Jack White The Exclaim! Questionnaire

Jack White The Exclaim! Questionnaire
What are your current fixations?
Shape note singing. It's an old singing style in America, where they would help illiterate people learn more about music by supplementing shapes like squares and triangles in place of musical notation and getting people to sing in choirs. They used this book called The Sacred Harp, of older religious songs and choir type songs. Really powerful — some of the most powerful music I've ever heard in my life. I can't believe I've never heard of it before. I've been getting more into that.

Why do you live where you do?
I live in Detroit. I've lived in the same house my whole life — I don't know why.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
About a year ago, we played at the Detroit Institute of Arts in this courtroom that Diego Rivera had done murals for, of the Ford Motor Plant. We played a show there and 4000 people showed up. That was one of my favourites.

What have been your career highs and lows?
I think the moment we were able to not have day jobs and we could tour, a few years ago, that was a high point. Just devoting my life to music.

I think the low point was probably the initial mainstream attention on the band. It was difficult for us to figure out what to do at that point. It was something we never sought out — it was thrust upon us and we were forced to figure out what to do with ourselves at that point. It was a tough job; we never thought we were going to be in that position. It's like someone handing you a lottery ticket or something, but in order to go pick up the money, you have to go do something really strange.

What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
Someone once said that we were stealing from the old blues musicians, and making a profit from it. It was the most insulting thing I'd ever heard — I couldn't believe that. We are trying to join a tradition of songwriting. The songs that we've covered — we've always paid the royalties to the people who wrote them if they weren't public domain. The biggest love in my life is blues music, so for someone to say that to me, I just wanted to punch them in the face.

What should everyone shut up about?
Reality television. I'm getting quite sick of that.

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I like that I try to do what I say I'm going to do. I like that I'm focussed. Dislike? Because I get passionate about things, a lot of important things about life get pushed aside because there just isn't enough time. If I was less lazy, I'd get more involved in anything, but music just takes everything out of me — I can't do anything else.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?
One time someone said that in art, it's only one in 10,000 people who makes a difference. Maybe I should have taken that advice.

What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
I've never kicked anyone out. I've been in a bunch of bands, and I've been kicked out, but I've never kicked anyone else out.

What do you think of when you think of Canada?
The Northwest Territories. The people who live there — they don't need society, like a monk or something. That's the image in my brain about it — to have to fly a plane in to get to their town. I have a lot of respect for that.

What is your vital daily ritual?
Breakfast. That's the only solid thing.

What are your feelings on piracy, internet or otherwise?
I don't mind it that much, really. I wouldn't do it because I really need to have the album in my hands — preferably the vinyl. I like to have the artwork and the notes and the lyrics. When it's on the internet, it feels like it's invisible. You think that it's there, but you can't see any moving parts and that's somehow disappointing.

What was your most memorable day job?
I reupholstered furniture the whole time I was a teenager, so those were most of my jobs. I had my own shop — Third Man Upholstery — that was my most memorable, because it was my own business. It felt good that at the age of 21, I owned my own business. I had something to fall back on if I was ever to fail at anything else, which probably was going to happen.

How do you spoil yourself?
When I go out to eat now, I get anything I want. I used to look at the specials or look at the menu, and now I just think about what I want to eat and just ask for it.

If I wasn't playing music I would be:
Upholstering furniture.

What do you fear most?
Water. I just don't want to ever drown.

What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
I don't want to answer that one.

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
I was on this film called Cold Mountain; it's a civil war era film and I play a folk musician and civil war deserter. Donald Sutherland was in the cast. We were on this lot out in the country; he was about 30 feet away and I said hi to him. I'd heard that he was really anti-smoking, ‘cause he has allergies. I said hi to him and he didn't say hi back. I turned around and walked away, thinking "That's weird he didn't say hi back. Oh, I'm smoking. He's mad that I'm smoking." He came around the corner and said "Jack! Are you still smoking?" I threw the cigarette away and said "nope." He says "C'mere." I thought he was going to yell at me for smoking but he gave me a hug.

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
I always wanted to have dinner with Don Rickles at a wedding reception. I think he'd be the perfect person to sit next to at a wedding.

What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
She wishes I was a priest. I almost went to the seminary.

Given the opportunity to choose, how would you like to die?
Not by drowning.

"It's a box that we always want to live in," says White Stripes singer and guitarist Jack White. "We decided to limit ourselves in that sense from day one. It will always be there because that's the box we're in aesthetically. It also weeds people out — people who don't want to dig deeper into things can just feel that we're a gimmicky band or a novelty. It's better that way because it makes them go away." White is talking about the red and white colour scheme that he and his cohort, drummer Meg White, have adopted, but he could be talking about their musical approach as well. On the Detroit band's fourth album, Elephant, with the exception of longer, slightly more ambitious songs, very little has changed. The stripped-down blues and sloppy, minimalist guitar and drums approach continues to permeate the band; at least musically, the last two years of explosive fame have had little effect. Elephant presents another step in the Whites' attempt to position themselves within a songwriting tradition, regardless of fame, current musical trends in rock resurgence, or the explosion of popularity that seems like an uncomfortable fit. "I love limitations, and that's what this band has always been about — limitations and constrictions."
James Keast