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Inside Jack White's World's Fastest Record

How the rocker recorded, pressed and distributed "Lazaretto" in under four hours

April 21, 2014 8:55 AM ET
Jack White holds the World's Fastest Record on record store day
Jack White holds the "World's Fastest Record."
Jo McCaughey

"This is the day," Jack White proclaimed to a Nashville crowd on Saturday, "that Jesus said: 'not yet.'" 

Sunday may have been all about that other fellow's resurrection, but Saturday was Record Store Day, and the lord and savior of vinyl had challenged himself to his own remarkable feat: to make the world’s fastest record. White accomplished the trick in three hours, 55 minutes and 21 seconds, the stopwatch ticking from the first dirty thump of the single "Lazaretto" to his personal handoff in front of his headquarters, Third Man Records. 

What Is a Lazaretto? Behind Jack White's New Album Title

 The idea had been brewing for years, and Record Store Day, along with the fifth anniversary of Third Man, seemed the perfect occasion to set the plan in motion. There was no safety netonly a short dry run the night beforeand so when some stereo equipment broke, the only option left was to cut in mono. ("Even cooler," White later told reporters gathered in a stockroom, as he dragged on a cigarillo. "Phil Spector will be happy, I guess.")

 Jack White - "Lazaretto" 

At 10 a.m., a few hundred fans eager to bear witness to the stunt packed into the eerie periwinkle glow of the Blue Room, a toybox venue in the back of the property that, with curved Jetson walls, dusty oriental rugs and taxidermy adornments, radiates a blend of Kubrickian modernity and throwback kitsch. White took the stage flanked by two faux security guards. Several real ones patrolled the crowd, ready to evict anyone caught capturing snapshots on their cell phones, in order to save the first images for the album art of the limited-edition 7". 

"It’s nice of you to join us for breakfast," said White, decked out in a royal blue suit and art deco tie, while he led the band into "High Ball Stepper" as a fertile warm-up. The group included Buzzards mainstays Daru Jones and Cory Younts, the Peacocks' Lillie Mae and new addition Scout Paré-Phillips, an artist-musician who's the secret to the cosmic wahs on the song. Third Man co-founder Ben Swank (who, in his introduction, told the audience to greet White like "Lazarus walking from the tomb") now instructed the crowd that when the light turned blue, they'd be cutting, "making history together."

And so they did. The signal hit and the band hurled into "Lazaretto," a scorching rock number dripping in funk and reverb with spaced-out Atari pings and lyric-firing reminiscent of the Dead Weathers' "I Cut Like a Buffalo."

 Jack White - "High Ball Stepper" 

For the B-side, it was Elvis Presley’s "Power of My Love," with White stretching Presley’s warble into his enigmatic screech, punching each vowel with a wicked tic-tac bassline. It’s clear the two men share more than just a penchant for flamboyant suiting – though White, appropriately, was wearing a pair of blue suede shoes.

"The records have left the building," White declared as they finished, removing his jacket and hat. The master was transported to United Record Pressing, escorted by a security detail on white Vespas, to be manufactured and packaged. Though he was eager to supervise production himself, White thought he’d play a few more tunes first.

"Everybody’s waking up," he said, grooving easily into the White Stripes classic "Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground" and a trio of songs from Blunderbuss, "Freedom at 21," "Weep Themselves to Sleep" and "Love Interruption." Next was an audience-sung "Hello Operator" and a version of "Hotel Yorba" that turned up the twang with a fervent lapsteel and Mae’s eager fiddle.

White debuted three additional tracks from Lazaretto: "Three Women," a funky soul brag-rag about his bicoastal cadre of babes ("red, blonde and brunette") that’s part James Brown's "Sex Machine" and part Howlin’ Wolf’s "Wang Dang Doodle," the Buddy Holly-on-acid "Just One Drink," and "Would You Fight for My Love," another journey into his torrid romantic landscape. The song is anchored in a moody piano vamp and aching strings, a locomotive beat propelling it all; it’s an emotional, crisscross genre work of magic.

World's Fastest Record Recap

After the set, White headed to oversee the pressing, eventually making it back to Third Man to present the first retail copies to the patient crowd (including a group of middle-aged women wearing shirts reading  "my favorite shade of black is White"). He then returned to the Blue Room to watch an electric performance from Whirlwind Heat, during which he head-bobbed alongside the audience. It was time for celebration, after all.

Despite his campaign for vinyl, White admitted that he’s not actually a huge collector himself. "I’ll purchase a set of old blues 78s, but only because I want it to not get broken," he said. "I have a very small record collection. But it’s the greatest records ever."

Naturally, this won't be the last crazy stunt embarked upon by the Third Man team. As Swank told Rolling Stone, "we don’t shy away from the word 'gimmick' or 'novelty.' I think that stuff’s really important. There doesn’t have to be that one cynical way of releasing music. If you enjoy what you are doing, you might as well have fun."

While the 7" was only available at Third Man on Record Store Day, Lazaretto can be enjoyed in more conventional formats when it’s released on June 10th.

Lazaretto Tracklist

1. Three Women
2. Lazaretto
3. Temporary Ground
4. Would You Fight for My Love?
5. High Ball Stepper
6. Just One Drink
7. Alone in My Home
8. Entitlement
9. That Black Bat Licorice 
10. I Think I Found the Culprit
11. Want and Able

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