A couple of months before the release of the 2001 landmark that was White Blood Cells, the White Stripes played to a handful of people at Vancouver’s long-gone Pic Pub. Like the rest of the city, I missed out, that becoming doubly traumatic when Jack and Meg White went on to be the biggest breakout stars of the year. I first interviewed Jack White in 2002, when the band returned for a considerably bigger White Blood Cells show, and a couple of times after that. In all cases he was cordial but guarded, whether he was discussing the Stripes or the work that followed with the Raconteurs.
By the time White went solo in 2012 with Blunderbuss, he was genuine rock royalty, doing documentary specials like It Might Get Loud with the likes of Jimmy Page and the Edge, and rarely talking to the press. But when the Straight offered up the cover for an interview, his people made it happen. Right off the top, White seemed unusually relaxed, giving expansive and detailed responses to all questions, riffing on the importance of not doing things note-for-note live, how it’s okay to make records that it takes a while to like, and how the best way to tell if a song is good is to play it for a kid.
As the interview progressed he also proved surprisingly willing to pull the curtain back on his private life. Revelations included that he spent nearly a decade in a band with someone—that would be Meg White—who frustratingly had little interest in discussing, well, anything. And that, entirely by choice, his life consisted of nothing but work, work, and then working on more work. And, when needing feedback, how he’d much rather play unfinished or recently completed songs for women than men. (“There’s too much cloudiness with men—too much territorial, egotistical competition with male musicians.”)
Because he’s famously intense, White is one of those interviews where no amount of research makes you feel like you’re prepared for what’s to come. On this day all I had to do was let the tape roll as he skipped from the job of being an artist to how the hip-hop and mainstream pop worlds have no idea who he is. And when we were done, a little of the sting was gone over the Pic Pub gig.