Before Nashville concerts Jack White talks power quartet, Beck rumors and the “wrong” way to make a solo album

Listen to the interview with Jack White

This week one of the biggest rock stars in the world is playing two shows in the city he has called home for more than 15 years. Jack White comes to Ascend Amphitheater having just released Fear of the Dawn, one of two albums slated for 2022. It’s also his first big tour since lockdown. Nashville has seen White in various modes over the years from The White Stripes to The Raconteurs to The Dead Weather to multiple solo configurations, but it was a major pandemic moment that helped him figure out what the new band would be.  

Jack White: It was wild because we went and did the Saturday Night Live during the pandemic, and we did it as a trio, which I’d always wanted to do, I just never had a chance to. And that was perfect because we didn’t have any album or song being pushed to the radio or whatever commercial reasons that we were on the show. We were just on to replace somebody. So, it was great to have that freedom to do whatever we wanted. And it felt really powerful to be a three piece. I thought a lot about doing that on tour… but to give up that fourth person on keys, that really took 15, 20 songs out of out of rotation that use piano, synths, Hammond organ, all of that. So I thought, well, let’s try it as four people and see how that feels. And so far, it has been feeling really powerful.

Jason Moon Wilkins: That was a really fun performance on SNL and one of our DJ’s, Adam Culver, when asked if he had any questions for you said he thought the new record, sounds like you were having a lot of fun playing guitar. First of all, is that a fair assessment? And if so, was there a moment between last record and new record, where you were diving back in, maybe in a slightly different way?

JW: Yeah, I told somebody recently that I think that if someone asked me, can I have a record of yours that exemplifies your guitar playing, I would give them the Fear of the Dawn record. I’m very proud of the guitar tones and the production of it and the style and the soul that’s in it and the techniques that I used that I hadn’t tried before. I really pushed myself in a lot of different ways and I think it got to some spots like, ‘Wow, I wish I could have had that same tone 20 years ago when I was recording such and such song.’

JMW: Am I correct in reading and seeing that you played almost everything on the new record yourself?

JW: A lot of the tracks yeah. After a while I thought, you know what, maybe I shouldn’t do this because maybe at the end of the pandemic, everyone’s going to be releasing records where they played all the instruments themselves because they couldn’t have sessions in their studios. I don’t want to be just another cliché statistic, but it was also something I avoided my whole life. I always thought ‘I want that soul in the room.’ You know, the way the other people are communicating and those little nuances that other people would bring that I wouldn’t bring to the table. But I think the situation was sort of just warranted it. So, I finally allowed myself to do it and became a new challenge. But I did it wrong. I didn’t do it correctly. I played drums last on these tracks. You know, you’re not supposed to do that. And it’s very difficult to play drums last as an overdub (laughs). So that became my own little challenge as a drummer to be able to pull it off.

JMW: The Third Man empire has expanded a lot recently from the UK outpost to furniture design to more books, but also you became a venue owner. Obviously you’ve done shows in what is now The Blue Room over the years, but now it’s open to the public on a regular basis. And right around the corner from you, Mercy Lounge and Cannery Ballroom, they’re about to have to close up shop. I’m sure you’ve seen what’s been going on in the city, but maybe even gained a different perspective as someone who has a vested interest as a venue owner. Where do you think things are headed in the live space in Nashville and where do you think maybe they should?

JW: Well, first of all, they’re incredible compared to practically every city in the world. You have a lot of different choices in Nashville, which is so great. And nobody has embraced their history and their “brand” than the city of Nashville. I mean, I’m from Detroit and there’s no statues of Motown stars and walk of fame’s for such and such. I mean, that city has The Stooges, MC5, Motown (but) it’s almost like it’s no no big deal, you know? It’s just not part of the Detroit way of doing things. It’s not a braggy kind of town, so they’re happy with the Motor City part, and that’s good enough. So, when you look at the embracing of the music history of Nashville, Nashville has done an incredible job. And as far as like making available venues, a lot of venues, there’s a lot of great choices. I’m amazed how many things have been built during the pandemic, aren’t you? I mean, every time I turn around.

JMW: We launched a radio station during the pandemic (laughs)

JW: I love your station so much. And we listen to it every day in the car. It’s really great. The variety and uniqueness of the music is so pleasant. I really want to thank you all for that.

JMW: Oh, man. Thank you. That means a ton. And do you listen with your kids? Because this is an interesting thing that’s happened with a lot of my friends, especially musicians who say, hey, you’ve helped create conversations between me and my kids.

JW: Oh, yeah, definitely, for sure. My kids like it a lot. It’s just great to hear the support of local talent, local artists, that’s important.

JMW: I know our time is pretty much done, so I have one last very simple question for you. Why was Beck here?

JW: Why was Beck in town?  

JMW: Yes, because there were rumors of oh, ‘Is he recording with Jack?’

JW:  He was not recording with me. Honest to God. I don’t even know. I know he was playing that show and I was there, and I hung out with him, but he never said why he was in town. I actually forgot to ask.

JMW: Well, the mystery remains and that’s probably better. You guys both have done a good job of building a little bit of mystery into what you do, and that’s important. Well, man, thanks so much for taking the time. I know you’re busy on tour and I really appreciate the words of encouragement as well.

JW: Thanks so much, Jason. I appreciate it. And it’s great to talk to you. And thanks again to everyone at the station for supporting Third Man Records and for all the local artist support. I really appreciate it.