Rock 'n' roll supergroup the Dead Weather owes its existence to Jack White’s shredded vocal cords
Even if the specifics are a bit foggy, Alison Mosshart remembers the Dead Weather’s official coming-out party earlier this year as one of those awesomely debauched evenings you never forget.
The four-piece’s live debut was a surprise to the mix of celebrities (Sheryl Crow, Martina McBride) and in-the-know hipsters who were lucky enough to score invites to the March 11 opening bash for the Nashville headquarters of Third Man Records. Because Third Man is owned by a certain Jack White—famous as the singer, guitarist, and architect of both the White Stripes and the Raconteurs—speculation was that one of the groups that made White famous would be taking the makeshift stage. Instead, on a spring night in the American South, it was the Dead Weather, a new sludge-blues supergroup.
Unknown as they might have been that evening, by the next morning the news was all over the Net that a new band had been born, one with Kills supervixen Mosshart on vocals, Queens of the Stone Age hired gun Dean Fertita handling guitar, Raconteur Jack Lawrence on bass, and a pasty-faced, multitasking alt-rawk icon behind the kit. Looking back, Mosshart remembers the morning after as being ugly, which is usually a sure sign that the night before was a killer.
“Third Man Records headquarters was literally done being built the day that we played there, so it was kind of like an opening party,” the singer says, on the line from a Toronto tour stop. “People knew that someone was going to play, and that Jack was probably going to be involved, but no one knew totally what they were going to get. We jumped on-stage an hour-and-a-half into the party and played five songs. It was brilliant. We had no idea what we were doing—we hadn’t even rehearsed, because we had just finished writing the record.
“A lot of adrenaline and a lot of drinking was involved,” she continues. “The next morning, I actually had to change my flight because I couldn’t get off the living-room floor. I was supposed to fly back to London, but I ended up going, ”˜I need to lie down on the floor with the other 25 people who were there and watch Eastbound & Down and laugh for 24 hours before I can actually get up again.’ ”
Flash forward a few months, and Mosshart is feeling considerably better. The Dead Weather’s feedback-soaked debut rager, Horehound, entered the Billboard charts at number six when it was released in July, further proof that whatever White touches seems to turn to gold. And shows—including both upcoming Vancouver gigs at the Commodore—have been instant sellouts, which wasn’t exactly the case when the Kills and the White Stripes made their initial North American forays. More gratifying to Mosshart than the packed houses has been the way that she and her new collaborators have jelled into an actual band.
Mosshart admits it took her a while to feel comfortable fronting the Dead Weather. If you’ve seen her with the Kills, where her attention is almost solely focused on guitarist Jamie Hince, then you know she doesn’t go out of her way to connect with audiences. Her charisma is directly related to the fact that she’s part of a telepathically connected team. With the Dead Weather, she suddenly found herself lacking chemistry with a long-time bandmate.
“Those first shows that the Dead Weather did, it was almost as if I was looking around for that Jamie character, that person to talk to the whole way through the set, even if it was only psychically,” she says. “It’s grown now to where all of us are on the same page, but it was hard at first.”
Both the formation of the Dead Weather and the creation of Horehound were considerably less stressful. The origins of the project can be traced back to last fall, when the Kills toured with the Raconteurs as the support act. When White lost his voice, he began inviting Mosshart on-stage to help out. Afterward, he casually suggested working together.
“There was no pressure. It was more like ”˜It would be really cool if me, you, and LJ [Lawrence] ended up in the studio sometime.’ When it happened, we ended up playing for 12 hours.
“But even after that,” she continues, “a month went by where we didn’t do anything and still hadn’t thought about the Dead Weather being anything other than a seven-inch single. It was when we went back into the studio to finish the songs that we had started that we couldn’t stop writing. We got on a roll and couldn’t stop ourselves.”
The result was a record that’s arguably more dangerous-sounding than any of the projects that have made the various members of the Dead Weather famous. If you want menacing, look no further than the covered-in-Mississippi-sludge opening dirges “60 Feet Tall” and “Hang You From the Heavens”, both of which marinate the blues in a mix of morphineand moonshine. From there, Mosshart and company take their time crawling out of the muck, but when they do, the results are epic, from feedback-soaked ozone-crackle rockers like “New Pony” and “Rocking Horse” to the death-party Americana of “Will There Be Enough Water?”. White uses “I Cut Like a Buffalo” to prove that he’s just as much an animal on the drums as he is a force on guitar, and Mosshart has never seemed as ready to get it on as she does on the sexed-up “Bone House”.
What the singer liked best about Horehound was the immediacy of the recording process. The last record she did with the Kills, 2008’s Midnight Boom, was marred by more stops and false starts than Axl Rose’s Chinese Democracy. Working with the Dead Weather was an entirely different experience for Mosshart, one which, like that night in Nashville last March, she’ll never forget.
“I’m used to going into a studio and having people spend two days getting a drum sound and two days getting a guitar sound,” the singer says. “You’re just sitting around and it kind of bums you out, all the waiting. There was no waiting involved with the Dead Weather, which was my kind of thing. It’s probably the way that Jack normally works. And it was a pleasure.”
The Dead Weather plays the Commodore Ballroom on Friday and Saturday (August 21 and 22).