Jack White would like you to know that his new band, the Raconteurs, is a lot of things — but a side project isn’t one of them.
Sure, all four members come from firmly established acts (White’s scored platinum-plus success with the White Stripes; bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler play in Cincinnati’s the Greenhornes; and guitarist Brendan Benson has released a slew of solo albums over the past decade). And it did take them more than a year and a half to record their debut, Broken Boy Soldiers (due May 16), because of everyone’s busy schedules, but White promises that for the foreseeable future, he’s dedicating all of his energy to the Raconteurs.
“A lot of people have this assumption that this is a side project or whatever, and the only way to solve that is to go out and play. The only way to show you’re a band is to be a band, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said. “Of course, there’s going to be more White Stripes records, more Greenhornes records, more Brendan Benson records, but for right now, it’s time for the Raconteurs.”
And so the Raconteurs are off, with a sporadic world tour (they debuted late last month with a sold-out gig in Liverpool and have played just a handful of shows, including one North American performance at Irving Plaza in New York) and an equally thrown-together music video for their first single, “Steady As She Goes,” already making the rounds.
And the notoriously lo-fi White wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The video was directed by Jim Jarmusch, and there really was no plan for it at all. We just went to this house, and Jim bought all these toy cameras from Toys R Us, and when he showed up, he really had no solid plans,” White laughed. “And so he would grab the toy cameras and chase cows around and would have his fingers in front of the lens to create this strobe effect. And he just went berserk. And no one really had any idea what they were doing, but we went with it.”
“And that’s just sort of how this record came together too,” Benson added. “On this ‘flying by the seat of your pants, we don’t know what’s gonna happen’ type of thing. We all just got together, not knowing what to expect, and everything happened so quickly and magically.”
But that magic happened under less-than-ideal conditions. White and Benson started collaborating back in 2004, jamming together in Benson’s dining room on a song that would eventually become “Steady As She Goes” (see “Jack White’s Found A New Loretta: And It’s A Guy Named Brendan Benson” ). From there, the duo moved to the basement, where they were joined by Lawrence and Keeler. But the underground work was short-lived: According to Benson, they were “forced out of the basement by raccoons” and relocated to his “crappy” attic, where work continued.
“The songs just kept coming,” White said. “We wrote ‘Broken Boy Soldier,’ like, the next day. But Brendan was getting tired of running around his attic to press record and then running back to play with us, so we brought in the White Stripes’ live engineer to run the board. Of course, the whole time the attic was, like, 120 degrees because it was insulated. And we had to turn all the fans off to start recording. So we were sort of dying up there.”
Despite the sweltering conditions, the Raconteurs played on. In between the recording of the Greenhornes’ East Grand Blues EP and the release of the White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan album, they put the finishing touches on Soldiers.
Though they’ve got only one North American date confirmed for the rest of 2006 — August 4 at Lollapalooza in Chicago (see “Kanye West, Red Hot Chili Peppers Lead Lollapalooza ’06 Lineup” ) — a spokesperson for the Raconteurs let it be known that there are plans for more shows this summer. And after that, who knows?
“The way I look at it, is that the music decides when it wants to come out, and I just see what happens. I try not to get in the way if I can help it,” White said. “There’s plenty of time for everybody to be in their own bands, and it’s entirely possible that the White Stripes and the Greenhornes could both be working on new albums in the fall. But in the meantime, we’re just going to keep touring until it’s time to make another Raconteurs album. The thing is, none of us needed to form this band; we did it because we wanted to.”