Regardless of what you may think of Jack White, you can’t deny that he seems averse to leisure time.
Recently, in addition to putting the finishing touches on a new Raconteurs album, working on a Bob Dylan-helmed tribute to Hank Williams and writing songs for another White Stripes album (more on all that in a second), he decided that he wanted to release a Spanish-language version of “Conquest,” from last year’s Icky Thump album — and a mariachi version, too. And record a batch of new songs in Beck’s living room. And release it all under the name “Las Rayas Blancas” (Spanish for “the White Stripes”). All for no real reason in particular. Which is why Jack White is awesome.
“Actually, I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, I just never seemed to be able to,” White told MTV News last week. “The song ‘Conquest’ was something I wanted to cover 10 years ago. It was a Patty Page song I used to listen to in my upholstery shop when I was working a lot, and I always wanted to cover it, it just never happened. But when Meg and I were working on the Icky Thump album, we thought it would be a good time to cover it, because it seemed to relate with a lot of the themes we were talking about on the record. So we did it and it had sort of a Latin feel to it, and so we got a mariachi trumpet player to be on it — from a Mexican restaurant in Nashville!
“And then one thing led to another,” he continued. “We filmed a video for the song, which had a bullfighting theme, and we had a mariachi band there, so then we recorded a mariachi version of the song in Beck’s living room. So finally, I just said, ‘You know, it’s about time. We should just do the Spanish-language version of the song.’ And so we did.”
So, working with a translator, he set out to record “Conquista.” He knew a little Spanish from growing up near a predominantly Hispanic section of Detroit, but quickly realized that speaking in Spanish was much different from singing in it.
“When we went to record it, I found someone in Nashville to come with me, and when she read them, she had a completely different interpretation of the lyrics, so I said, ‘Tell me what yours is,’ because I wanted the lyrics to be so close to the original lyrics as possible,” he said. “So we rewrote them in a different style. And then when I was singing it, she told me I was singing it like I was from Spain, not from Mexico. That’s something I didn’t know too much about. I knew the Mexican inflections on things but I didn’t know the Spanish inflections, and so I started getting into that more and more, especially coming from the bullfighting video. So I went more for the flair of it being from Spain.”
And, boy, is there a lot of, uh, flair in “Conquista,” which is equal parts telenovela and Tiento, with White belting out Spanish phrases with reckless abandon (and little concern for pronunciation). It’s slightly sweet, rather hilarious and completely WTF?-worthy, which means that it’s a fitting addition to the Stripes’ musical canon. It’s being released here in the States under the name Las Rayas Blancas (“I have no idea if it’ll be under that name in the record shop,” White laughed), which should be good enough for pretty much anyone.
But White isn’t pretty much anyone. He pushed the envelope even further, backing the single with a mariachi version of the song that he recorded in Beck’s living room with a mariachi band they hired off the street.
“We recorded five songs in his living room, one I had written on the plane out to Los Angeles, another I wrote in his living room. We just kept working, and new things came out,” White recalled. “And I said, ‘You know, I’d love to do a mariachi version of “Conquest” if we can, do you know a trumpeter?’ And he said, ‘Well, I do know that there’s this square in Los Angeles where mariachi bands wait around to be hired for parties and barbecues and things like that.’ So while we were recording one song, we asked someone to go find out if that was true, and they called back and said, ‘So do you want a four-piece or a five-piece band?’ They came down to Beck’s house, I taught them the song in the backyard and we recorded it very quickly. It was great.”
And, of course, while all that was going on he was still working on a handful of other projects, including the follow-up to the Raconteurs’ Broken Boy Soldiers, which he’s recording at Nashville’s Blackbird Studio (“It’s almost done. It sounds very different from the first record — we’re having a tough time sequencing it because it’s very large,” White laughed), a couple of new White Stripes songs he’s hoping to record when the Raconteurs are finished touring, and a long-rumored team-up with Bob Dylan.
And if all that seems like a lot for one man’s plate, well just remember that White’s also working on a series of projects that he can’t even talk about yet. Hey, leisure time is overrated.
“Bob’s putting together an album,” White said. “He came upon, somehow, 20-25 unfinished songs by Hank Williams: just the lyrics, no music, and he started to ask people if they would finish these songs. He did one, asked Willie Nelson to do one, asked me to do one, and I think Lucinda Williams and Alan Jackson are on it too. I think it might come out this year. It’s a cool record. And then, there’s some other stuff I have coming out, but I can’t tell you about it all just yet. You’ll have to be patient!”