Jack White is one of the stars of a new film about guitar gods, but six-strings are fundamentally unimportant, he surprisingly tells Rolling Stone after a screening of It Might Get Loud. "It doesn't matter if it's a guitar or a sitar or a keyboard or a synthesizer," he says. "We're getting into something better than that, deeper than that." (Check out the film's trailer below.)
It Might Get Loud is the stirring new documentary on three master guitarists of different generations: Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, U2's The Edge, and the White Stripes' and the Raconteurs' White. (Click for a sampling of the multifaceted White's various projects.) Both Page and White attended the film's premiere Friday at the Los Angeles Film Festival (ahead of its official August 14th release), where it was met with a standing ovation. The doc was directed by Davis Guggenheim, who won a 2007 Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth, and examines the work and inspirations of these rock guitarists, culminating in a three-man "summit" on a Warner Bros. soundstage early last year where they chatted passionately about music and jammed on one another's signature tunes. In one scene, all three play wild bottleneck slide guitar on Zeppelin's "In My Time of Dying." (Click for classic photos of Page and Led Zeppelin onstage and off.)
"You could find other guitarists that were virtuosos, and you could find other guitarists that are legends, but you may not find three that are all searchers," Guggenheim said of his subjects. "Each one of them is still searching and still trying to figure out what it means to make music."
The film also follows each of the players to the sources of their inspiration. Page is shown at home playing air-guitar to an old 45 of Link Ray's "Rumble." The Edge is seen listening to old The Joshua Tree demo tapes in his kitchen, then at U2's studio in Dublin working on new material, heavy with gadgets and effects — the scenes also reveal the guitarist's creative struggle and thoughtfulness during the writing process. And White is a biting, almost surly presence, preferring guitars that are bent, broken or cheap. "I want it to be a struggle," he tells Page and the Edge in the film. "Technology is the big destroyer of emotion and truth."
Friday, Page and White held a press conference in Beverly Hills with the director and producers. (Two nights before, Page was spotted at White's show with the Dead Weather at L.A.'s Roxy Theatre.) "What was really fascinating about this was that we were all really self-taught guitarists so we'd all have interesting characteristics," said Page, in a black leather jacket. "It's not like where you're part of an orchestra, where everyone has been taught the same way. This is really strong with character."
After the press conference, Page, White and Guggenheim spoke with Rolling Stone about a potential soundrack, volume and letting it bleed.
Why do you call the guitar "the MacGuffin" in this movie?
White: It's Hitchcock's phrase — the money in the car in Psycho. She stole the money? Who cares? It doesn't matter if it's a guitar or a sitar or a keyboard or a synthesizer. We're getting into something better than that, deeper than that. What's more interesting is how that's attacked and what can be done with it that can be transferred to something else.
So the movie isn't just about geeking out on guitars?
Page: It's about a collective consciousness. I learned a lot just by doing, being there on the soundstage and by seeing how Edge would approach things, and Jack. It was really fascinating to be part of that.
Will there be a soundtrack?
White: We talked about it. I don't really know. We're discovering if some things make sense or not. We're talking about maybe a vinyl of things that were in the film. We don't want to put out like a greatest-hits record.
Find out where Page, White and the Edge rank among our Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Plus, check out photos of our own guitar god summit: Eddie Van Halen, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and more.
In the film, there's a scene with the Raconteurs onstage where you're bleeding during your solo on "Blue Veins."
White: It just shows the idea about passion and pushing really hard and making things harder on yourself. You can stand still and play politely and still get paid at the end of the night. If you don't push yourself, you're not going anywhere.
Why so loud?
White: I need to feel it. I've gone through things where I go onstage and the sound guy at soundcheck comes over and he'll hold the decibel meter and show it to me while we're playing — and it's 127 decibels. That's not good [laughs]. And I can't even tell. If it's not right there, it feels wimpy, it feels uninspiring.
Page: Especially with these valve amplifiers that we really love, it gets to the point where they suddenly start really working, and the valves start to really glow and glow, and they might even explode. That's when it's starting to get good. There is a sort of threshold where it starts kicking in.
What does playing loud do to the crowd?
White: There is a level where people feel it, and they feel it differently. There is also a level where it's stupid loud and it's not doing anybody any good. But you find a moment where everyone feels it, and you maybe push it a little bit more than that.
Do you find as time goes on that you're turning it up a little bit more?
Page: All I do know is that it doesn't work when you turn it down.
Guggenheim: It Might Get Quieter is not a good title for a movie.