The Dead Weather Tears the Roof Off the Rock World
There are super-groups and then there is the Dead Weather, a serrated, rock-bluesy outfit featuring the White Stripes’ Jack White, the Kills’ Alison Mosshart, Queens of the Age’s Dean Fertita, and Jack Lawrence of the Greenhornes and the Raconteurs (White’s other handpicked band of musical brothers). But, a word to the wise, do not call them a super-duper group. On the eve of the band’s first New York performance (only their second live gig ever, after the opening of White’s Third Man Records space in Nashville, Tennessee), we sat down inside Manhattan’s Gramercy Park Hotel to discuss their debut record, Horehound, the danger of overzealous fans, and “weird fucking aliens.” (Also see our other Dead Weather feature.)
I understand that none of you necessarily operates in a zero-sum economy, but are there things you felt were missing in your previous musical incarnations, creative impulses you were hoping to satisfy by forming the Dead Weather? ALISON MOSSHART: I don’t know if it’s about getting something that I’m not getting elsewhere, but I always want to do things that I haven’t done before. It’s all a step towards learning what you’re supposed to do next. So, I don’t know, maybe everything fills a void you didn’t even know you had. DEAN FERTITA: It’s dangerous when you get involved in other projects because it’s tempting to compare the two, like, Wow, we all just laughed out loud. There are four people laughing out loud in a room to a joke, while, in my other band, there are only two people laughing … if that. JACK LAWRENCE: I don’t like to think of them as relationships because then I’d be a whore. AM: At the beginning, I felt like I was cheating on Jamie [Hince, the other half of the Kills]. It’s weird, because I know I’m not—I know I’m not. It’s just that other people make you feel that way.
People are so quick and eager to label things. AM: Exactly! For something good to happen, they want something bad to happen, to counter-balance it. Nothing can just exist.
If the Raconteurs were considered a super-group, then the Dead Weather must be some kind of super-duper-group. AM: [Laughter] Super-duper-group! Oh my god, please don’t say that!
Is there pressure associated with that? AM: I like being scared to death. It’s brilliant. If I’m not terrified, then it’s not worth doing. It’s easy to do easy things all the time and just kind of coast along. JACK WHITE: When we’re in a room together, we don’t really think about it. It’s only when we go out and talk to other people that we realize people have certain expectations. We did an interview a couple of weeks ago and the person was finding it hard to believe that this was not a premeditated idea—the four of us in this band. But the pressure’s good. It’s always a very good thing when you can throw yourself into a situation that you’re not supposed to be in.
What do you mean by that? JW: Well, it’s “quote, unquote,” really. Like, I’m not supposed to play drums or something. AM: Or you’re only supposed to be in the White Stripes … JW: … or the Kills or the Queens, or the Greenhornes, or the Raconteurs, or whatever. Or, “We already have so much going on. What are we doing? Get back to work!” But this is our work, and when you fail to recognize that, as an artist or a writer, or a performer of any kind, you fail to recognize that you have a responsibility to work. Not a responsibility to take it as easy as possible and party as much as possible; to take the easy way out. It’s tough—the music world is a world that rewards people who take the easy way out all the time. JL: We’re in the business of upsetting people.
At this point, you have all achieved a lot of acclaim and success, and are now forced to deal, not only with recognition from fans and critics, but with this other level of celebrity. How are you dealing with the public scrutiny? AM: It’s the weirdest thing in the world, because I grew up obsessed with photographs of people from Andy Warhol’s Factory—Mick Jagger and Debbie Harry—and that kind of stuff was probably happening to them, but at a different time. There was no Internet, there was so much mystery, and that was really appealing to me. Now that there is no mystery, it seems like a bad time.
Jamie and Kate Moss are now photographed everywhere, doing the most mundane things. AM: At a gas station, anywhere—it’s not interesting, it’s not beautiful, it’s not mysterious, it’s not inspiring, and it’s not going to help anything. That inspires the wrong things, if kids look at that and want that. People who seek that kind of attention freak me out. I can’t even talk to them. I don’t understand where they’re coming from; they’re just like weird fucking aliens to me. My most normal instinct is to do the opposite thing and hide. But, yes, I love what I do, and I know that fame comes with it.
Has if affected you, specifically? AM: It gets to me through Jamie, especially lately. It’s horrible because it’s horrible for him. He’s sad. People make him look like a clown all the time, which makes me angry, because that’s not who he is. JW: It’s weird, because I’ve always wanted to be a clown. AM: You are, Jack. You are, in a way.
Is there a difference, though, between a TMZ camera in your face whenever you’re traveling and a room filled with fans screaming your names? AM: That’s the danger, isn’t it? You will suddenly lump everything into the same category because you feel paranoid and frightened about walking down the street. It could just be really sweet kids, or it could be someone who is ready to fucking push you against a wall, or attack your car at a gas station. You don’t know and so, thanks to them, it’s really hard, because you just don’t want any attention at all. JW: A few weeks back, somebody began hurling insults at me and chasing me for blocks, and a policeman came upon this whole scene and was concerned that I was being victimized. But then this person told the cop that I was famous. And, all of a sudden, the cop stepped off, and was like, “Oh, then I can’t help you.” If I had been an 18-year-old college girl on my way home from school, that person would be in jail. But since I’m famous, it’s okay to harass me. Basically, if you want to kill somebody, just put a camera around your neck.
I wanted to ask about the title of the album. Horehound is a medicinal plant, right? It clears bronchitis? JW: White Horehound.
Is that a nod to how you guys all came together professionally? AM & DF: [Whispering and laughing] We came together at Cracker Barrel.
But it’s also a laxative, and seems to represent a type of purging. JW: I don’t really want to say the real reasons behind that name, but I can say that I love the sound of that word. I didn’t know that it came from a White Horehound plant. A few years ago, I thought about White Horehound, just because it’s my last name, and I put it on the back shelf. I threw it out there when we were sitting around talking about the album and two or three of the guys in the band left the room. AM: I liked it because it sounded like a fast car. I was like, Sure, I’ll ride that.
When we were preparing for your photo shoot, we were wondering, “What are we going to put them in? Does the band have some sort of specific aesthetic?” JW: I’ve already been in a band that’s embraced that kind of color-code, so the Raconteurs and this band have not been about that at all. But since the day we started playing together, there’s definitely been a dirty, dangerousness to our music. I don’t know if our clothes end up reflecting that, and what does that even mean? Are we only going to wear paisley-print and lavender clothes?
Alison, there’s something inherently sexual about your voice in each of the songs on this album. Do you tap into that sort of thing when recording and performing? AM: What … sex?
I don’t know if I mean sex outright, but the songs sound very sexy. AM: I don’t know … I’m so shy. JW: You know what they say: a singer in the living room, a Horehound in the bedroom! It’s old music industry lingo.
Have you given any thought to what you’ve added to the world of music? JW: It’s tough to know in this generation. I think that, because of technology, music is just getting washed out, which makes it near impossible to leave any kind of mark.
Do you feel anachronistic? JW: I waste a lot of time fighting technology, fighting the era, and being a salesman of my own art. I hate to see all of the energy that I waste trying to get around that crap. And that sounds like, “Oh, are you serious?” but I speak for all musicians. We live in an era right now where people don’t know whether to call you a sellout or not if you have your song on a commercial, but they’re the same people taking the music for free. So now it’s like, What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to have a MySpace page? AM: And if I don’t, do I exist?
But I would imagine you have to sell yourselves less than most other bands. JW: There are some niceties to having done this for so long, for sure. It’s easier to walk up on stage, it’s easier to come out with a new record—there are no complaints there. But as far as legacy goes, I watch television and I don’t really know what a “social impact” is anymore. Reality television has completely clouded and confused me. In the ’60s, it was a fucking turkey shoot, from segregation and the treatment of African-Americans in the South, to women’s rights and the Sexual Liberation. Now, you’ve got Paris Hilton, and …
Tila Tequila? AM: What’s that?
Well, she had a reality show called A Shot at Love where, every episode, she’d … AM: [Laughter] You’re like, “I love it! I watch it every day!”