“Expect the unexpected” should be Jack White’s motto.
Aside from the sight of the indie icon’s electric blue hair, he recently surprised his Detroit audience by marrying his girlfriend and fellow musician, Olivia Jean, onstage in a completely unannounced fashion.
Now White, who grew up in Motor City, Michigan, has released his second album of 2022 and it couldn’t be more different from the first.
Fear Of The Dawn, which was released in April, is loud, hip, uncompromising, nightmarish but captivating all the same.
Entering Heaven Alive, which was just released, is quieter, warmer, mostly acoustic, and contains more of a tender love song.
“I had no intention of doing two albums,” White tells me. “I was just writing songs and they were coming out in different ways.
“I would put the quieter songs in a playlist on my computer and the heavier songs in another, trying to see which went together and which made sense.”
In the case of this infinitely creative artist, it seems that people invest in him rather than in a given sound.
Nothing is off limits for the 47-year-old, who made his reputation in The White Stripes before a successful solo career and intermittent outings with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather.
“We’re lucky to live in a time where artists and musicians can go in all kinds of directions,” says the singer, who lives in Nashville, aka Music City, where he owns a studio.
“There was a time when if you were a painter, say, and you wanted to do landscapes AND abstracts, your art dealer would say, ‘No, no, no, stick to one thing.’
“In the ’60s, if you were a Motown R&B man, you’d be told, ‘Don’t rock and roll.
“I like to explore different ideas. It doesn’t mean you’re good at all of those things, it just means that that reggae beat or that polka beat makes sense to you in the moment.
White’s two new albums are united by Taking Me Back. . . a raucous version opening Fear Of The Dawn and the country shuffle ending Entering Heaven Alive, which comes with the appendix “(Gently)”.
I suggest to White that he demonstrate the endless possibilities of a single song and, sorry, but I can’t resist sharing his response.
“You nailed it over the head!” he is crying.
“It just shows that you can take any song and deliver it flamenco style or samba or bossa nova or polka.
DURING COVID, I GET PRESSURE ON MYSELF’
“There’s nothing stopping you from doing that.
“It’s just important that it inspires you, so I thought it was cool to do two versions.”
The main reason White wrote so much material in 2021, so two albums, was the Covid lockdowns.
The Ultimate Handyman also played a lot of instruments himself.
“For me, having so much time to work, I put pressure on myself to find something interesting.
“It’s like the movie Titanic has a budget of $300 million – it makes you think, ‘Well, this better be good’.”
Back in April, I reported on White’s in-depth thoughts on Fear Of The Dawn, but I’ve kept his take on Entering Heaven Alive until now.
Last Friday he marked his release with an acoustic gig at London’s Union Chapel, running through each track in order, followed by an encore of the White Stripes ditty You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket.
The new album has an intimate vibe with a greater emphasis on the lyrics, which helps explain why its creator hates being labeled a “rocker Jack White.”
For me, having so much time to work, I put pressure on myself to come up with something interesting.
As for the intriguing title, he says, “I was reading a bunch of different religious texts – Buddhist texts, the Koran and some things from the Old Testament.
“I was trying to pick up different themes and the characters that you find in those stories.”
White was particularly struck by a biblical moment found in Kings, chapter two, verse 11.
“As they were walking and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated them both, and Elijah ascended into heaven in a whirlwind.”
He continues: “The idea that the prophet Elijah went to heaven without dying had never occurred to me.
“When I was younger, I didn’t really conclude in my head that there wasn’t death involved.
“So I thought Elijah’s story provided an interesting concept.”
‘MY SWEET HONEY BEE OLIVIA JEAN’
White hopes people will have their own interpretation of what this verse means, but he says it made him think of the colloquial phrase, “You can’t take it with you when you go.”
Religious imagery abounds in his latest music, including the plea Please God, Don’t Tell Everyone, about someone fearing divine retribution for all the bad things they’ve done.
“Will the things I’ve done well save me from hell?” he intones.
And what about The Madman From Manhattan, which receives the visit of an angel who says to him: “It’s not right now, it’s wrong”.
Could he be referring to the blonde-haired former White House incumbent?
On other Entering Heaven Alive tracks, love appears as a strong theme, including on the jazzy I’ve Got You Surrounded (By My Love).
White dedicated the melodious queen bee to his new bride, “sweet bee, Olivia Jean.”
The 32-year-old raven-haired man is a member of goth garage band Black Belles, which is currently on hiatus.
She is also a solo artist and part of the White’s Third Man Records stable.
The exquisite Help Me Along was “written and dedicated with unconditional love to Scarlett White”, her daughter with ex Karen Elson.
I wish I could get to a point one day where I refer to myself in a song. In fact, I fantasize about it.
The song is accompanied by strings and a beautiful Wurlitzer piano solo by Dean Fertita (Queens Of The Stone Age, The Dead Weather).
I ask White how autobiographical his Entering Heaven Alive songs are and he thinks a lot about his answer.
“I wish I could get to a point one day where I refer to myself in a song. I actually fantasize about that,” he says.
“We see it so often now on social media. Someone will say, “I wrote that breakup song” and perform it on TikTok or Instagram.
“I could never be so literal about a specific moment in my life. It’s too selfish for me to feed myself.
“Maybe one day I’ll get bored of other concepts and jump into that.”
So, he adds, somewhat cryptically: “This record is me exploring fictional characters or existing people that I haven’t met.”
It’s no surprise, however, that Entering Heaven Alive is another captivating addition to Jack White’s songbook.
Of course, the best way to hear it is on vinyl. . . both for its atmospheric analog sound and because it naturally splits into two sides.
White was one of the key figures in the burgeoning vinyl revival through cutting-edge technology Third Man Pressing in Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood.
“God help me, if I had Elon Musk-type money at my disposal, there would be vast swaths of vinyl pressing factories,” he says.
“And we would make our own drum kits. . . it would be crazy all the things Third Man would be a part of.
But at least the Detroit factory is expanding, thanks to the purchase of four more presses. “It feels good !” he exclaims.
Reflecting on the early days of the revival, he adds: “Pearl Jam was the champion of vinyl in the early 2000s, when it almost collapsed.
“Before them, only house music and DJs kept vinyl factories from closing completely.
“ELEPHANT VINYL REVIEW COPIES”
“And we did our best in The White Stripes. If we were on TV, we would ask them to hold the vinyl record instead of the CD.
“We even had presenters who refused to do this on some TV shows, which we found hilarious because they thought no one knew what vinyl was.
“With The White Stripes, we actually sent out review copies of Elephant (their seminal 2003 album with Seven Nation Army) on vinyl.”
In 2009, along with co-founders Ben Blackwell and Ben Swank, White opened Third Man HQ in Nashville.
“That’s when I started doing limited editions and stuff, which hadn’t been done with the format.
“We have continued to do so to this day.”
Perhaps the most striking example is their sought-after 333-piece Paul McCartney III edition for which they melted down old copies of the ex-Beatles I (1970) and II (1980).
“How good is it? said White. “There couldn’t be anything more perfect that Paul could bring to our factory. It’s a perfect marriage.
“We also pressed records by Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. It’s just amazing to see them coming off our presses with our logo on them.
Far less predictable is where restless sonic adventurer Jack White III will take us next.
White points out that “it’s not just the big names.
“It was great to open up to the bedroom, DIY punk rock labels. We’re here for them too.”
Before we end our conversation, he draws my attention to his “one man campaign”.
“In every interview I do, I like to make a statement encouraging major labels to finally build their own pressing plants,” he says.
“It’s been 13 years since Third Man opened and it’s ten times bigger than when we started.
“Obviously we’ve proven the point, but they really need to help us keep up with the demand.”
With Entering Heaven Alive sitting at the top of today’s UK album charts, you can be sure that a significant portion of its sales are on vinyl.
Far less predictable is where restless sonic adventurer Jack White III will take us next.
JACK WHITE: Entering Heaven Alive
- Advice from you to me
- All the way
- Help me
- love is selfish
- I surrounded you (with my love)
- queen bee
- A tree on fire from within
- If I die tomorrow
- Please God don’t tell anyone
- Manhattan madman
- Take me back (gently)