Inside the plush Third Man Records complex in Nashville, a silver plaque on an office door reads JOHN A. WHITE, III DDS: FAMILY DENTRISTY. Inside, Jack White sits behind his cluttered corner desk. Sucking on a giant lozenge, his eyes bleary, he apologizes for repeatedly clearing his throat. Last night, steps away from this office, White celebrated his label’s third anniversary with his first full show as a solo artist — debuting heavy-hitting tunes from his new album, Blunderbuss (due out April 24th), in between older favorites by the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather. “I always resisted it,” he says of going solo. “I thought it was just an easy-way-out, showbiz, boring choice to make. It’s a remnant of back in the day when nobody had any idea what to do with themselves. Like, you’re in a famous band, and then you have your solo career for the rest of your life and then you die.”
Until last summer, White’s top musical priority was producing seven-inch vinyl singles for Third Man by artists as far-flung as Insane Clown Posse, Tom Jones, JEFF the Brotherhood and Stephen Colbert. In between those sessions, he started stealing time at his studio to flesh out a few demos of his own. As he got deeper into his solo project, White experimented with unusual techniques: “I’d say, ‘Well, I’m gonna only call female musicians today’ or ‘only male musicians.'” He ended up with two backing bands split along gender lines — drummer Daru Jones, who impressed White when he rolled through Nashville with Detroit rapper-producer Black Milk, anchors the dude band, while drummer Carla Azar of art-rock crew Autolux serves as the cornerstone of the ladies’ unit. “The session for ‘Love Interruption’ was totally inspired,” says Ruby Amanfu, who steals the scene with her backing vocals on the slow-rolling swamp groove. “Our mics were next to each other, and we sang it live to tape.”
“I’M COMPLETELY UNRELAXED. AND THAT’S NOT NEGATIVE AT ALL.” —JACK WHITE
Both backing squads will join White on his spring tour, which kicks off May 15th in Nashville. “I won’t decide who’s playing each night until breakfast that morning,” he says. “The band doesn’t know, I don’t know, the press and the fans don’t know, until you come to the show. That keeps the energy alive for everybody.” Each band has rehearsed more than 40 songs from White’s catalog — “Some nights I slept with earbuds in, with the tunes on repeat,” says Amanfu — and White is refusing to use set lists for this tour. “There’s nothing more boring than a solo artist who finds a band to play exactly like the CD,” he says. “Somebody fucking shoot me if I ever do that crap.”
Showgoers can expect a healthy dose of Stripes classics, most of which he’s never played without Meg White. “I think anything I’ve written in my life is up for grabs,” he says. The Stripes officially disbanded in February 2011, though they hadn’t performed together since 2009- “It was necessary to announce that the White Stripes didn’t exist anymore for me to really put myself out there as a solo artist,” he says. “I didn’t want to deal with the constant comparison from people who wouldn’t be broad-minded enough to understand the difference.”
Last year, White and model Karen Elson celebrated their amicable divorce with a party at their home in Nashville. With two kids at home, White says he will continue to tour sporadically this year, though he doesn’t like to plan more than a month in advance. “It’s just a circus,” he says. “It always is, 24 hours a day. I gave myself over to what I do a long time ago — I’m in the head space now of being completely unrelaxed. And while that might sound bad, it’s not negative at all. A negative thing as an artist would be to feel satisfied.” White recording at Third Man Records in Nashville.”I’ve always resisted going solo,” he says.