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The White Stripes Jack White Talking

by Kurt Hernon

The White Stripes are an unusual configuration of a band. Brother/sister duo Jack and Meg White form the potent minimalist base of a group that messes the Delta Blues into a wicked burst of punk-ish pop rock and roll. Their latest record De Stijl is their best to date (their second disc) and beyond that, it is one of the finest out-and-out pure fucking rock records in quite some time. A must hear.

Jack White talks about it.

bS - You guys have a unique get-up in this group, being brother and sister and all, and the simple blues influenced sound is unusual to hear these days also...Tell us about it.

JW (Jack White) - Well, we're brother and sister of course. My sister Meg on drums, I'm on guitar. We started playing a couple years ago and just wanted to work on some simplistic kind of music, whether it was blues, punk, or just real simple rock and roll. Just real stripped down type of stuff. That was the main motivation behind it. But of course we're now getting more into old melodies and things like that. Kind of a 1930's feel to things with piano and stuff on this new album.

bS - Have you guys always been rooted in such minimalistic blues?

JW - I am. Meg's not really, she's more rock and roll. I listen to a lot of Mississippi delta blues. That's certainly my favorite music to listen to.

bS - Any artist in particular?

JW - Well I listened to a lot of Blind Willie McTell while making this record. We do that McTell song at the end of the record that Meg also sang on. It was the first time Meg sang on any of our records, so that was fun.

bS - So, can it be said that "strict" or "pure" blues is your main inspiration? Or does the "evolved" blues (i.e. early Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, the Stooges etc.) play a part in what you do?

JW - I don't know. I think of the evolved blues - what those people did in the Sixties and all - as something that we are doing similarly, but also as something that almost makes us want to stay completely away from it. I don't, and never have, liked the electric blues very much. Stuff like B.B. King and Buddy Guy. So sometimes I kinda feel bad because it's like I'm doing some form of that. I dunno, sometimes it feels like the most naturals thing to do, while other times it's like, Oh man, we don't want to be Led Zepplin or Cream or anything like that.

bS - You seem to do a good job avoiding that sound by remaining less bombastic than those bands. Your songs sem to have more of a pop/punk sensibility.

JW - Yeah, I've always wanted to write songs that people could at leat sing on their way to work and stuff like that. That kind of really melodic poppiness to it. I like the idea of people singing your songs even when they're not listening to you.

bS - Have you and Meg always played together?

JW - No, we've been playing for a couple of years now, but we never did before. I've always played the drums and guitar and stuff, but Meg just started playing the drums a couple years ago. That's why we started out keeping things so simple (musically). It was kind of nice that she didn't know what she was doing at first because our stuff was able to remain so simple. We still try to keep it that way. Meg never does and drum fills or (laughs) solo's or anything like that. And I just love that drumming style. It's really cool to work off of, to play guitar off of, and to sing off. It's really nice.

bS - The sound of the White Stripes has filled out a bit on De Stijl. Will we see more players on stage now than just you and Meg (i.e. a piano, a violin)?

JW - No. It's still just us two at shows.

bS - You guys hail from the Detroit area, what is it with that area and the rockroll blues? It seems that there is something in the water up there.

JW - (laughs) Yeah, I know. I am working on, and almost done with, producing a compilation for our label (Sympathy for the Record Industry) of all Detroit bands. I've been recording it in my attic with everyone playing through the same amps, the same microphones, that sort of thing. It's almost finished and it's coming out great! There are so many great bands up here (Detroit) right now.

bS - A lot of "scenes" end up sinking into a "retro" type of trap, yet the Stripes have seemed to mix things up and stay above that so far...

JW - Yeah, I don't like music that ends up like that. I mean, it can be fun I guess, but just trying to make something that sounds like someone is a dead end. Maybe it's true that nothing is original anymore, but you can at least try.

bS - This records title - De Stijl - has a lot of implications. It's not everyday that you catch a young band naming their record after a highly influential early twentieth century art and cultural movement. Does this reflect anything in particular for the White Stripes?

JW - Well, sort of I guess. I'd read a lot about the (De Stijl) movement at one point and it was just my favorite art movement because it was such a simple concept. I thought it was almost the equivalent to what we try to do with our music. The most interesting thing to me though, the reason I thought De Stijl would be a good name for the album, was the idea that when the De Stijl movement had been taken so far it got so simplistic that they decided to abandon the movement in order to build it back up again from nothing. That's kind of how I felt about this album. We had wondered how simple we could get things before we would have to build it back up again. How simple we could get with people still liking what we do. And on this record we added some piano and violin and stuff, so I though it fit kind of perfectly - that structure, that building it up.

In the same way, we always wear red and white (or black) at our shows. It's kind of like our "colors". We always do everything that way to kind of keep order. And that philosophy is reflected in the De Stijl movement