"You Should Never be Asked to Play Rock and Roll Before Noon"
I have no clue how to categorize what I’m about to write. All I know is that Jack White released an incredible album titled Lazeretto, I had the opportunity to attend a Q&A/concert the day after said album was dropped. Furthermore, I genuinely believe that Jack White is one of the greatest minds gracing the music scene today. I’m about to attempt to combine an album review, concert review, and ops piece into one article, so bare with me please. First, the album review. Lazeretto serves as the angsty comeback after the 2012 heartbreak-ridden Blunderbuss, which was rooted deeply in the concept of death, whether figuratively with the deterioration of two relationships in 2011—he and British model Karen Elson got a divorce and the White Stripes officially broke up— or literally with the early death of one of his brothers. The new album's title alone, Lazeretto, refers to the location where victims of the black plague were exiled to, or as White explains it, a sort of “quarantined island.”
If you’re a Jack White fan, by now you’ve probably read several dozen articles breaking down the rather different process White went through while putting together this album as well detailing every last quirk of the eccentric Ultra LP. For those of you who want to catch up, here are the standouts: Lazeretto took White two years to compose, drastically varying from his usual several day stints. At one point in the process, White found old journals and screenplays by his teenage self, and used bits and pieces of them to help write the lyrics for some of his songs, creating a sense of writing a song in collaboration with his past.
White himself is known for being obsessed with vinyl, so the over-the-top Ultra LP came as no surprise to many. Just last year, he was the Record Store Day Ambassador, and this year he set out to make the world’s fastest record—a feat he managed to accomplish in just over three hours. The Lazaretto Ultra LP directly correlates with this deep-rooted love for vinyl. It includes (brace yourselves): two vinyl-only hidden tracks within the center label, a locked groove at the conclusion of each side, dual-groove technology that allows for two intros into "Just One Drink” (either acoustic or electric depending on where you drop the needle), a matte finish on Side B, a floating angel hologram designed by Tristan Duke that appears when Side A is playing, and a feature that calls individuals to listen to Side A from the inner-most groove out rather than the usual outside starting point.
A few notes on some of the tracks:
“High Ball Stepper”– White seamlessly integrates shrieks of a violin as a substitute for actual vocals, and the music video is visually stunning.
“Would You Fight For My Love?”– A very rare instance of completely raw feeling from White, this song employs a full arc of emotion, beginning with an ephemeral, eerie tone, picking up the pace for the majority of the song then softening out yet again.
“Lazaretto”– It took me a few listens to appreciate this song, but an obsessive listen-to-it-for-several-hours-straight-each-day-for-a-week period quickly ensued. The piece includes a perfectly measured concoction of thrilling guitar riffs, charming violin interludes, and a cheeky, bilingual chorus throughout.
Next, the concert review. I am lucky to have a best friend who is one of those people who always wins concert tickets, and also to have a boss who was willing to let me come in late to work under these particular circumstances. Thus, I found myself standing in KROQ studios on a Wednesday morning at 8 AM. Breakfast with Jack White consisted of a Q&A session crossed with a concert hosted by Kevin and Bean of the Kevin and Bean Show, a radio talk-show that serves as the soundtrack to many Angeleno’s weekday morning commutes. This event saw 100 ticket winners and their guests in a small room lingering on White’s every word, whether spoken or sung.
The morning began with the Q&A. Kevin and Bean sat on stage with Jack White as a select group of six or so crowd members whose questions were chosen (one of them being me) stood just adjacent. The video that documented all of this was taken down after 24 hours, so I’ll try to sum up most of the discussion points as quickly as possible because the conversation did a good job of reiterating White’s persona.
Early on, he began to liken the importance of analog within his creative process to the expression of a black and white photo. The beauty of analog, he explained, was that, like a black and white photo, it requires an individual to imagine so many components that aren’t present. It forces the audience members’ brains to be fully immersed in the scenario in order to fill in those lapses, thus making it far more interactive and personal. White, unlike the vast majority of artists today, prefers to edit his pieces almost entirely with nothing but a razor blade, and records only in analog, never digital.
This attention to genuine creation was amplified further when White described artists who believe that they are in control of a song as “ridiculous” and “egotistical.” Rather, he believes that musicians serve as “antennas” in a sense. He went on to discuss how many current artists remove themselves from a large portion of the creative process all together, explaining the process as follows: artists leave their songs with engineers who alter these songs on the computer for weeks on end while the artists are on vacation in Jamaica. White digressed, "I want to feel like if you tell me you liked that song, I know exactly how it was done so I can appreciate it more."
On his creation process, White noted, “I like to stick myself in a corner where I have to fight my way out,” referencing a time when he went into the studio, told the band he had a song when he really had absolutely nothing, and worked to throw something together in the process of rehearsing the imaginary song with the others.
At one point, the event hosts interjected, yelling “let’s hear it for being humble.” And that’s exactly what White is. Even with everything he has achieved and all of the poor press he has received (especially following his negative remarks in regards to The Black Keys), White still came across humbly passionate, concerned only for the creative process involved in everything he’s done. Just a few months ago, fans chanted the well-known song “Seven Nation Army” at two of the biggest sporting events—the NBA finals here in the USA and the global spectacle known as the World Cup—but White could only laugh and recall how his friend called the riff mediocre the first time he heard it.
Earlier I mentioned I was selected to ask a question. The hosts of the Q&A decided to ask the question I had submitted instead, but the topic is still worth noting. I asked what the perks of performing without a set list were, because at this point in time White prefers to be completely spontaneous with the songs he plays live. Every other member of his band simply follows his lead, having to stay on his or her toes and go along with whichever song White feels the urge to play in the moment. Although many might fail to understand the point of this, it lends to the spontaneity of it all. It ensures that everything produced on stage is organic, not ever forced, similar to early jazz performances.
Following the Q&A, White performed for about an hour, playing songs off of his newly released Lazaretto as well as a few old favorites such as “I Can Tell That We Are Going to be Friends” and “Hotel Yorba”. The concert portion was great, but I’ve gone on about to Q&A enough. So, I’ll just switch over to the ops portion.
Aside from creating musical masterpieces, White has expanded his creative spectrum to encompass much more through his record label, Third Man Records, in his new hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. Within the Third Man Records building, there is a record store, White’s label offices, a noteworthy recording booth, a private event space, a concert venue, a darkroom, and his latest development: a publishing department. And at the center of this creative synergy is White himself: writing, performing, branding, and sculpting musical art.
At one point, White brought up his process of choosing an album title. He reflected on his original thought to title it “Wit of the Staircase,” a French saying that describes when an individual thinks of the perfect rhetoric when they’re walking up the stairs at the end of an argument. He laughed, explaining Lazaretto is a bit easier to say. It’s that extreme attention to detail, the thought that goes into each word, chord, and vinyl groove that entices me, as well as many others around the world, to hold him in such high regards.
Although White has his critics, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to everything he’s achieved, both during and post his White Stripes period. I genuinely believe that he is one of the few individuals keeping the art in the music industry, providing listeners with tangible, soulful work across all spectrums.