Jack White vs the Mayor of Lambeth
Jack White launched his debut solo album in London on Tuesday night with an elaborate playback in a historic building on the capital's South Bank – and by being interviewed by the Mayor of Lambeth.
Guests arriving at County Hall, formerly home of the Greater London Council, to listen to Blunderbuss were served Jack Daniels-based cocktails of the same name before being led into the building's elegant high-ceilinged debating chamber. A large screen projected images of White, hidden away elsewhere in the complex, placing a stylus on a vinyl copy of the album on a turntable as the record's 13 songs filled the room.
Following the listening session, Labour councillor Christiana Valcarel, dressed in full mayoral regalia including chains of office, introduced White and sat him down to grill him about the album.
"You are a genius, man, you are a talent," she told him. "Don't get big-headed, though, but you should be proud of yourself."
"Should I not be big-headed, or should I be proud of myself?" he asked in reply. "I can't be both!"
"I didn't really know what I was doing"
White admitted that he had no specific plans to make a solo album when he first started recording the songs on Blunderbuss.
"I didn't really know I was doing it until I was doing it; four or five songs in, it felt like it was turning into something," he said. "I got three songs out of the first session, and it just kept going.
"I wasn't sure if they'd be for a Dead Weather record or a Raconteurs record, but by about the sixth or seventh song it felt like I was making a record of its own, so I just thought 'I guess I'll call this Me'.
"The album took shape one song at a time, like it always does. You just let the song be in charge and let the song tell you what to do; you're just a humble servant of the music. When you think you're in control of the songs, that's when you're making a mistake."
Councillor Valcarcel said she was especially impressed by two tracks on the album, first single Love Interruption and Hypocritical Kiss.
"Hypocritical Kiss was an interesting narration. When you're a songwriter you get to choose who narrates the tale – first person, third person, male or female. Sometimes you can confuse the listener, and that's what I wanted to do in that song."
White said the album was, in some ways, a reflection of his current home of Nashville, and the city's thriving musical community.
"If I didn't live in Nashville, I don't think I would have ended up making this record. I've been producing other people for my record label Third Man for the last three years, and through that I've collected a humungous family of people – pedal steel players, violinists, harpists, everything there is in town.
"When I produced the (veteran country singer) Wanda Jackson record last year, everything changed, my whole style of production. We had 10 or 12 people in the room at the same time playing live, the first time I'd actually conducted something like an orchestra of that many people. So, by the time I was working on my own songs for this record, it felt natural to have six or seven people to come in and play the instruments. It was a new challenge for me, and if I hadn't been in Nashville, where there's such a plethora of people you can choose from, it would have been a very different record. There's so much talent in that neighbourhood."
White said that the album, like most of his projects, was recorded quickly, but even more spontaneously than his previous work with The White Stripes, The Raconteurs or Dead Weather.
"Sometimes when I had nothing, I would challenge myself to make something up on the spot, although I'd tell the other players that I already had something in mind. I would just sit down at the piano, while people stood around, waiting for me to tell them what to do.
"The last song on the album, Take Me With You When You Go, was so complex and orchestrated that it took more time than the rest. It took us days, and days for me is like years for other people."
Blunderbuss is released on Third Man/XL on 24 April.