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A White-Striped Trip: 'Get Behind Me Satan'

Jack and Meg White are the singer-drummer duo who make up the White Stripes. Their fifth CD, Get Behind Me Satan, is being hailed as an extension of the raw, energetic sound of their earliest work.

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Transcript

DATE June 9, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Jack White and Meg White discuss their band, White
Stripes, and new CD, "Get Behind Me Satan"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guests are Jack and Meg White of the White Stripes. They're an unusual
rock band with only two people. Jack plays guitar and other instruments and
sings. Meg plays drums. They've just released their new, much-anticipated
CD, "Get Behind Me Satan." A review in The New York Times called it
`thrilling.'

The White Stripes formed in 1997. Although they're eccentric enough to have
remained an indie band with a cult following, they've actually developed a
large following and won a Grammy. Joss Stone had a hit with their song "Fell
in Love With a Boy." Jack White wrote several songs from the bluegrass
soundtrack for "Cold Mountain" and had a small part in the film. He produced
a recent CD by Loretta Lynn called "Van Lear Rose," which won this year's
Grammy for best country album.

Jack and Meg White like to cloud the nature of their relationship to each
other. They used to say they were siblings, but reporters have uncovered
divorce papers. Jack got married last weekend in Brazil to model Karen Elson.

Before we meet the White Stripes, let's hear the single from their new CD.
This is "Blue Orchid."

(Soundbite of "Blue Orchid")

Mr. JACK WHITE (White Stripes): (Singing) You got a reaction. You got a
reaction, didn't you? You took a white orchid. You took a white orchid and
turned it blue. Something's better than nothing. Something's better than
nothing's giving up. We all need to do something. Try to keep the truth from
showing up. How dare you? How old are you now anyway? How dare you? How
old are you now anyway? How old are you now anyway? How old are you now
anyway?

GROSS: That's a track from the new White Stripes CD.

Jack White, Meg White, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. WHITE: Thank you for having us, Terry.

Ms. MEG WHITE (The White Stripes): Thank you.

GROSS: Why did you choose this track as the single, Jack?

Mr. WHITE: This track sort of--the only thing we could do with it was to have
it be the first song on the album, and it just sort of saved the record when
we were recording, I think.

GROSS: Saved it from what?

Mr. WHITE: It--I don't know. It was just--it was a--everything was going
wrong, and it's never really happened before, and--oh, making a
record--everything was broken, and the tape machine was breaking, and, you
know, the faucet was leaking and the ceiling was leaking in the house. And I
don't know. Just everything was going wrong. It just seemed like it was
cursed left and right. I don't know why. And then that riff came out in the
middle of the recording. And I wrote that song, and it just turned everything
around to this real positive nature, I think. It was just really emotional
for a long time. You know, it was--What?--two weeks of recording, and that
came out, like, three days before we finished.

GROSS: You said the house was leaking. Did you record the album in the
house?

Mr. WHITE: Yeah, recorded on my staircase in the foyer of my home. I rented
a nice Steinway. This is the first album I ever made that has a nice piano on
it actually, you know, and a real piano. And we used this old upright. It
was, like, taken out of a Catholic high school--been using that on all my
records since then, but I finally rented a Steinway, you know, and that--it's
really full-sounding. So that was over by the front door.

GROSS: What--why record it in your own house?

Mr. WHITE: Because I think we started to get stagnate, you know, and I think
modern studios are starting to feel plastic, you know? And it starts pushing
me away from soulfulness and getting down to something raw when you get into
those really fancy places. Plus, you have to start debating with engineers,
and they want you to start using computers and do things the faster way, the
easier way. And you end up--and I don't really feel like arguing, you know?
So I end up saying, `OK, fine.'

So, I mean, this we were doing razor blades and--were using razor blades to
cut the tape in editing, you know, like, you know, the way it's supposed to be
done, you know? And, you know, we did the--on an 8-track reel to reel and,
you know, just rented the equipment that I wanted and used all the same
microphones on everything, you know--ribbon microphones on everything, from
the vocals to the kick drum, you know? Just a whole new technique of
recording I've been trying, and I really like it a lot. I think it's really
warm-sounding.

GROSS: Well, you know, I'd like to know how performing on stage--because as
we record this, you're about to start your tour--how does performing on stage
compare with what it's like for you when you're actually recording an album?

Mr. WHITE: It's very different for us, I think, because we don't have any
set lists, and we never rehearse for the shows and we play a different set
every night. And everything is very off-the-cuff, and there's a lot of--we
have a lot of--you know, we've got five albums now, and then we also have
hundreds of cover songs that we've done over the years that we've thrown in in
between songs. And I like to keep the show moving at all times. So it's very
high energy, and it takes a lot out of us because there's not--we can't really
go up and phone it in, you know? We don't really have five people on stage
to--all playing it just like the record and playing the same set every night.
So it's hard for us to go on tour for more than three weeks because it will
start--the shows start to suffer, you know, at that point because it just
takes so much out of us.

GROSS: How comfortable are you on stage?

Mr. WHITE: I am not that comfortable on stage. I mean, I'm not--I don't get
nervous, but I have so much work to do I never really get the chance to really
enjoy it, you know. And I--in other bands I've been in when I was younger,
when I just played guitar or just played drums, I could enjoy the show, you
know. But I've got so much work to do in the band to keep the show moving and
singing and playing at the same time that I can't really take a break, you
know.

GROSS: Meg White, how comfortable are you on stage?

Ms. WHITE: I'm pretty comfortable on stage, I suppose, you know. It is
difficult being just two people, you know. I mean, there's a lot of focus
probably more on me than there would be on a normal drummer, but--as we do the
side-by-side and all that sort of thing. But I don't get real nervous about
it. It's--you know, you just kind of figure however it goes is how it's going
to go. And you just got to work with it.

GROSS: How did you both start playing together?

Mr. WHITE: We started as just a sort of a--you know, I was just playing in
the attic, and Meg sort of came up and there, and I said, `Hey, get behind the
drums.' And, you know, we did--I remember the first thing we were--just played
together sort of as a lark. We did "Moonage Daydream" by David Bowie
and--because Meg wanted to do that. She was really into that song at the
time. And I have a recording of that actually still; I found it recently.
And it just felt really good right off the bat. It just felt like something
was different. And I think the reason why is because Meg's sort of
childishness behind the drums really brought some new character to playing a
song like that.

And we started to play more and more, and it became this thing where, you
know, I suppose--I forget who it was. I guess it was Picasso maybe who said
that he spent his whole life learning--took his whole life to learn how to
paint like a five-year-old. I'm not sure if it was him who said that.
Correct me if I'm wrong. But, you know, that's how I felt about Meg, you
know. She's painting like a five-year-old. She's playing like a
five-year-old. She's playing drums just like a little child. And I wish I
could do that. I wish I could play the guitar like a little child, you know.

And so a good balance started to come out, you know, where I was more
experienced or more into the technical side of songwriting, and she was coming
from a totally opposite angle. And we're male and female as well bringing,
you know, that whole element to the mix, too. And it just became a really
good match, I think, of--for--and it became a great excuse for me to get away
with playing the blues and being white and playing the blues, you know.

GROSS: Wait. How did that became an excuse for being white and playing the
blues?

Mr. WHITE: Because I was looking for a reason, you know--because that
was--you know, it was really close to my heart, and I always felt like, you
know, when I'm doing it, it's like I'm--I can't get away with it because, you
know, there's that whole sort of white boy, blues hammer, you know, bar band,
kind of wimpy, you know, just retreaded over and over again, rehashed--a thing
that just has no soul to it. And--but it--you know, the blues is really
meaningful to me. It's very soulful to me and the most important music, I
think, of all time, you know? And I--in order for me to play it, I mean, it
took the White Stripes for me to be able to play it live because of the
aesthetic of the band, where everything was red, white and black, and me and
her were presenting it in that fashion--that it was almost a distraction to
trick people into not realizing that I was white.

GROSS: Or maybe...

Mr. WHITE: Which is why we named the band...

GROSS: ...you were so white that it didn't matter, right?

Mr. WHITE: That's what I mean, you know. We're Jack White and Meg White, and
the band's called the White Stripes. You know what I mean? So it's almost
like taken to the extreme of distraction.

GROSS: My guests are Jack and Meg White of the White Stripes. Their new CD
is called "Get Behind Me Satan." They'll be back after a break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are Jack and Meg White of the rock duo the White Stripes.
Jack sings and plays guitar and other instruments. Meg plays drums. The
White Stripes have a new CD called "Get Behind Me Satan."

Now, Jack, you play drums. That was your first instrument before a guitar.
And...

Mr. WHITE: That's right.

GROSS: ...did--and from what I've read, it sounds like you used to record
drums and guitar when you would record stuff in your room. So when Meg
started playing drums, did you want her to sound at all like you sounded, or
did--were you looking for something completely different?

Mr. WHITE: No, that was what struck me. I mean, I--it started sort of as
that lark thing with just sort of messing around, you know, and it became
something beautiful very, very quickly. And it became like, `Wow,' you know.
So I didn't want Meg to play proficiently at all, no. Matter of fact, I said,
`Please don't practice,' you know. `Please don't play by yourself because
it's just going to ruin it,' you know.

GROSS: So, Meg, now that you've been playing for several years, have you
become more proficient, in spite of Jack's urgings?

Ms. WHITE: I suppose a little bit, yes. Still probably not on the level of,
you know, any of the classic, amazing drummers, but I, you know--probably
better--certainly better than I was then.

GROSS: And, Jack, is that ruining things for you?

Mr. WHITE: No, I think she keeps a tether on it, you know? She really keeps
the whole band, the two of us--she keeps the band anchored. She's always been
the structure that I build everything around, and I don't think--she's never
gone off of--flown off the deep end. You know, I think that's almost
like--and I hate to say it about my own sex, but that's almost like a male
flaw, you know--that super-technicality, you know, where drummers just want to
go and they want to do everything. They want to have 300 drums in front of
them and, you know--and do everything that they possibly can as if they're
going to die tomorrow kind of thing. But, you know, really Meg's so much more
in tune with the soulfulness and emotion coming out of the simple things that
she's doing.

GROSS: Well, I want to play a track from the new CD, "Get Behind Me Satan,"
that I think really shows off your drumming, Meg. And this is called "The
Nurse." And...

Mr. WHITE: That's right.

GROSS: ...there's drums, there's marimba. Who's playing marimba on this? Is
that you, Jack?

Mr. WHITE: That's me. Yeah, I wrote this song on marimba.

GROSS: Uh-huh. Why did you write it on marim--how did you get a marimba in
the first place?

Mr. WHITE: I saw one for sale, a concert marimba. I'd always wanted one.
Actually, I was looking for a vibraphone and I didn't--couldn't find it. And
I found this marimba and I bought it, and I guess, you know, that's what
happens. You buy like a--you buy a mandolin, you end up writing songs on the
mandolin, and I guess I just started writing songs on the marimba.

GROSS: Did you start listening to different people? Did you start listening
to people who played marimba once you owned one?

Mr. WHITE: No, I didn't. I don't like to do that. It's--it almost makes me
feel like, `Oh, I'll never be able to figure this out,' you know? And I
was--actually, when I bought a mandolin, which I wanted to get more into, I
bought right before I was in "Cold Mountain" because that was--the character I
was playing played mandolin, you know? So I said, `Oh, well, I can get more
into this. This is the perfect time for it,' you know? And I went down and
played with all those guys in--that T-Bone Burnett had put together in
Nashville. And I thought, `Oh, my God,' you know? `They picked the wrong
guy,' you know? These guys are, you know--you know, there's bluegrass in
their veins. And I didn't, you know--but I almost felt like, `Oh, I'm doing
it wrong.' And then I started asking these guys, `Well, how do you do this?'
I mean, they were very nice to me and showed me all the chords and everything.
It was just I've always taught myself how to play all those instruments, you
know--just--I guess I'm just saying that it feels better to me. It feels more
like it's--I'm owning it when I teach myself.

GROSS: Meg, your drumming on this is real, you know, high energy, very
insistent. Can you talk a little bit about your drumming on this track?

Ms. WHITE: Well, I mean, it's kind of a little crazy, I suppose, on this
one. It's got all those sort of interludes with just noise on it, which we
kind of did separately. During the recording, we came back in and did a lot
of that stuff. And it's hard to say. I don't even know what to say. I just
think it's a cool song and it was fun to drum on, but I don't know. It's
going to be hard to do this one live, I think, probably.

GROSS: Just too exhausting.

Mr. WHITE: Yeah, let me go play that. I can't play the marimba and make all
that noise at the same time. It's just two counter-rhythms going on during
that because they were recorded at separate moments, so--and actually this was
a tape-editing accident, as well, happened on this song where I cut--I used
the razor blade and cut in the wrong spot. So we had to make a cover-up on
one spot, you know, with a lot of that noise, and it really worked into
something even better than what we had before.

GROSS: That's funny. Meg, before we hear it, what I've--I--what I'm sure not
be the first person to comment, that for a drummer you speak very
quietly--like, for someone who can make so much noise on their instrument.

Ms. WHITE: Well, you know, one of my teachers once told me, you know--she
wrote in my yearbook to speak softly and carry a big stick, you know? And I
took to that heart.

GROSS: Apparently. OK. And this is from the White Stripes' new CD "Get
Behind Me Satan." And this is "The Nurse."

(Soundbite of "The Nurse")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) Swear that the one who would care for you never would
leave. She promised and said you will always be safe here with me. But
promises open the door to be broken to me.

No, I'll never, no, I'll never, no, I'll never go nor let you down now. No,
I'll never, no, I'll never, no, I'll never go nor let you down. No, I'll
never, no, I'll never, no, I'll never go nor let you down now. No, I'll
never, no, I'll never, no, I'll never go nor let you down.

GROSS: That's music from the White Stripes' new CD "Get Behind Me Satan."
That's "The Nurse," and my guests are Jack White and Meg White.

Well, Jack, before we heard that track you were talking about how you not
only, you know, bought a marimba recently, you bought a mandolin, too. You
bought a mandolin about the time you were working on the soundtrack for "Cold
Mountain." You play mandolin--at least I think it's a mandolin--on a song on
the new CD called "Little Ghost."

Mr. WHITE: That's right.

GROSS: And it's a very mountain music kind of song. How were you first
exposed to mountain music? Was it for "Cold Mountain" or were you already
listening to that kind of music?

Mr. WHITE: I was already listening to mountain music at that time--for a few
years, actually. I'd gotten, you know--when I was child there was a lot of,
like, you know, rock 'n' roll and kind of sort of regular rock 'n' roll bands.
And by the time I was a teen-ager I was getting into sort of more punk things,
and then I finally sort of discovered the blues in my late teens. And then
that led me into country, which led me into bluegrass, you know, and started
getting into Bill Monroe and things like that. And I'd seen things, you know,
like, you know--I didn't--you know, there's not much modern stuff going on at
the time when I was a teen-ager. I mean, like, you know, Ricky Skaggs
and--which is--he was great, you know. But I love mountain music and--a
matter of fact, I started to focus on it in my early 20s that pretty much
everything I loved was coming from the American South, be it country or
bluegrass or, you know, folk or blues or, you know, it just seemed like
everything was coming from there, you know, and I sort of felt like maybe
that's where I should move to. You know, I don't know. I--but I feel a
strong connection to it.

GROSS: OK. So you're from Detroit and you're interested in blues, in rock,
in--obviously, you've listened to a lot of punk and heavy metal too, and
mountain music. So you have all these influences that, you know, it's easy
for us to hear in your recordings. Did you go through a period of not only
asking yourself whether you could play the blues being white, but if you could
play mountain music being from Detroit, or play early rock 'n' roll because
you grew up in the '70s and '80s. I mean, did every step you turn lead you to
questions about am I authentic enough, or did you early on just decide, well,
you know, I love it; it doesn't really matter whether I grew up then or I
lived there or whatever?

Mr. WHITE: We had a good experience in White Stripes because we started off
at the sort of whatever the lowest level you could of just, you know, playing
at the Gold Dollar Bar, which is like a block from where we're sitting right
now, which is a local scene; garage rock was happening. Just warming up for
the band, you know, gradually getting to play out of town in Toledo or
Chicago, you know, whatever. We just kind of built it up from the absolute
nothing. And that kind of showed, you know, me--'cause people really liked us
in Detroit and embraced us immediately, which was really surprising. And you
know, we were like their secret band. And then we were the, you know, secret
band of, like, people in Chicago or whatever. You know what I mean? We just
kind of kept going, going on and on, and we started to learn this thing that
no matter what you did, you know, some people are going to really like you and
some people are really not going to like it. And some people are going to
like it for the wrong reasons--like it's part of their identity to have a
secret band that they--you know, it becomes part of their personality. And
once you get more popular, they don't want to be a part of you anymore because
they don't like it for the music's sake; they like it for other reasons.

So that kind of taught me early on that, you know, I can't think about that
anymore. You know, I can't concern myself with that. That's just too cool,
you know, or too cool for me. I can't--I mean, I love mountain music and I'm
going to play it, and I can't think about if it's going to fit with what we're
doing or not, it just has to happen. And I think this band has been really
great with that a lot of things have been able to work with a very limited
means. We've tried to make each song have its own personality on each record
and not have a whole album full of the same, monotonous riffs over and over
and over again. And I feel such a breath of fresh air when something like
"Little Ghost" on this record kind of comes up 'cause it's--you can take a
nice deep breath and feel something, totally different personality.

GROSS: Well, before we hear "Little Ghost," the mountain music kind of song
that you wrote for the new CD, would you talk a little bit about writing the
song, Jack?

Mr. WHITE: Yeah. I wrote this song at a friend's house, and they had had to
leave me to watch the house for a minute and I wrote this song in 10 minutes,
matter of fact. The idea just came out. I don't know--I just kept thinking
of this phrase `little ghost,' and it just came out quickly, and I started to
think about being the only person who sees something, and maybe that's kind of
the feeling you have when you're in love with somebody, that you're the only
one who notices all these beautiful things about them, you know, and you kind
of tell your friends, `Isn't she great? Isn't she great?' And they're like
`Yeah, she's OK,' you know, but they don't see her the way you see her--you
know, that sort of feeling. Almost, I just wanted to equate it with somebody
you actually could not physically see, like a dead person, a ghost.

GROSS: Jack and Meg White of the White Stripes will be back in the second
half of the show. Here's "Little Ghost" from their new CD, "Get Behind Me
Satan." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Little Ghost")

WHITE STRIPES: (Singing) Every morning I woke and I see my little ghost
wondering if it's really her that's lying there. I lean to touch her and I
whisper, but not brave enough to kiss her. When I held her I was really
holding air. Little ghost, little ghost, one I'm scared of the most. Can you
scare me up a little bit of love? I'm the only one that sees you and I can't
do much to please you, and it's not yet time to meet the Lord above.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with Jack White and Meg White
of the duo the White Stripes, and we'll hear about Jack's experiences
producing Loretta Lynn's Grammy Award-winning country album, "Van Lear Rose."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Jack and Meg White of
the duo the White Stripes. They have a new CD called "Get Behind Me Satan."
Jack sings and plays guitar and other instruments. Meg plays drums.

The new album is called "Get Behind Me Satan," and there have been, you know,
a couple of biblical references in your songs over the years. Were you
brought up with religion?

Mr. WHITE: Oh, yes, heavy duty, but not to the point of, you know, like
speaking in tongues or anything, I mean, but it was in the air for sure. I
appreciate it as well, you know. I like looking at life through that at times
and I wouldn't consider myself sort of--you know, I just like being in touch
with God, I think. You know, I think that's sort of important. I think when
you're a creative person in any kind of art form, once you finally admit to
yourself that you can't create like God creates, it humbles you and then you
can be free to explore the beauty of that creativity I think, you know, and I
think when you look at it with God in the picture as well, it sort of frees
you up I think.

GROSS: Do you see your musical abilities as some kind of gift that you were
given?

Mr. WHITE: I suppose it's more of an opportunity to me that, you know, a lot
of my friends, being musicians, you know, they all have that opportunity and I
suppose what you do with it is sort of--to me, it seems to be always out of
respect for the people who came before me and, of course, God who came before
everybody. And, you know, it's just the idea that when you look at the
creation of the world or the universe or anything like that, I mean, anything
a human being can create seems to just pale to comparison, you know. It feels
like, you know, out of respect, you have to be humble about it.

GROSS: So what church was it that you grew up in?

Mr. WHITE: A Catholic Church.

GROSS: Catholic Church and...

Mr. WHITE: The Roman Catholic school.

GROSS: Meg, what about you?

Ms. WHITE: I wasn't raised with any religion at all actually.

GROSS: So do you not see eye to eye on this?

Ms. WHITE: I think we respect each other's opinion on this.

GROSS: Now we just heard a mountain music kind of song that you wrote,
"Little Ghost," and you produced an album by Loretta Lynn and it was her first
solo album since the '80s I think, very stripped down, very--I mean, there's
even just like a voice and guitar track on it. Why did you want to work with
her?

Mr. WHITE: Oh, I'm absolutely in love with Loretta Lynn. There's just no
doubt about it. I had been such a huge fan and was struck so hard by "Coal
Miner's Daughter," the movie. It was the first experience with her as a
child, you know, and it just grew and grew and grew and I just became so
enamored with her songwriting style. I just couldn't believe, you know, what
she was doing, sort of these doubled choruses, you know, and it was just so
brilliant and it just seemed like, `How is she doing this?' I remember
talking to her while we were working on the album. She's, like, `Yeah,
everyone always tells me, Jack, you know, I write backwards and all these
things,' and I think, `Yeah, I think you kind of do write backwards,' and so
clever. She's so clever and talented. I mean, like, how could I not resist
that, you know?

GROSS: Did you ask her to work with you?

Mr. WHITE: Someone told me, I think it was her manager said, you know,
Loretta's thinking about making, you know, maybe one final album or one more
album. I said, `Well, you know'--I said, `If I can throw my name on the pile,
you know, I'd love to produce it.' I figured there was no way it was going to
happen. As a matter of fact, I did it without a contract. Once it did--you
know, we went down to record some demos at this guy's house in east Nashville
in a home studio as well. We went down to record some demos and Loretta had
sent me 10 songs, her and her daughter being--maybe actually her daughter
had just recorded the demos herself on the acoustics. I'm not sure but it was
about 10 songs she just picked off the pile of hundreds of songs she had
written, and we recorded eight of them the first day and all eight of those
are on the album, you know, and it just--it was so special. I just couldn't
believe it.

GROSS: Well, I want to play one of two tracks and I'll name the two and then
you can decide which of them.

Mr. WHITE: OK.

GROSS: These are my two favorites. One is "Family Tree" and one is "Miss
Being Mrs."

Mr. WHITE: Oh, well, I'd have to say "Miss Being Mrs." because that's really
special to me because that's just me and her playing.

GROSS: Oh, that is you. I wasn't sure if that was you. Oh, yeah.

Mr. WHITE: That's me playing guitar and her singing and we just did it live.
That was the second take of the song and that was another song we--I was
assuming that we were going to eventually move and maybe make it into a full
band song possibly, but after hearing that played back, it was just--it felt
so good to sit in that room and play and back her up by myself. How selfish
of me, you know, to take that opportunity, but it was just so wonderful.

GROSS: Well, I'm glad you didn't change it. So this is Loretta Lynn with
Jack White on guitar.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. LORETTA LYNN: (Singing) I like it all alone in my bed of memories. I'm
dreaming of your sweet kiss, oh, how you loved on me. I can almost feel you
with me here in this blue moon light. Oh, I miss being Mrs. tonight. Like so
many other hearts, mine wanted to be free. I've been held here every day
since you've been away from me. My reflection in the mirror, it's just a
hurtful sight. Oh, I miss being Mrs. tonight. Oh, I miss being Mrs.
tonight. Oh, and how I love them loving arms that once held me so tight. I
took off my wedding band and put it on my right hand. I miss being Mrs.
tonight.

GROSS: That's "Van Lear Rose," which is an album by Loretta Lynn, produced
by Jack White. That was Jack White on guitar. And Jack White and Meg White
are my guests, the White Stripes, and they have a new CD which is called "Get
Behind Me Satan."

Jack, what was your style--how did you start to sing? Like, what came first?
Were you playing music, writing songs, singing?

Mr. WHITE: Playing the drums came first for me, and then I needed something
to play the drums to. You know, I had a little four-track reel-to-reel in my
bedroom, you know, so I started to teach myself how to play guitar so I could
play along with something. Me and another friend I went to high school
with--her--name's Dominic Suchyta. And we had sort of--he liked music, you
know, rock 'n' roll and all that, too, so we started learning things together.
And he was playing bass and stuff, so we started doing these little recordings
and covering Bob Dylan songs on record and whatever, you know, I don't know,
whatever we were doing. And so it kind of built up from there.

And then I started to get into this band, the Flat Duo Jets, when I was a
teen-ager. And I worked at this upholstery shop. I was apprentice for this
man named Brian Muldoon. And after we were done at work--he played drums, you
know, so after we were done for the day, we would set up the drums and the
guitar, and we would play songs. And we were really into this two-piece band
called the Flat Duo Jets, who were doing lots of kind of rockabilly and punk
sort of music, but also throwing in these really gorgeous ballads, you know,
from the '40s, you know, or things that Patti Page and people had sung.

And so I started to get more and more exposed to those kind of chord changes,
I think, sort of playing, you know, things like, you know, (singing) `See the
pyramids along the Nile,' "You Belong To Me" and things like that. And I
started to get into that, those chord structures, you know, something I would
not have been exposed to. And songwriting started to come out of that.

And then once--a couple years later, I really, really got deeply into the
blues, and I think some kind of--that also sparked a little bit more of the
songwriting, you know, it sort of opened up. And the poetry I'd been writing,
or whatever I'd been writing, I don't know. And I tried--you know, I started
to work it in together. I started to discover what you could do. Could you
write the words first and then the music, or write the music first, then the
words and all that jazz? And, you know, I started throwing them together, and
it started to--by the time me and Meg were playing in the band, I think it
was--started to come to something interesting.

GROSS: You mentioned, you know, you were apprenticing in an upholstery shop.
Did you see your future as lying in furniture?

Mr. WHITE: I don't know. I just--I remember, you know, when I was working
there, I was really into music, you know, and I would just kind of thought--it
just seemed like even playing a live gig was just this impossible thing, you
know. `How could I ever be in a band and play a show?' I didn't even think
that was--it was just never going to happen, you know, especially sort of the
attitude in Detroit kind of doesn't make you think that, you know, you're
going to have a chance. I mean, maybe in LA or New York and things like that,
the people kind of around you sort of make you think, `Yeah, maybe one day
you'll get on television, if you have the right friend,' you know. But
Detroit doesn't make you feel that way, and I didn't even think that I would
ever be in a band, for one thing, let alone play on stage, and let alone write
music.

So, yeah, upholstery was the big sort of thing that I was doing. And I worked
in a couple other shops, too, and I eventually opened my own, Third Man
Upholstery. I had my own studio. I worked on sculptures and did people's
upholstery, and did antiques. And I started to--I made the big mistake of
bringing, you know, a guitar to my studio and eventually not getting any work
done, because I was playing guitar all day long.

GROSS: So were you good at this, you know, at upholstery?

Mr. WHITE: Well, I don't know. It's an extremely difficult trade, you know.
And I was--you know, I'm coming from--the man I worked for, Brian Muldoon,
he's sort of a super-perfectionist, and he was working on midcentury modern
furniture, you know, like Ames and Jacobsen. And all these great designers
were probably the most difficult type of upholstery to do, you know, gluing
fabric directly to foam and all this jazz. So it was really hard. So I
started doing these little settees and little 1800s furniture for these old
ladies and things like that. I mean, you know, I could do that all right.

But I went to--I remember going and talking to the other upholsterers at the
supply place, when I'd go and buy springs and staples and whatnot, I'd say,
`You know, how long is this going to take me before I start making money
easily and it's not a hard thing to do?' And he's, like, `Probably eight to
10 years, it took me.' I was, like, `OK. I don't know if I've got it in me,
man.'

GROSS: My guests are Jack and Meg White of the White Stripes. Their new CD
is called "Get Behind Me Satan." They'll be back after a break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are Jack and Meg White of the rock duo the White Stripes.
Jack sings and plays guitar and other instruments. Meg plays drums. The
White Stripes have a new CD called "Get Behind Me Satan."

Meg, what was the future that you saw for yourself before you started playing
music?

Ms. WHITE: I don't know, you know. I had done a few things. But, like, I
was a cook for a long time. I went to culinary school. But I discovered I
liked eating better than cooking food, so that didn't work out too well. And
then, I don't know, I bartended a long time. That's what I was doing before
I, you know, started doing this full-time basically. I'm not sure where I
would have gone, you know. I don't know.

GROSS: Meg, you started singing on the previous CD, a song called "Cold, Cold
Night." How did you start singing?

Ms. WHITE: There was a cattle prod, and Jack was behind me, and there was...

Mr. WHITE: There was someone holding your arm behind your back, twisting it.

Ms. WHITE: That was really funny, to hear the sound of my own voice, but
I've gotten a little bit more used to it.

GROSS: There's a song that you sing, a very short song, I should say, on the
new album, called "Passive Manipulation." Jack, did you write the song?

Mr. WHITE: Yes, I did write the song.

GROSS: Because it's written--I think it's fair to say it's written in a
woman's voice.

Mr. WHITE: Yeah, it is. I don't know what was the story behind that or
anything. I just remember writing that and realizing that I'm not going to be
able to get away with singing this. And I asked Meg, and I handed her the
lyrics, said, `Do you think you would sing these words?' And she said, `Yes.'

GROSS: Well, I'll tell you what. Let's hear it, and then we'll talk more
about the song. This is "Passive Manipulation" from the new White Stripes CD
"Get Behind Me Satan."

(Soundbite of "Passive Manipulation")

Ms. WHITE: (Singing) Women, listen to your mothers. Don't just succumb to
the wishes of your brothers. Take a step back. Take a look at one another.
You need to know the difference between a father and a lover. Women, listen
to your mothers. Don't just succumb to the wishes of your brothers. Take a
step back. Take a look at one another. You need to know the difference
between a father and a lover. Women, listen to your mothers. Don't just
succumb to the wishes of your brothers. Take a step back. Take a look at one
another. You need to know the difference.

GROSS: That's the White Stripes from their new CD "Get Behind Me Satan," and
it's one of the rare times that Meg White actually does the singing.

So, Jack, why did you write this song, advice to women about not to--about how
not to be manipulated by their brothers or lovers?

Mr. WHITE: I don't exactly know what to tell you. I just had this feeling
in my head about when relationships--how true relationships can be. And truth
is sort of the number one theme throughout the whole album. And it sort of
became a question of sometimes when people are together, it doesn't seem true,
you know. You'll see other people in these bizarre relationships, and you
wonder what's going on. And oftentimes, there is some amount of manipulation
going on, and people are doing things for the wrong reasons. And I
thought, well, what would be good advice, you know, and who would it come
from, and say it's, you know, `Hey, women, listen to your mothers, you know,
don't just succumb to the wishes of your brothers.'

GROSS: Now in concerts, you do covers, and there's a few covers on your
album. And one of them is a cover of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song "I
Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself," a song I really love. And, Jack,
would you talk about why you wanted to cover this song?

Mr. WHITE: It was actually Meg's idea to do that song, so...

GROSS: Oh, well, Meg, why don't you describe it?

Ms. WHITE: I had heard the Dusty Springfield version of it, actually, and I
just thought it was an amazing song. I had just gotten this, like, CD, and I
heard that song, and I'm, like, `You know what? I bet we could do that song.
It would be fun to do that song.' And so I suggested it to Jack, and he was
into it, so...

GROSS: Did you want to sing it yourself?

Ms. WHITE: No, I can't sing that high. Jack's the specialist in that one.

GROSS: And, Jack, what--did you like the song, and did you have a sense right
away of what you wanted to do with it?

Mr. WHITE: Oh, I love that song. I thought it was beautiful. As a matter of
fact, I sort of identified with it as a blues song. I thought, you know,
really, at the core of this, it's really a blues song, and it could be
something that Blind Willie Johnson might have played and sung about had he
not done mostly religious music, whatever, but it just felt like a notion that
he would have expressed. And, you know, I got a lot of people ask me, `Well,
what does that mean? You know, what does that mean to you?' And I thought
that, `Wow, I thought that was a sort of a universal thought. I just don't
know what to do with myself. I just don't know what to do with myself,' that
seems to be something that everyone would feel like 20 times a day.

GROSS: Exactly.

Mr. WHITE: Yeah.

GROSS: Right. OK, well, let's hear it. This is the White Stripes' version
of the Bacharach/David song "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself."
That's from their CD "Elephant."

(Soundbite of "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) Well, I don't know what to do with myself. Just don't
know what to do with myself. Planning everything for two, and doing
everything with you. And now that we're through, I just don't know what to
do. Like a summer rose needs the sun and rain, I need your sweet love to beat
love away. I just don't know what to do with myself. Just don't know what to
do with myself. Just don't know what to do with myself.

GROSS: That's the White Stripes' version of "I Just Don't Know What To Do
With Myself." Jack and Meg White will be back after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are Jack and Meg White of the rock duo the White Stripes.
Jack sings and plays guitar and other instruments. Meg plays drums. The
White Stripes have a new CD called "Get Behind Me Satan."

I've read a lot of articles about you both, and it sounds like you don't
really talk about what your relationship is or was with each other. And it
started off, people thought you were brother and sister and husband and wife,
divorced ex-husband and wife, so is that something you're still not talking
about?

Mr. WHITE: Yeah. I hate to go into it, because, you know, no matter what we
used to say, nobody ever believed us. And it got to the point where it just
didn't matter what the relationship was, and I just said, `It just takes more
focus away from the music,' you know. And I just wanted people to know, first
and foremost, that it was a male and female on stage, and they were working
together, and they weren't working together for the wrong reasons, you know.
That was what was important to me.

GROSS: What do you mean, for the wrong--you mean, `They're stuck working
together, because they were married,' or--is that what you mean?

Mr. WHITE: Well, yeah, stuck working together, because they're brother and
sister or because they're married or they used to be married or whatever it
is, that jazz. You know, people come in--you know, I mean, people come into a
show and come in to listening to a record or going to a movie, people come in
with preconceptions, you know, and you can't avoid that. And, you know, you
lose an amount of what you could possibly share with that crowd when their
preconceptions are--you know, they're being misled or something, I don't know.
I just--you know, there's an amount of--I don't know. It's just difficult to
explain, I think, difficult to talk about.

GROSS: Isn't there a part of you that wants to fix whatever misconceptions
are out there since there already...

Mr. WHITE: No.

GROSS: ...are these different theories? No?

Mr. WHITE: I don't. I really don't. I'd rather anything that people, you
know, sort of--I want their--whatever preconception they have, I want it to
change once they come and see us live. I want them to not care. I want them,
when they walk in, to say, `Oh'--some of them might think ...(unintelligible)
going, `Oh, this band's nothing but gimmicks, a boy and a girl, and they're
red, white and black, and there are peppermints painted on the bass drum, and
they--you know, all this jazz, and they're called the White Stripes.
Whatever, you know, I just--the band's all gimmicks, you know.' And I'd love
them to come in and then, after a few songs, not even realize, like, what's
happening anymore, to be consumed and to be exhausted by what's happening, and
their preconceptions just kind of drift away. And by the time they're walking
around after the show, I would hope that we've exhausted them and that their
preconceptions have disappeared.

GROSS: Let's get to the red, white and black thing, which is the colors that
you've dressed in, that your albums have been. Most bands don't have a color
scheme. Why did you want a kind of identifiable set of colors to work with?
Does that get back to the upholstery?

Mr. WHITE: It was kind of coming out of all those kinds of things. I was
really--and I still do, revolve most of the creative things I do around the
number three. And I wanted to present this band with as many components based
around that number, such as I wanted to break it down to the minimalism of
storytelling, melody and rhythm; and guitar, vocals and drums. And so red,
white and black became this presentation of--which we've done since the very
first show. And that--it just became a way of solidifying ourselves. And
White Stripes has always been about how to box ourselves in, how to eliminate
all the opportunity.

GROSS: You said the number three is a significant number for you. Why three?

Mr. WHITE: I just think it's perfection to me, I don't know. It's an attempt
at sort of that creative perfection that maybe God has. And it seems to be
the most minimal number for things. You know, I used to say, like, `Oh, well,
there's a reason'--you know, like, you could have--it's the minimal amount of
legs you could have on a table and still keep it up, you know. A minimal
amount of bolts you could put on a wheel on a car. You know, the number keeps
popping up in nature, especially, as well, you know.

GROSS: If three's such a big number, do you feel like you should be a trio
and not a duo?

Mr. WHITE: Well, then we would have four components. Then we wouldn't just
have vocal, guitar and drums.

GROSS: Oh, I see, OK. So you're counting the components and not the people?

Mr. WHITE: Yeah.

GROSS: All right.

Mr. WHITE: Right.

GROSS: Now, Jack, you grew up in a family of, like, 10 kids. I think you
were the youngest of 10?

Mr. WHITE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So did your brothers and sisters look after you, and did they...

Mr. WHITE: Oh, boy, did they.

GROSS: Uh-huh?

Mr. WHITE: Oh, boy, did they. Like having 10 parents, when actually...

GROSS: Was that a good thing or a bad thing?

Mr. WHITE: I don't know. I really don't know. I've been asking myself that
my whole life. I suppose they--I--God bless them, because I love them very
much, and they were always very helpful to me, and the--and in good and bad
ways. You know, when you're the youngest, you get to learn from everybody's
bad example, you know. You need to learn how to not make the same mistakes
that everyone else made. And you--you know, you get a different perspective
on things.

My family also has a very big, you know, chip on their shoulder about pride
and ego, about not patting somebody on the back when they're doing so well.
So it sort of makes you try harder, I think, to impress, and almost this never
really satiated feeling, you know, that I was sort of never really encouraged
out loud, you know. You know, it was sort of, `Yeah, OK. What you're doing's
OK, but you could be doing it better' kind of a feeling, which kind of became
a frustrating thing to me when I was a teen-ager, you know. It was like,
`Forget this, man, I--you know, I don't need this kind of mentality anymore.
I feel good about what's happening or whatever I'm working on or whatever
furniture or music or sculpture, whatever, and, you know, I don't need this
approval anymore.' And I think that's what really shaped me, was letting go
of that.

GROSS: And, Meg, did you grow up in a big family, too?

Ms. WHITE: Significantly smaller.

GROSS: Well, I want to close with another song from the new CD, "Get Behind
Me Satan." And this is called "I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet)."
And, Jack, you mentioned that when you were recording this in your house, you
had a Steinway piano, and you really liked the full sound that it got, and I
think we'll hear that on this track.

Mr. WHITE: Yeah.

GROSS: Do you want to talk a little bit about the song and also about playing
piano?

Mr. WHITE: This sort of came about while--right before we started recording.
I just sat down and--it was a joke. Loretta Lynn had called me on the phone,
and it was a joke we had made with each other on the phone about something to
do with Meg. I forget what it was, you know. I was making some comment about
Meg, and I said, `Yeah, I get lonely.' And then Loretta finished the
sentence. She goes, `Yeah, but I ain't that lonely yet.' And I said, `Can I
have that?' And she said, `Yeah, you can have that.' And so I took the
title, and I sat down after I got off the phone with her, and I wrote it, a
song. And I thought that it was just a nice little thing to play around with.
And once we recorded it, it felt like all this probably belongs at the end of
the album, you know.

GROSS: And we'll put it at the end of our interview.

Mr. WHITE: Well...

GROSS: Jack White, Meg White, thank you so much. Congratulations on the new
CD.

Mr. WHITE: Thank you for having me.

Ms. WHITE: Oh, thank you.

Mr. WHITE: Thank you for having us.

GROSS: Jack and Meg White of the White Stripes. Their new CD is called "Get
Behind Me Satan."

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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