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You'll never see photos of Jack White's breakfast on Instagram. Nor any pets, family, or "squad." He's the rare public figure who eschews social media… and cell phones. The multi-hyphenate talent is a hands-on and present person, whether he's building furniture, songs, or vinyl pressing plants.
With 12 Grammys under his belt since forming the White Stripes in 1997 — not to mention collaborations with Beyoncé, Loretta Lynn, Q-Tip, and Alicia Keys (for a James Bond theme), and his philanthropy dedicated to the revitalization of his Detroit hometown — White is a tireless creator. His two new solo albums, both of which are out in the first half of 2022, do nothing to dispel his workaholic reputation.
EW reviewed the "wooly wall of sound" that is Fear of the Dawn, which scored nine no. 1s, including on Billboard's Top Album sales chart, following its April 8 release. (That was a busy day for White, who spent the morning playing the national anthem at a Detroit Tigers game and the night proposing to — and marrying — longtime girlfriend Olivia Jean onstage at his concert.) But that LP was only half of White's recent recorded output.
Speaking with EW from his Nashville home, White tells us about its follow-up, Entering Heaven Alive (out July 22), and his myriad other passions.
Paige Sara Jack White
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I understand that before you did these two albums, you didn't play guitar for about eight months in the midst of COVID. What does that do to your psyche?
JACK WHITE: If it had been my only creative outlet, it would have been a humongous crisis. I've never had a lack of things I'm interested in and curious about, let alone passionate about and obsessed about. I've been lucky to have all that, but also never enough time to catch up to something I wanted to do a year ago. As the years have gone on, I thought that would get less and less and less, you know? Because I had this feeling when I was a teenager and in my 20s. Things like [my label] Third Man Records pop up, and different bands like the Dead Weather and the Raconteurs. These things add more opportunity to the table for me to be creative.
And then in 2020, I did start the Instagram account for my upholstery shop. And all my design work.... I've never really done a social media thing before, but I thought it was interesting because I'm actually doing something and it's not photographing my breakfast or my dog — it's me actually working on something. It felt good and cathartic to finally share that. Sculpture and photography and things I've never shared with people before, I put it all together in a website where it was all easily accessible.
Do you enjoy looking at pictures of people's breakfasts or dogs?
I don't really indulge in the voyeuristic part of [social media]. I do like to see other makers working. Whether it's painters or carpenters, I enjoy that a lot. But as far as people just taking a picture of their feet at the beach, or whatever the common tropes are, no.
I read that since Entering Heaven Alive is your second album in six months, even if people like it better than Fear of the Dawn, you feel it won't get as much attention. Is that right?
My friends were saying that, and I would tend to agree. It's kind of a safe bet, that idea. Once you've made a few albums, you're in more of a position to know what's to come once you finish mixing and releasing a record. You know in the back of your head that [a certain] lyric is going to get exemplified in a music video. Or that a song title is going to be a headline. As you start mixing the record and finishing it, you start realizing, "Oh, you know, maybe it's not worth having a song title [like that], because I don't wanna have to talk about that for the next six months." It sadly starts to make you reevaluate your own art — and that's not a good thing. For the most part, you have to stay away from that as much as possible. You can't think of things that way when you're writing. I mean, I can't at least. But sometimes there are battles that aren't really worth fighting.
Aww, that's sad.
[Laughs] It kind of is, right? But it's the reality of it, not me whining or anything. It's not the same as when you're in a punk band and releasing 45s and there's nothing on the table — nothing for people to compare it to. For the rest of my life, I'll have people who like the White Stripes and that's it. So you're always either sounding like them or not sounding like them. Whichever way you choose, you're already immediately turning off 50 percent of people. So you have to do kind of dumb things, which you shouldn't have to think of. I mean, Martin Scorsese shouldn't have to think about Taxi Driver when he's making his new movie. It's a high-class problem to have, but it's the way you scope things.
Lyrically, "Queen of the Bees" on Entering Heaven Alive reminded me of a favorite movie and book, Paper Moon. I don't know if you know it. Both your song and the movie are old-fashioned but have the "wink and a nod" thing…
I love that movie so hard — so much, it's hard for me to watch it. It chokes me up to watch it. Thanks for saying that, because that is a very strange song. I wrote it on a Mellotron that had samples of other instruments on it, so I'm making chord changes I would have never chosen on the guitar. It took me to a whole different spot, writing that song.
The lyrics are so goofy, but sweet and sincere: "I want to hold you like a sloth hugs a tree."
I was challenging myself to sort of see what I could get away with! If you went back when I was 25 and said, "Would you write lyrics about buttering toast?" I would say, "Never, I would never do that!" I also did something like that on "Taking Me Back" [Fear of the Dawn's opening cut], where I had a whole list of words I was trying: "Let's see if I can get these words to be in there." Like "supermarket," "Christmas," "coffee," whatever. The song is so hard. The electric version was so heavy, I was like, "I'm going to try to put words in there that do not belong." Some of them made it, and some of them didn't. Some were crossed out, like "No way can I sing that, I'll just laugh every time when I'm on stage." But I like giving myself little challenges.
Then the "lighter" version of that song is "Taking Me Back (Gently)," which ends Entering Heaven Alive. How did you decide to full-circle the records like that?
I thought it would be nice to show people what you can do with the exact same song, to do a totally gentle jazzy version recorded on actual 1930s equipment. The heavy version was totally on Pro Tools and digital and straight into the computer, right in your face. It's just to show that the style doesn't really matter, it's the song underneath it all. I thought, "I'll use it as a reprise in the album later on for 30 seconds, or maybe a B-side, or maybe it's a lost track?" I thought it'd be a cool test and experiment. But as it started to turn into two records I thought, "Oh, wouldn't it be great if I started the first one with the heavy one and ended the second one with a soft one, and it loops all the way around?" So that came out really cool.
I remember when I was young, I used to always look for clues between different albums that were never there. I would get these albums, lay them on the carpet, and expect there to be something, you know? Maybe it came from like John Lennon saying, "the walrus was Paul," or things like that. I wanted there to be connections. So that was nice to be able to do that.
Where did the title Entering Heaven Alive come from?
That was a reading about Elijah going into heaven without dying first [in the Bible]. I thought, "Interesting, wait a second, is that something that other people…?" And there were different figures in different religions that sort of skipped the death part and went straight to heaven. I started reading a lot of things about that. I like to write down phrases that make me think down the line. That was one of them: "Entering Heaven Alive."
I know there were inherent challenges in making these albums due to COVID.
The recording by myself, I had never really done that. We weren't really allowed to have a session with other musicians in the same studio [during lockdown]. I ended up doing a lot of songs where I played all the instruments. I think the first three songs on Fear of the Dawn are all me. It's kind of funny: I forgot, and then when I was listening to it, mastering and mixing, I was like, "Oh, wow, that's like 10, 12 minutes in a row of nothing but my own performing." That would be something I'd love to go back and play myself when I was younger, because I would have never imagined doing that. So I'm glad I got to break through that and try that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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