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Q&A: Jack White on New Dead Weather and Solo Tracks, Radio City Walk-off

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Is it tough to balance these projects with having a family? 
No, it's not. I always thought when I was younger that when I got more and more interested in different things that there wouldn't be time for everything. And there really is time for everything. You discover that sometimes people sit and watch television for 12 hours. It's amazing what can occur in 12 hours. Sometimes five minutes with somebody that you love is comparable to a month's worth of someone you sit next to at work in a cubicle with. If it's important, it can be so much more meaningful. It's just managing your time with things that mean a lot to you. I've been lucky, because I just have a backlog of things I want to catch up to all the time. I hope that that well doesn't ever run dry for me, because I could become quite bored [laughs].

When you guys decide the Third Man Vault releases, are you sitting at a meeting with everybody? How do you decide what it's going to be?
Oh, we always do them all together, as a group effort. We love all the elements of really soulful things, beautiful, mechanical things. We love novelty at the same time. We love trickery. We love things that are historically important. There's so many things that revolve around this world in here. It's very compelling to have a record by Elvira and a record by Tempest Storm on the same level as Charlie Patton and Blind Willie McTell.

Why aren't more artists spreading themselves out more the way you are, instead of going through the cycle of one album every three or four years with the same project and then going on tour?
Well, I think that it's a confusing time now in music. It's confusing if you're a band. For example, you have festivals nowadays. You didn't have those 15 years ago. Festivals basically can dictate a musician's life now. You have to do them, because they put this offer on the table you can't refuse and you have to do what they say, and you basically have to plan your whole year around what these guys who plan festivals decide for you. And then that's your year. Besides that, it's so hard to sell a record nowadays that people will just do what the easiest thing is to do to kind of stay afloat, and you can't blame them for it. That's the sea that everyone's swimming in right now.

Video: Jack White Confronts Himself in 'I'm Shakin''

Have you considered hosting a Third Man music festival? 
We would love to. We would love to do a traveling show sometime soon. It would be nice if everybody has some affiliation with us in some way, and see if we can all put it on the road together. It would be very nice. I'd like to see everyone playing together like that and let it be bigger. I'll walk away from having my name have to be part of the sentence when people talk about Third Man Records. I'd rather, at some point, my name not have to be attached to it in that way, you know?

So you wouldn't play it, probably?
Yeah, I would. That'd be fine. I'd love to do something like that. We will. We've been talking about it for a long time now. We've done different things, like having Jerry Lee Lewis play across the street from us, and we've done a lot of live shows here, too. It's a no-brainer for us to put something together that we could do in Nashville, like a day or a couple-day event, but it would be nice to actually take it on the road.

This summer, maybe?
[Laughs] I don't know. That would be cool, but we have a lot of projects this year that are so exciting and intricate – I wish I could tell you about them – but they're gonna be so fulfilling to us, you know?

Death was a huge theme on Blunderbuss. Where is your head right now as a songwriter?
It's all over the place. It's, you know, going out on the road with two bands, that was going out on the road with a gigantic new family, and my influences have just spread out even more to have, you know, a hip-hop drummer and this, you know, bluegrass fiddle player next to, you know, someone from Denmark who plays steel guitar and a soul singer like Ruby Amanfu, on and on and on. There's no genre. It all comes together and influences me in 16 different ways.

It sounds like the experiment was a success for you.
Yeah, it was for me. And I think everybody involved was inspired and definitely doing something they've never done before. I don't think anybody had really done that before, and it was kind of scary in a way. We didn't know if it would only work for maybe two or three weeks and we'd have to cancel it, but it worked. It's worth all the trouble, I think.

So you'll continue to record with those bands?
I have been. I've got about 20 to 25 tracks I'm working on right now. A lot of songs. So it's a good time for writing for me.

That's amazing. So you might do a record this year?
I don't know. I don't know if it'll come out this year or not. I don't know when I'll finish it, because the last one kinda came together so strangely. I was in the middle of making it and I didn't realize I was doing it, you know? I was just doing it because I needed to get these songs down, and then I realized I was making a record, and I wanted to keep that going on this one. I just want to write and bring the Buzzards and Peacocks in and work on some things, and work on the things with no intention of what it's going to be. No competition between the bands. People just keep writing and recording until I decide what it's going to be. And I haven't decided yet, so.

Can you share what these 25 tracks are sounding like to you?
Oh, I'll try, but it's definitely not one sound. It's definitely several. Like you heard in Blunderbuss, there's many different styles there. I don't pick my style and then write a song. I just write whatever comes out of me, and whatever style it is is what it is, and it becomes something later. Someone else can label it if they want to, but as it's being written and recorded I'm just trying to service the song as best as possible. So that's, again, what I'm still doing.

I know in Mexico, on New Year's Eve, you spent some time with the Dead Weather. Have you been spending time with that band a lot lately?
We all live in Nashville now. All the Raconteurs and all the Dead Weather live in Nashville now, so we often go on trips together, because we're all just good pals. We've recorded some things, too. And Brendan [Benson] and the Raconteurs just built a new studio right in town, so it's a lot of great inspiration going around.

So you're doing Raconteurs stuff too?
Yeah, we've always been working together, you know? We did some Raconteurs shows like a year ago. Our things pick their place for us. We don't really sit down and pick them. They pick our place for us. Like, the Kills make a record or Queens of the Stone Age makes a record, I make a record, and it all falls into place, you know? Like, we didn't know we were going to do two Dead Weather records in a row. We didn't have any plan at all. We were just going to record a seven-inch, and it keeps going, and we make two albums' worth of material. We try not to tell it what to do. We let it tell us what to do.

2013 is a blank slate for you. You have all these things going on – do you know what your main interest is going to be yet?
Oh, on all the things we just discussed. Definitely. There's so many things. I could work 24 hours a day at Third Man all year if I wanted to. There's so much going on. So much going on, and there's so many amazing things that are gonna come out in the next few months that I'm excited about. I just look at it like one step at a time and I don't think too far ahead. I don't have any shows booked for this year at all. It's nice to have an open road in front of me.

So you might not tour with the Buzzards or the Peacocks?
I don't know. I don't know. I'm not sure. It's hard to say.

Will we ever hear the music Radiohead recorded at your studio in June?
I hope so, yeah. I love it. I hope that's gonna come out soon. It's up to Radiohead. I don't know what – I don't know where they're at with it.

What did you guys do?
They produced it themselves, or Thom [Yorke] produced it or something. They just recorded it at my studio, a couple of tracks, and then went on to play at Bonnaroo the next day.

I don't know if you want to talk about this or not, but I was at the Radio City show where you walked off. I loved the show, but people made a big deal about it. What was going through your head that night?
Oh, I just do what the crowd tells me to do. I always do that. I always have and always will. If I play an old folks' home or a fire station, I shut up when the crowd tells me to shut up. I provoke when the crowd tells me to provoke. The crowd's in complete control of me. So that's, that's what will happen at any given night you see me.

You just weren't feeling it?
I was just doing what they told me to do [Laughs].

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Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

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