The debating chamber of London County Hall is a stately affair, tucked away amid the marble hallways and royal blue rope barriers, and decked out with hardwood pews, an imposing lectern and Georgian era watercolours. It’s a strange place for Jack White to launch his rambunctious, southern fried new album, Blunderbuss, which is played in its duration to the darkened theatre, with a big screen showing the record spinning in real time. The respectfully quiet gaggle of journalists, strategically subdued by the aqua blueBlunderbuss cocktails doled out beforehand (Jack Daniels, blue curacao, lemonade) listen attentively, squinting at their lyric books, impossible to decipher in the low light. Strange, and not very practical.
Things take a further turn for the curious once the record finishes playing. Up steps Christiana Valcarcel, the mayor of Lambeth, in full mayoral robes and regalia to “grill” White on Blunderbuss and life in general. “You are a talent. Don’t get big-headed – but you should be proud of yourself,” she shouts at a puzzled White. “I can’t do both!” comes the reply. The stage is set for one of the oddest interviews you’ll ever see. Jack White, for his part, looks healthy and slimline. He passes himself humbly and amicably and is clearly excited about the first album bearing his own name.
“I didn’t know I was really doing it until I was doing it about four or five songs in,” he says of the record’s inception. “Then it felt like it was turning into something. There was a session booked [to record] a 45 in my studio and it got cancelled. I had flown in some players from out of town to play that day and I had nothing for them to do, so I thought I guess we’ll do one of my songs. I got three songs on the first day out of that session and I just kind of kept going, but I didn’t know whether to put out a Dead Weather record or Raconteurs record and by the sixth or seventh song it just felt like a kind of complete record. I thought: ‘I guess I’ll just call it me…’”
Blunderbuss is an aggregation of White’s career to date: a mixture of classic rock, country, blues and straight up, old school rock and roll. He speaks of playing the conductor, moving from instrument to instrument and no longer being just the guitar player – a trend that began with the 45s he’s been churning out for three years in his Third Man record label. He explains: “If I didn’t move to Nashville I don’t think I would’ve made this record. Through all these 45s I’ve done, I’ve got a humongous family of pedal-steel players, violinists and harpists. Last year everything changed when I started production… there were ten or 12 people at times in the room playing live… it was the first time I’d really ever conducted an orchestra. I would say: “When the chorus comes in, I need the harps to do a D Minor chord and then the piano comes in for the break. There are so many session musicians, songwriters, people playing for tourists and stuff, where else would you have access to that much talent in the neighbourhood, you know?”
The conversation turns at various points to upholstery (White used to be an apprentice and last year opened an upholstery store), the word ‘love’ (“It’s hard to use the word “love” in a song, it’s been so used for so long thousands of times, plays, paintings, poems and if you’re going to say that word, I think you sort of have to put a twist on it.”) and White’s statistics (“6’1, 185 lbs”), before Valcarcel lets him off the hook and he makes an exit stage right. If there’s one thing you can glean from looking through his back catalogue, it’s that Jack White is rarely content to play by convention – and tonight in the County Hall is no different.