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Jack White reflects on The White Stripes: “I wasn’t trying to play complicated guitar solos or learning seven chord changes. It was just really visceral”

Jack White
(Image credit: Jo Hale/Getty Images)

With Jack White’s new solo album Fear Of The Dawn officially released today, the former White Stripes frontman/guitarist and entrepreneur behind Third Man Records has offered Apple Music’s Zane Lowe of is his home town Detroit.

There are many perceptions of Jack White the artist. For some, he is an electric guitar revivalist, popularising the forgotten pawnshop models, chasing retro tones. For others, he's an innovator, the brains behind strange but brilliant kit such as the Peppermint Triple Tremelo – a cabinet containing three types of Leslie revolving speakers. 

This conversation reframes White as an artist-cum-entrepreneur, casting him as a futurist, or as Lowe says, music’s own Willy Wonka, and it begins at Third Man’s HQ, where White explains the DIY ethic that underpins his label’s business model. 

White lets Lowe press his own blue marble copy of Fear Of The Dawn, and explains why black vinyl records sound better than any other, before taking it to the streets, where they take White’s story way back to the start, and to the site of the Gold Dollar, the former drag club where The White Stripes played their first gigs.

Standing in front of a vacant lot where the Gold Dollar used to stand, White said the venue, which had room for a little over 100 people, was like the CBGBs of the Detroit garage scene, and when The White Stripes took to the stage, he know immediately that that they had something special.

“It felt powerful right off the bat,” says White. “It just felt cool. I didn’t think it was going to be something other people would like. But I thought, ‘I really like the feeling of this. It feels so dirty and just raw, and simplified.’ 

“I wasn’t trying to play complicated guitar solos or learning seven chord changes, or anything like that. It was just really visceral, and that was more and more, let’s dig even deeper, let’s get more Detroit-sounding.”

White says the garage punk revivalist movement was cresting at the time, and referenced the importance of the Nuggets compilations of American psych and garage rock. That undoubtedly fed into the White Stripes sound but what White says was critical was Detroit itself. He wanted the White Stripes sound to echo that of America’s northern industrial powerhouse.

“We started getting into a mode of there of, ‘How can we make this more Detroit-sounding?’” he said. “The very first White Stripes album, the goal in my head was like I wanted it to sound like the city, like the streets we just walked down. I wanted it to sound like that. Like Iggy would say, the metal factory at the Ford Rouge plant, the vibe of that, the sound of metal clanging, all of that.”

Asked whether he has made sense of the mythology surrounding the band since he and drummer Meg White split the band in 2011 after a protracted hiatus, White says he was surprised they found such a large audience.

“I am surprised that people still get something out of it,” he said. “And it surprised me then and it surprises me now. There has never been a moment when, ‘Yeah, that is a good song. People should like that.’ I would never, never have felt that.”

You can watch White's interview with Lowe in full above. Fear Of The Dawn (opens in new tab) is out now via Third Man Records.

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.