White Stripes and Raconteurs frontman Jack White unveiled his two latest projects Wednesday night in his adopted hometown of Nashville: A new downtown office for Third Man Records, the imprint that's offered his White Stripes and Raconteurs releases, and a new band called the Dead Weather. (Track White's many guises onstage, onscreen and behind the scenes.)
The new White-designed space for the vinyl-focused Third Man, just down the way from Nashville's strip of trademark honky-tonks, will house the label office, a vinyl record store, a photo studio/dark room and a rehearsal/performance space. The new band takes White from the front of the stage back behind the drum kit, while the Kills' Alison Mosshart mostly handles singing duties. The two are joined by White's fellow Raconteur Jack Lawrence on bass and former touring Raconteur/Queen of the Stone Age Dean Fertita on guitar.
Third Man will release the Dead Weather's debut LP, Horehound — which White produced — in June, and Wednesday, the band offered some 150 friends and associates (among them, Raconteurs Brendan Benson and Patrick Keeler, the White Stripes' Meg White and Tennesseans Sheryl Crow and Martina McBride) a preview of both the record and the forthcoming onstage versions, playing a five-song set in the Third Man performance space.
The tracks — a sludgy, bluesy blend of psych-rock guitar, alternately stark and explosive rhythms and Mosshart's sultry-to-siren vocal — take relatively logical leaps from the members' other bands, White's groove-heavy drumming elevating the Dead Weather's Stripes-esque blues-rock moods and Fertita and Mosshart pulling in atmosphere and disaffected cool, respectively.
The band's beginnings, White said, trace back to the tail end of the Kills/Raconteurs tour, when he suffered a slipped disc and severe case of bronchitis that threatened to waylay his voice. His band went heavy on co-frontman Brendan Benson's songs to finish the tour, and brought Mosshart in to take the lead for well-loved White tracks such as "Steady, As She Goes."
"It reenergized the tour," White said of his now-bandmate Mosshart's contributions. The onstage energy quickly blossomed into the new band. "We had one day off in Nashville where [Mosshart] had spent the night and the next day she would fly out," White said. "So the three of us [White, Mosshart and Lawrence] said, 'Why don't we record a 7-inch?'... Dean just happened to be spending the night in one of the ante rooms [in my house]."
"I'd been there for a while..." Fertita countered. That 7-inch grew into Horehound over a 15-day Nashville session that also made time for circus and gun range trips. The album and band certainly beg questions about the future of the members' other bands, and plans as of yet, White said, are to play shows when the record comes out, and after Mosshart wraps an upcoming, months-long jaunt with the Kills. Beyond that, White said, he's letting the Dead Weather and Third Man evolve naturally.
"I mean it's sort of a thing where, when the Raconteurs came out you get so hammered about it — everyone wants to put a label. Is it a side project? Is it a new band? Is it all that jazz?" he said. "I don't know, man, just pick one of them — whatever you want to call it. The point is: There's a new institution, there's a studio, there's a vinyl record label, there's a pressing plant a few blocks away... Things can happen very quickly. Music will be in your hands quickly. And that's the whole point of it."
Check out the Spring Album Preview in the next issue of Rolling Stone for more on Jack White's new Dead Weather project and their June release.