Brendan Benson has spent the better part of 2004 hiding a terrific secret: He's been writing and recording an album with Jack White.
He managed to keep it quiet for months, but when whispers of the collaboration began to make the rounds on both sides of the Atlantic, all kinds of rumors began to circulate — including that Benson would be producing the new White Stripes album, or even joining the band.
The White Stripes' publicist had no update on the band or its album, but Benson was quick to clarify the rumors. He spoke with MTV News via cell phone from London, where he's been busy opening for Keane and drumming up support for the release of his third album, tentatively titled Alternative to Love, which is scheduled to hit shelves in March. He's been recording the album with his longtime friend White in a collaboration that seems loosely similar to the White Stripes frontman's recent work with Loretta Lynn (see "Jack White Surprises Loretta Lynn By Cranking Up The Country").
"Jack's doing his own [White Stripes] record, and I don't know too much about that," Benson said. "But Jack and I started making a record together. We've got 11 or 12 songs recorded, but not completely finished. We still need to sing vocals on some of the songs.
"He lives two or three blocks away from me [in Detroit], and we've been friends for a really long time. So this just seemed like a good excuse to see what would happen when we worked together. It seems to be working out."
Back in August, the two began working on the album at Benson's home (which he describes as "typically Detroit: it's a mini-mansion except cheap and in a terrible neighborhood"), but he's quick to add that the decidedly lo-fi surroundings haven't affected the songs they've been churning out.
"It's weird, man. There's stuff on there that sounds like Cat Stevens, and there's some stuff on there that sounds like Led Zeppelin," Benson said. "I can say some of the stuff sounds like pure Jack White. You can hear it and say, 'Oh, that's a Jack White song.' I don't know if people are going to think it's crap or brilliant. I have no idea."
White and Benson recruited bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler from Cincinnati garage-rockers the Greenhornes (who played on Lynn's album) to fill out the band. When he returns from his U.K. tour next week, Benson plans on putting the finishing touches on the album. And he said that all four musicians are determined to release it, and if necessary, launch a tour in support of it.
"It's really great, man. People have got to hear it. Jack and I both sing. And it's kind of like a Lennon/McCartney thing, if I may be so bold," Benson said. "And I'm not comparing the musicianship, just the fact that we're each kind of bringing in our own songs. And we both have different sounds and aesthetics, which adds a whole other aspect to it."