead vocals, Jack Lawrence on bass and Queen of the Stone Age’s Dean Fertita on guitar-keyboards. They have released two albums with a third slated for 2015.

When Jack White stirs controversy

There’s no such thing as bad press.

Just tell that to Jack White who had his fair share over the years including most recently apologizing on his own website for dissing Meg White, The Black Keys, Adele, Duffy and Lana Del Rey in the current issue of Rolling Stone, on which he graces the cover.

Before that there was:

- A 2013 restraining order issued by his second ex-wife Karen Elson alleging harassing emails from White, which he has denied, and “fear for her and the children’s safety.” In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, she distances herself from her divorce attorneys and says it was “blown out of proportion.”

- White got into a fight with a shirtless man in the front row at a 2012 New York City Radio Music Hall concert, saying, “Jesus Christ, is this an NPR Convention?” and cut the performance short with fans chanting “F--- Jack White!” and attempting to return merchandise.

- A 2003 fistfight with Von Bondies frontman Jason Stollsteimer in Detroit in which White pleaded guilty to assault and battery.

Twitter: @JaneCStevenson

jane.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos