Entertainment & Arts

Jack White: Festivals are 'necessary evil'

Jack White
Image caption White is returning to the UK in November for a run of six shows

Hot on the heels of announcing a UK tour for November, and with the second single from his number one album Blunderbuss due for release at the end of the month, Jack White returns to London this weekend to perform at the iTunes Festival.

It has been a summer of globetrotting for the former White Stripes frontman, which involved performances at several festivals, despite the fact that he views them as "a necessary evil in the business", likening them to playing at a party.

"I don't get excited about festivals - they're not my favourite place to play," he admits.

"A lot of people come to them and there's all these pros to them. You get exposure to people who would never come and see you and [the organisers] offer bands a lot of money so they can't say no, but they're not my first choice to perform music.

"Everyone's drinking and lazing in the sun and walking around and that's a fun thing for them but it's not interesting for me.

"I'm not trying to be negative, it's just never been too exciting for me."

Image caption Blunderbuss is the first solo album from the former White Stripes frontman

'Shake things up'

White says he is heavily influenced by his surroundings and the people in them. "If you're playing live music, whatever you do influences the sound," he says.

On tour, he switched between all male and all female musicians each night "to shake things up".

"If we brought in six female musicians and you brought my mum in the room and sat her down, [or] if we had seven 80-year-old men sitting there and you brought in a beautiful 20-year-old girl and had her sit there, you're going to influence everyone's playing attitude.

"It's not gender based or age based, it's the idea that we are all human and we react to our environments," he adds.

Detroit-born White has also soaked up the abundance of talent in Nashville, where he moved four years ago and established a physical location for his label Third Man Records.

Being in Nashville has allowed him to make the most of the city's musical talent.

"The Nashville part is how many musicians were around me for the sessions - musicians who were living around Nashville that I could pull in for the recordings.

"Other places I've lived, I've never had that opportunity to pull these different people - fiddle players, pedal steel players - from nearby."

Blunderbuss has been likened to Bob Dylan's break-up album Blood on the Tracks because of the lyrics about heartache, anger and loneliness.

Image caption White moved to Nashville four years ago and set up a physical base for Third Man Records

While White is happy to take the comparison as a compliment, similarities to Dylan - or any other musician - are not deliberate, he says.

"For me it's about pushing myself to do something I haven't done before. Some people might say 'that sounds like an old Rolling Stones song', and maybe it does, but it was something I never did before.

"It's easy to emulate, it means you don't have any idea what to do with yourself. That would be a scary place to be and I'm glad I've never felt that way."

So what is the songwriting process for someone who places such importance on originality?

"It's different every time," he replies.

"Sometimes it's lyrics first, sometimes it's music first. Sometimes it's a melody of two or three notes that speak to me, maybe they came out when I was checking an amplifier.

"A song [Sixteen Saltines] on this album actually happened when I was checking a reverb unit. That's one of your jobs, to be that attentive, to have the tuner in your brain. It's being able to pay attention when those accidents happen."

Image caption The White Stripes' Seven Nation Army won a Grammy award for Best Rock Song in 2004

One of those so-called "accidents" resulted in the Grammy Award-winning song Seven Nation Army, from The White Stripes' 2004 album Elephant.

"I played the [now famous guitar] riff for the song for Ben Swank who works at Third Man. He said 'It's OK' and Meg didn't think anything of it either. I thought it was interesting.

"Even when we recorded it, nobody thought it was that good. Even when the album was done, our record label didn't want to release it as a single!

"But it shows you if you don't pay attention to those things, you'll miss a lot of them."

As a composer, White believes his duty is to be "reverential" to each song and make it "come to life".

But his lyrics are "arbitrary", written so people can relate to them rather than being a reflection of his own personal circumstances, he says.

"I think anyone who would sell their personal life out there, and have people listen to [them] whine about it is kind of ridiculous.

"When you're a songwriter it's your job to try to tap into these different struggles and put them out there for people to relate to, not for you to air your dirty laundry, especially in the tabloid culture that exists today. I have absolutely no interest in that."

I'm Shakin is due for release on 24 September.

More on this story

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites