Ben Cobb shares the details about his interview with Jack White...
Earlier this month we revealed the cover of AnOther Man Issue 10 featuring the forcible Jack White, now AnOther Man Editor Ben Cobb shares his thoughts about the man and the interview, and we preview a special set of photographs by Mark Segal – but you’ll have to wait for the full shoot in the magazine out Thursday, March 18.
Ben Cobb: I've been a fan of Jack White since I first heard White Blood Cells. You just knew straight away, listening to that album, that they were going to have a massive impact. The last time I saw him play live was with The Raconteurs at Glastonbury. As he says in the interview, on stage he is a man possessed. His live performances are visceral. He wrestles with his guitar like it’s a troublesome conjoined twin – you can tell that instrument is a part of his DNA, an extension of himself. It's amazing to watch: he's constantly swapping guitars, messing with effects pedals and weird contraptions for his voice. It all looks very complicated and difficult, but out of it comes this pure, simple noise.
In person, he couldn't be more different than his stage persona, which was a relief. He's calm and extremely polite – in a kind of Southern gentleman way. But on the subject of rock'n'roll his Detroit roots come out, there's a real punk attitude at work. He considers his answers carefully. He isn't in a rush. You can tell he wants to say exactly what he means. He's careful about that. He doesn't say anything just for the sake of it. It's like he explains, conversation is all part of his search for “the truth” in everything. The thing that surprised me most was just how funny he is. He's got a sharp sense of humour. And a high-pitched laugh.
He is very serious about what he does. Making good music is hard work. And it's a very personal thing. The processes involved in making it are different for everyone. For him, he needs that struggle to achieve what he wants to do. It all goes back to his early days in Detroit – making records in his living room, with no money and no time. That's how he is used to working. And even now - when he can afford lots of time and the best studios – he is suspicious of it. He sees it as indulgent. His music is about immediacy and rawness, and he doesn't want to lose that. I agree that art without struggle can be disposable, but there's a place for disposable art too in my opinion. Disposable can be great, whether it's music, film, painting or whatever. It's just not what Jack White does.
I really loved what he said about if you're going to do something, then do it all the way. No half measures. It's about fully engaging with everything, pushing ideas as far as possible and making things happen. That's an inspiring way to approach life and work, whoever you are and whatever you do. And even better if – like Elvis – you can buy your friends Cadillacs.
Jack White's Third Man Records building is in a rough area of Nashville. I had time before the interview to wander around the streets behind it: there were a lot of strung-out - but friendly - junkies hanging about, waiting for the local methadone clinic to open; the gutters were littered with broken bottles; and I remember the stench of piss under one bridge. It's probably the real side of the city. But I got the chance to see the other side, the tourist bit. There are some amazing all-singing all-dancing Country bars on the main strip - they all have local bands playing. It really lives up to its nickname of 'The Music City'. I had fun, whisky-fuelled night in Tootsies with some real cowboy characters.
I had to get a connecting flight to Nashville from Detroit, White's hometown. Going through security at Detroit I was questioned by officers about my business in Nashville. I explained why I was going there and the guard said, “Jack White? He's one of ours! He's a Detroit boy. Say hi from me.” At the interview I told White this and he seemed genuinely touched. Nashville might be White's new home but his heart belongs to Detroit.