THE WHITE STRIPES ANSWER QUESTIONS: NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE
Our favorite aesthetic fascists get all political: “The last record had no bass. This one has some bass. We’re not against the bass.” No comment on Iraq.
Interpol in New York Times Magazine, Men’s Fashion of the Times inset.
Full Stripes interview text after the jump
QUESTIONS FOR THE WHITE STRIPES
Rock ‘n’ Rules
Interview by HUGO LINDGREN
Q You’ve said that your band’s new album, ”Elephant,” is about the ”death of the sweetheart.” What does that mean?
JACK WHITE: The sweetheart, the gentleman — it’s the same thing. These ideas seem to be in decline, and I hate it. You look at your average teenager with the body piercings and the tattoos. You have white kids going around talking in ghetto accents because they think that makes them hard. It’s so cool to be hard. We’re against that.
MEG WHITE: The message everywhere is it’s O.K. not to care about anything. Everything can be judged, everything can be trashed.
So are you proposing that people embrace the values of a previous era?
JACK: No, I don’t want to be considered old-fashioned or a Luddite or conservative. But it’s sad to see young kids today — they’re sitting around listening to hip-hop or new metal, with a Sony PlayStation, a bong of marijuana. This is their life. It’s a whole culture. And the parenting is so relaxed about that.
In other words, kids need discipline. That sounds counter to the rock ‘n’ roll ideal.
JACK: It’s not counter to us. It’s what our band is about. We’re white people who play the blues, and our problem was how do we do that and not be fake? Our idea was to strip away everything unnecessary, to put ourselves in a box, to make rules for ourselves.
What sort of rules?
JACK: In live shows, we never play from a set list. The last record, we said, no guitar solos, no slide guitar, no covers.
And no bass?
MEG: The last record had no bass. This one has some bass. We’re not against the bass.
Why hem yourself in with restrictions?
JACK: It makes the band what it is. I’m disgusted by artists or songwriters who pretend there are no rules. There’s nothing guiding them in their creativity. We could’ve spent six months making our last album. We could have recorded 600 tracks. Instead, we went and made the whole album, 18 songs, in 10 days.
That must mean a lot of free time. What else have you been doing?
JACK: I spent six weeks filming the movie ”Cold Mountain” in Romania. My character is a mandolin player, a Civil War deserter. I sing three songs in the film.
They don’t sound much like White Stripes songs, I’d imagine.
JACK: No, not much. The whole thing was deeply humbling. I went down to Nashville to record the soundtrack and it was all the best bluegrass musicians, and I didn’t even want to touch an instrument around those guys. I just said, O.K., I will sing, humbly sing. Much as I love American folk music, I didn’t think that alone entitled me to be in that world.
In all the touring you’ve done, have you encountered much anti-American sentiment?
MEG: Not at all. I don’t think many people hate Americans. They’re dissatisfied with what’s happening. We’re not a very political band.
You never feel the urge to express a political opinion?
JACK: When I was a teenager, I was really into voicing my political opinions. But I could never see anything coming from it. The people who were organizing the rallies and everything, I started to notice that they lived for dissatisfaction. And that is not me. The blues could be very political, you know — Leadbelly sang about Hitler. But I shy away from doing anything like that because I’m scared of novelty. I’m scared of having nowhere to go with it. A band like Rage Against the Machine, they were very angry and political, but it seems like they ran out of things to be angry about, so they had to go back and talk about Vietnam. It can be interesting, but is that what you want to do, get angry about things you didn’t even experience?