polyphonica Team Editor KARLA VILLEZCAS
Writers CHRIS COTTINGHAM ARCADE FIRE INTERVIEW MATT DIEHL THE BLACK KEYS INTERVIEW WES ANDERSON JARVIS COCKER INTERVIEW KATIE STROH KEVIN PARKER INTERVIEW BUZZ ALDRIN JACK WHITE INTERVIEW DANIEL KOBIALKA 10 REASONS TO BUY MUSIC FROM INDEPENDENT ARTISTS
Design KARLA VILLEZCAS
Photography CHRIS COTTINGHAM ARCADE FIRE STEVE PAN THE BLACK KEYS JEAN-BAPTISTE MONDINO JARVIS COCKER MATTHEW SAVILLE KEVIN PARKER CRAIG MCDEAN JACK WHITE Illustrations KARLA VILLEZCAS
!0 Reasons to buy music from independent artists
The Black Keys
Suburban Hymns: Arcade Fire
Reasons to Buy Music from Independent Artists
Musicians develop their own labels for many different reasons. My reason is partly because of a challenge I took on at a young age, to take what I was told was an unmarketable instrument, the violin, and create music that expressed emotions, touched hearts, and ultimately, sold. Whatever the reason for creating their own labels, musicians sometimes forget the advantages they hold and focus instead on the multitude of challenges.
As a gentle reminder to artists as well as their potential customers, I’m sharing my personal favorite reasons why I enjoy having my own label, and why music lovers should consciously choose to buy music from independent labels.
Independent musicians can freely express their passion and unique talent. They can express their own personal stories, follow their own instincts, and not have to follow orders from major label executives as to what they must create.
Many of the common music distributors only offer music from major labels, and rarely do they
give anything for free, no matter how many albums you download or cds you buy. An independent artist is free to be unique and generous in his sales methods.
The independent musician can communicate directly with the customer, so online sales doesn’t have to feel like an isolating experience for the artist.
Niche marketing is all the buzz these days, and nowhere is it more successful than in independent music. As an independent musician, you are free to create your own unique niche and, in the process, reach more ideal fans.
By buying from independent labels, customers and musicians can share the love. Think of it this way, here’s one scenario. A music lover makes a purchase.
6. Everyone feels more authentic.
A MySpace page is more authentic than a billboard. A blog is more authentic than a press release.
At a time when many music retailers are closing their doors, customers can find their favorite independent musician’s music by buying it directly from the artist.
8. An independent musician can
develop his own website presence based on his own unique personality and style. Fans can hang out in a place where they can listen to new music clips, socialize, watch video performances, buy music, and share and build upon each other’s excitement.
Musicians get a bigger cut from the sale of their music.
Indie musicians can band together to support each other and further their own causes, in organizations such as Association of Independent Musicians, or Rock the Net, only two examples. Major record labels often limit what their artists can do or not do. There are of course other reasons to buy music from independent artists, but this is a great list to get you started thinking in that direction. // POLYPHONICA POLYPHONICA 55
you think that psychedelic rock is dead, you are dead wrong. Hailing from a tight-knit music scene in Perth, Australia, Tame Impala carefully combines the pop sensibilities of the 1960’s and the trippy-ness of 70’s prog with just about everything under the sun. The brain-child of 26-yearold Kevin Parker, Tame Impala makes full use of modern technology to create something familiar yet exciting. While slow to catch on with the public at large, the band’s debut record, Innerspeaker (2010), became an instant darling of music critics everywhere. They began their album tour opening for MGMT but soon became headliners themselves, playing sold-out shows across the country. Parker released Lonerism in March of last year. It was dubbed Album of the Year by Rolling Stone, NME, and Filter Magazine (among others.) Here, Parker talks about the intersection between independence and creativity, revealing himself to be a sensitive yet introspective guy.
KS: Tame Impala is essentially a solo project. Were your previous music projects more collaborative, for example when you were The Dee Dee Dums?
about making a record about being alone until now. I never really expected to make [being alone] into art. The thing is, I wouldn’t have written these kinds of songs or lyrics if I had been in a band because when you’re by yourself you can be honest and you can think exactly KP: Not so much, it’s always just about what you’re trying to be what I’m working on. Dee Dee without actually having to discuss Dums was just the same as Tame it for six months. You have to go Impala and it had a different name by your gut telling you what to do. even before that. I’ve always just That’s why I put that feeling in to been a band with extras. It’s always the music, it’s hard to get at. just been me working under different names and I’m generally independent. I’ve played in other bands KS: So the lyrics are pretas well where I’m just the drummer ty personal? and not writing songs, so I still get that collaborative fix. KP: Yeah definitely, it’s emotional stuff.
KS: What would you say are the advantages and KS: Musician and prodisadvantages in terms of writing or recording on your own? KP: Well when you’re writing on your own you’re writing in your own space in time, there’s no one to argue with. You’re your own investigator, you can take an idea to the extreme and multiply it by 1,000. In terms of disadvantages, since there’s no one to argue with there’s no one to go on stage with and bounce ideas off of which can drive you insane. But I guess that’s the only draw-back. And I guess being in a group there’s some versatility. Instead of focusing on just one idea it can be kind of light speed with lots of people, it’s sort of naturally creative.
KS: Is your creative independence part of the concept for Lonerism? Do you think that writing music is a loner activity? KP: I think it’s kind of a coincidence that the album is titled Lonerism because I’ve always been kind of alone. I’ve never genuinely thought
always kind of working on things but at this point I have no idea what it’s going to end up being.”
ducer Dave Fridmann mixed your last two records. What was it like working with him?
KP: Basically, I finish an album with all the tracks and all the vocals and I take it to him and he mixes it and we add all the drums. Having the Fridmann experience is incredible.
KS: Is there a particular reason why you chose him to mix both of your records? KP: Yeah, he has a great understanding of the kind of music that I’m making. He picks up on these kinds of things where if you got the wrong guy to do it you wouldn’t be able to explain how you wanted it to sound. For example, that
you want the vocals to be washed out. He’s the kind of guy where he wouldn’t ban that. He won’t be attached to how he wants it to be or try and make it sound like MGMT or a radio pop hit when I’m trying to make something crazy or fucked up.
KS: Your music seems to have a sort of enveloping ‘wall of sound’ effect. Do you think that’s accurate and if so, what appeals to you about that style? KP: Yeah, I mean definitely. It starts with just taking one thing and then slowly adding more things and it becomes this giant sound. But at the same time it can sound like I’m punching you in the guts. So in that way it’s not just a wall but more like a wall with flavor. You know and I guess I’ve always loved that kind of sound because I love that kind of barrage effect.
KS: You’ve mentioned in KS: Your music has been other interviews that you described primarily as have an admiration for psych-rock but also as cheesy pop music... shoe-gaze, dream pop, KP: It’s just something that I’ve electronic, lo fi... Do you always loved. I just love the foil of concern yourself with what a pop song. The melodies in pop genre you fit into or is that music are emotional. I don’t know just the media putting you what it is but I’ve always been gravinto categories? itated to that kind of thing. With KP: Yeah, I mean listening back on something after I record it I definitely try and think about what other people are going to think. But the thing is that when you’re recording music you don’t really have time to censor it and you don’t know what it’s going to sound like and at that point you really don’t want anyone else in the world to be able to judge what it sounds like. So at that point I’m really just trying to bring it in to focus. I understand that people want to put me in a box but I’m not going to stay in it if I’m truly creative. I don’t try to put myself in a box or category.
pop there’s nothing to think about or decisions to make, the emotions and feelings are just there.
KS: Are you working on anything currently? KP: Yeah, I’m always kind of working on things but at this point I have no idea what it’s going to end up being. I don’t even know if the next album is going to be a Tame Impala album. But I have a lot of dates coming up as Tame Impala, so I don’t know. I’m always writing songs though. // POLYPHONICA
As people, The Black Keys are a study in contrasts: Guitarist-vocalist Dan Auerbach is gruff and guardedly wry, while drummer Patrick Carney is more voluble and outwardly enthusiastic. But together they make up one of the biggest, most universally beloved rock bands-and unlikely pop phenomena-in music today. Auerbach, 32, and Carney, 31, first joined forces in their hometown of Akron, Ohio, as a couple of indie rock-obsessed teenage basement punks hopped up on the primal blues of Junior Kimbrough and Howlin’ Wolf.
matured, their music grew more assured. They also began an association with Brian Burton, better known as producer-sage Danger Mouse, who collaborated with the band on their fifth effort, Attack & Release (2008), as well as “Tighten Up,” the lead single off its follow-up, Brothers (2010), a supple, groove-filled album that would prove The Black Keys’ breakthrough. Brothers not only entered the Billboard album charts at No. 3, but went on to win three Grammy Awards, consummating the Keys’ full-fledged emergence from the indie-rock underground. On early records like 2002’s The Musically, the pair has remained Big Come Up and 2003’s Thick- adventurous, even wading into freakness, the duo worked up a the gritty waters of early-’90s East rootsy, distorted mayhem that was Coast hip-hop with their ongoing all raw power and soul; but as they Blakroc project, unveiled for the
first time in 2009 on a record featuring collaborations with Q-Tip, Mos Def, and RZA and Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan, among others. (A follow-up is in the works.) For their most recent offering, El Camino (Nonesuch), Auerbach and Carney reunited with Burton for an album that is as irreverent, idiosyncratic, and raw as it is catchy and refined-a glammed-up, full-bore descent into ass-moving rock ‘n’ roll that shakes and rattles with aplomb. The record, which was recorded in the duo’s adopted hometown of Nashville and released in December, has already made an even bigger commercial splash than Brothers, debuting at No. 2 on the charts and selling 206,000 copies in its first week.
- MATT DIEHL: You titled your latest album El Camino, which is one of the most badass cars of the ‘70s-but then there’s a Plymouth Grand Voyager minivan on the cover. What’s up with that? PATRICK CARNEY: We were basically trying to make the stupidest record cover of all time. DAN AUERBACH: We’re idiots . . .
- DIEHL: Really? AUERBACH: Well, we’re interesting, too—interesting morons. Anyways, el camino means “the road” or “the path.” That minivan was actually our first tour vehicle when we started out 10 years ago. CARNEY: My dad bought it for me, thinking nothing would come of the band and I’d go back to college. When I sold it, it had 190,000 miles on it.
the previous one.
- DIEHL: How do you think coming from Akron has affected your work? On the one hand, it’s not exactly an international cultural destination. But on the other, it’s the town that has spawned the likes of Devo and Chrissie Hynde . . . CARNEY: The Midwest breeds funny, eccentric people, to varying degrees. You play shows not because you’re expecting to get a record deal, but to do something fun outside of mowing lawns. Everything else is just gravy . . . Or mustard. AUERBACH: It’s nice being so isolated—we created our own universe. There was no scene. There wasn’t even a place to play. You don’t get caught up in the whole being-a-rock-star bullshit. That’s easy to do when you’re in big cities surrounded by press and all the other hip bands and whatever. Bands from Akron have a sense of humor and don’t tend to take themselves too seriously. We could do whatever we wanted. It wasn’t about trying to impress anybody, because there was nobody there to impress.
dad asked us if we thought we’d be nominated for a Grammy. I laughed at him for an hour and a - DIEHL: What are some of half.” the things you’ve discovered AUERBACH: We toured in it for two years. The air-conditioning was broken, and we’d drive it through West Texas in, like, 180-degree heat. Then we had a Buick Century where you couldn’t recline the seats at all—12hour drives and no reclining. Crazy. But that’s been the path. In the beginning, there were two of us, and we basically drove all over the world. Now we’re on our seventh record, and just keep moving forward. It’s been a long road . . .
along the way that have surprised you?
CARNEY: Everything we do is pretty much an accident. AUERBACH: It’s just kind of wild. Our expectations were nil. We come from Akron, Ohio, where people don’t succeed at this kind of thing very often—only once every couple of decades or something. CARNEY: We came from a town where you’re lucky if you get a job at Starbucks. AUERBACH: We just liked doing music, and if we could make a little bit of money, it was okay. It was better to sit in that minivan, drive around the country, and get paid minimum wage than it was to work in a kitchen and get paid minimum wage. So we just kept doing that, and every year was a little better than
- DIEHL: And now you’ve been doing it for 15 years ...
AUERBACH: It’s absolutely insane. I just watched Michael Rapaport’s documentary on A Tribe Called Quest [Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, 2011]. We’ve already been a band longer than them, made more records, and they have a documentary about themselves! [laughs] Every year something crazy happens. I remember playing our first show, and then playing our first show in Europe, and playing Carnegie Hall with Ray Davies, and winning the Grammys . . . CARNEY: We thought Brothers would do okay. But it exceeded our expectations so much. That said, it’s not like we wanted or expected to win Grammys. I remember driving back from a gig in Toledo in 2002, and Dan’s dad asked us if we ever thought we’d be nominated for a Grammy. I laughed at him for an hour and a half. It was cool, but it was also a major bummer to walk down the red carpet and realize that not a single person there wanted to talk to any musicians—they wanted to see Kim Kardashian. You experience how much the show isn’t about music. I’m still shocked that, like, Arcade Fire was even allowed
to play. It doesn’t seem real to have a real band like Arcade Fire at a show where Justin Bieber is just lipsynching.
up, and I’m sort of the opposite of that. I don’t crave the spotlight. I’m still not comfortable even talking on stage.
- DIEHL: Your previous album was called Brothers, but I imagine after all that time together, your relationship is more like a marriage.
- DIEHL: What’s the last thing Pat does before he goes to bed?
CARNEY: I think our relationship would be best described as a mixture between Patty and Selma Bouvier from The Simpsons and Erik Estrada and that other dude [Larry Wilcox] from CHiPs. We take turns playing each role.
- DIEHL: Pat, what’s the last thing Dan does before he goes to bed?
AUERBACH: We don’t always get along, but who does? We’re around each other more than we are around our own families. We love each other and care for each other, but we’re not up each other’s asses all the time. That’s why we’ve lasted this long.
- DIEHL: Do the two of you have a special song that marks your relationship?
- DIEHL: There’s a game played at bridal showers, where they ask the bride and groom personal questions about the other to gauge how well they really know each other-and I wanted to do that with you. So where did you first meet? CARNEY: It would’ve been when I was probably 9 years old, just riding our bikes around in our neighborhood during the summertime. AUERBACH: We’ve known each other since we were little kids. From the moment I started having memories, Pat’s been around.
- DIEHL: You lived down the street from each other, right? AUERBACH: Yeah, but we didn’t really hang out. In high school Pat was a bit of a character, always doing goofy shit and getting put in detention. Before he had his Twitter outlet, Pat was doing other shit to get attention—and it was usually selfdeprecating.
AUERBACH: Uh, tweets something.
CARNEY: Puts on shorts. He always wears soccer shorts to bed.
CARNEY: “Smokestack Lightning” by Howlin’ Wolf. AUERBACH: Or something from Safe as Milk  by Captain Beefheart.
- DIEHL: Dan, what would you say is your favorite thing about Pat? AUERBACH: He’s funny as hell.
- DIEHL: What would you say is your favorite thing about Dan, Pat? CARNEY: Dan’s funny, but he’s also a hard worker.
- DIEHL: And what would Pat think is your most annoying habit? AUERBACH: My spaciness. CARNEY: Sometimes if Dan’s eating something that he really likes, he’ll suck on his fingers. I have a pet peeve about that. And I still don’t like his beard.
- DIEHL: What is Dan’s favorite book? CARNEY: Probably something by William Faulkner.
- DIEHL: It’s good to have a drummer that thinks he’s the front man.
- DIEHL: What is Pat’s favorite book?
AUERBACH: I guess so. It’s a tradeoff . . . I’m certainly not your typical front-man material. Some people love being on stage and really open
- DIEHL: What is Pat’s favorite movie?
AUERBACH: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
AUERBACH: Die Hard 3. CARNEY: Dan’s favorite movie is Duck Soup  with the Marx Brothers.
- DIEHL: What is Dan’s favorite food? CARNEY: When it comes down to it, Chinese.
- DIEHL: What is Pat’s favorite food? AUERBACH: Swensons cheeseburgers.
- DIEHL: Pat, you talk constantly about your fast-food obsession on Twitter. CARNEY: I’ve spent a lot of time on Wikipedia looking up, like, White Castle and Arby’s. The greatest invention of the latter half of the 20th century was the idea of eating as many small, piece-of-shit burgers as you possibly can. Fast food is the one thing everyone can relate to. It’s depressing, but also interesting, that people desire to eat the same sandwich in every single city in the world. But the biggest bummer is when you see a Subway in Berlin. Just devastating.
- DIEHL: You’re so passionate on the topic, you could be the Guy Fieri of fast food. CARNEY: Oh my god, I could only hope. I follow him closely. He’s one of the most irritating motherfuckers, but you can’t look away. I’m blown away that he has a career talking about how bitchin’ every burrito is, while getting food over his 1999 relief-pitcher
goatee. Basically I’m excited to become a 70-year-old man with no taste buds left who only wants to eat mustard.
- DIEHL: Coming off the massive success of Brothers, you both relocated from Akron to Nashville. What precipitated that move? AUERBACH: I moved to Nashville first. Pat was living in New York City and then one day, out of the blue, he was like, “I’m moving to Nashville!” He literally moved right down the street from me. It was really bizarre, but I had a studio built here in town, so we cut El Camino here.
- DIEHL: Brothers had more of a grooveoriented, hip-hop feel, but El Camino is more of a primal, manic rock ‘n’ roll rave-up. AUERBACH: We were listening to stuff from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s that was inspired by ‘50s rock: The Cars, Sweet, The Cramps-stuff like that. Whether they’re more rocking or more glitter, all the songs are sort of dancey. We wanted it to be more up-tempo. We were shocked sometimes at how fast these songs are.
- DIEHL: So will the next Black Keys album be incredibly slow? AUERBACH: Yeah. All dirges, but other than that, I’m just happy to keep going. //
SUBURBAN HYMNS ARCADE FIRE
Three years after they released ‘Neon Bible’, Arcade Fire returned in August with a new album, ‘The Suburbs’. As the title suggests, it’s about those grey zones between the city and the countryside. It also heralds a new, more stripped down sound that embraces synths, post-punk and a more direct lyrical aesthetic. Suburban life and the frustrations it breeds have been the inspiration for many great albums, but it’s normally a band’s first, not their third. The Montreal seven-piece’s frontman Win Butler, his wife and multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne and drummer Jeremy Gara talk to Clash about taking a yearlong break, why they wanted to make a record about their teenage upbringings now and how the search for a simpler sound led to an unusual mix, on some tracks, if not the whole album, of Neil Young and Depeche Mode...
Why did you want to make a record about the suburbs? Win: In my experience, it’s not a conscious decision, you just get inspired by what you get inspired by. I got a letter from an old friend and it had a picture of him and his daughter at the mall near where my brother and I grew up [in Houston, Texas]. It was unforeseeably moving and it brought back a lot of memories. This combination of someone that I hadn’t seen for a long time and his daughter who I’d never met and a totally generic but familiar place. It was this conflicted but very deep feeling.
Why did it affect you so deeply? Win: I don’t know. I try not to psychoanalyse myself too much. Montreal is the place I’ve lived longest besides Texas. I’ve been there for almost ten years now. Next year I will have lived in Montreal longer than I’ve lived anywhere. It feels like home. Even though Houston is currently the place I’ve lived longest in my life it’s the place I feel least connected to, so even though it’s not all literal and not all about me, I wanted to make a record about that feeling.
Régine, you didn’t grow up in Houston. How did you identify with the subject matter of ‘The Suburbs’? Régine: No, it’s not about just Houston, but both Win and I grew up in the suburbs. I grew up in Quebec, he grew up in Houston. What was interesting to me is that even though the places we grew up in were very different there were feelings and emotions attached to our surroundings that transcended the culture. We could both relate to the same sentiments even though we were in different countries. That’s why this album has fifteen songs. I think it was interesting to describe all those feelings. For example, the
feeling when you’re very young that suburbs are kind of nice because there’s a little park to go to and it’s safe, but then you grow up and as a teenager it seems kind of dead and you feel like you want to get out of there. The image of the suburbs is not very glamorous and it’s not something people are very passionate about, but there are still dramatic stories that happen there. Everyone has their own little suburb story.
A lot of great music is rooted in teenage frustration at living in the suburbs, but it’s usually the first album people make. Why did it chime with you now? Win: I think a lot of artists spend their whole career writing about the same ideas. Francis Ford Coppola keeps looking at the same things in every movie he makes. Bruce Springsteen is singing about the same thing in every record he makes. I don’t know why that is. I think you’re drawn to the subject matter you’re drawn to. A lot of times, as you change, you approach it from a different perspective and get different insights. I think that’s what we’ve done here. Régine: I don’t know. I don’t analyse things. It just came out like that. It’s not something that you plan. The album is not one judgement on the suburbs. It’s more cinematic, like scenes around the suburbs. Do I think it would have been a different album if we’d made it when we were teenagers? Of course, but you could go on and on like that. What if I had blonde hair or lived in Paris?
Was it a difficult or easy record make? Jeremy: It was both. When we were in the middle of recording it late last year I felt awful. It felt like the hardest process of all time. Just because it’s more material than we’ve ever recorded. It became clear how long the record was going to be. It was like, ‘Oh my god, this is so much material’. We were working on twice as much material as ‘Neon Bible’ and trying to do it in the same time frame and it felt awful at times. But we always do that. We record until we’re sick of the process. The albums are better for it because we’ve put in all the energy we can muster. Win: Some of the stuff was the easiest we’ve ever done and some it was the hardest. There are six more songs than on our previous two records, so we were recording a lot more material. This record is really like a double LP: it barely fits on a CD. It was that much more work.
Which tracks were hardest? Win: A song like ‘Deep Blue’ we tried many different ways. We finished it as this total synth song and it POLYPHONICA 17
kind of left us cold. Me and my brother were playing around with some stuff at home and we found this balance between this almost demo quality and the synth stuff. While making this record I re-read Ed O’Brien’s diary about making ‘Kid A’. There were a couple of songs where he says, ‘We started this a year-and-a-half ago and it’s the simplest song on the album. We’ve just mixed it and it sounds like how it did on day one. It took us a year to finish.’ I think sometimes the simplest stuff takes the longest. The two ‘Half Light’ songs we recorded on this tape machine at home. There was something that we really loved about the demo and we were trying to make it a band song and trying to find this balance between what made it exciting in the first place and making it a song for the whole band. In my experience there are certain songs that the first time you play them they are never better and you spend the whole rest of your career trying to get back to the time you first played it.
The new album sounds more upbeat than its predecessors. Are you happier? Win: Music is always reflective of the time in which it was created. It’s something that you can hear in music no matter what it’s about. To me that’s one of the things that’s interesting. It’s not like making psychedelic music is the most genius idea of all time, but there’s something that really dates it to its own time. That’s what makes it interesting, not talking about gi-
ant mushrooms. Régine: After ‘Neon Bible’ we took a year off, just staying at home and writing songs and doing regular things. That was a very happy time. ‘The Suburbs’ reflects that, yes. Jeremy: The time off really made a massive difference in terms of feeling creative. We really went into this wanting to do it, which is a positive way to be feeling. When we recorded ‘Neon Bible’ we hadn’t taken a break and we had just come off an extended tour for ‘Funeral’ and the world at large felt tense. I think that can’t help but have infiltrated the sound of the record a little bit. Also, ‘Neon Bible’ dealt with global anxieties.
I guess it’s hard to write an upbeat song about environmental apocalypse. Jeremy: Or not wanting to live in the States. And musically it feels like a darker record because it was super ornate with strings and lush, emotional instrumentation. This one, there’s still emotion in it, but the subject matter demanded a little less ornamentation. There’s not as much orchestral elements on this record. It’s replaced with synths and it’s a little more percussive and a little more rock’n’roll. One of the reasons it sounds lighter is that the arrangements are not as overblown as we’ve been in the past because the material didn’t demand it. //
JACK WHITE Were he born a little bit earlier and a little bit farther south, Jack White might very well have been a candidate for inclusion on one of those Smithsonian musical anthologies: a pallid, Depression-era troubadour whose soul-and-salvation-searching songs exist only via scratchy field recordings on battered old 78s.
He is a man of many moods and of many bands: from the warped, dirty dirge of The White Stripes, the red-, white-, and black-clad, faux brother-sister duo that he formed with his first ex-wife, Meg White, and the act that made him famous; to the country-and-bluesinflected shimmy of his garagerock outfit The Raconteurs; to the angular riffage of The Dead WeathAs it is, White was born John Gil- er, for which he pulls double duty lis in Detroit in the 1970s, just after as singing drummer. Motown hit its stride and a swarm of incendiary rock acts like MC5 White has a work ethic that also and Iggy and The Stooges raged out seems to belong to a bygone era. of the Motor City—which, at the In addition to his own work, he has time, was every bit as desolate and had a hand in producing a seemmalevolent as the impoverished ingly nonstop stream of albums, American sprawl of the early folkies and bluesmen. But the mode of deliverance through which he has chosen to channel his pent-up rage and struggles with inchoate spirits is both decidedly louder and more popular.
tracks, and one-offs with an eclectic group of coconspirators that includes Wanda Jackson, Loretta Lynn, Alicia Keys, and Danger Mouse. White even has his own label, Third Man Records, which he operates out of a building in his adopted hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, that houses a store, a studio, and a performance space, and which, in addition to White’s musical endeavors, has put out singles and albums by other artists ranging from the Swedish folkies First Aid Kit, to Welsh crooner Tom Jones, and conceptual composer John Boswell, issuing all of them on vinyl. (The not-so-divine inspiration for the name was a one.
White’s is an oeuvre built around strains of blues, folk, and countrified American music reanimated with the furiousness of ‘60s rock and early punk, and shrouded in a fog of arch Pop-art conceits, color schemes, and mythmaking gambits, which has unofficially anointed him keeper of the flame for a certain kind of rock ‘n’ roll that rebuffs nostalgia but reveres the past. POLYPHONICA 19
THINK THAT SOMETIMES LOVE GETS IN THE WAY OF ITSELF-YOU KNOW, LOVE INTERRUPTS ITSELF... ” 20 POLYPHONICA
Man operation called Third Man Upholstery that White started in Detroit in the mid-’90s. Slogan: Your furniture’s not dead.) White’s latest album, Blunderbuss, released in April on Third Man Records, marks a turning point of sorts, coming on the heels of a year in which both his 14-year run with The White Stripes and his six-year marriage to his now second exwife, the model and singer Karen Elson, came to their respective ends. (The official parting of The Stripes, whose last record was 2007’s Icky Thump and who hadn’t performed together since 2009, was announced in February 2011 with a message on the band’s website; the news of White and Elson’s split was issued via a press release that revealed that the parting couple intended to commemorate their separation with a “divorce party” for their close friends and family— which, as the invitation promised, was to feature “dancing, photos, memories, and drinks with alcohol in them.”)
the questioning duties could be handled by former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who, along with Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, was part of the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar mission that saw Armstrong and Aldrin become the first and second people to walk on the moon. We put the request to Aldrin, and to everyone’s surprise and delight, he graciously obliged. Interview contributing music editor Dimitri Ehrlich and the 82-year-old Aldrin caught up with White, 36, in Memphis, where he was preparing to play a show that evening.
ALDRIN: Couldn’t be better. It’s a busy time of year. I’m supposed to borrow somebody’s Bentley and go on up to West Point to have this room dedicated in my honor. WHITE: At West Point? ALDRIN: Yeah. They’ve got a hotel up there and they’re gonna put a plaque with my name on one of the rooms, so you can come up there and see a lot of pictures of me inside this room. WHITE: I might have to stay in the Buzz Aldrin room.
DIMITRI EHRLICH: I think we just got Buzz. Buzz, are you there? ALDRIN: It’s gonna be there for a while—I hope. They might tear it BUZZ ALDRIN: Yeah, I’m here. down eventually and put up the name of somebody else who has JACK WHITE: Buzz, this is Jack. been to Venus or Mercury. You’re How you doing? in Memphis?
Recorded in Nashville, where White has lived since 2005, Blunderbuss swirls with dark emotionsand, like White’s best work, is at once earthy and ethereal, guttural and redemptive. It is also the first full-length that White has played on that is credited solely to Jack White, and arrives with a new color scheme consisting of the primarily blueish hues featured in its artwork and in the clothes worn by the two full bands—one all-male, one all-female—that White is taking on tour with him this spring and summer. While White’s musical interests venture deep down into the loamy soil of American culture, his curiosity has also drawn him in the opposite direction-chiefly, toward outer space. When we were discussing who would interview White for this story, he asked if POLYPHONICA 21
WHITE: Yeah, we’re playing here mainstream who are actually from tonight. Where are you, Buzz? the inner city of Detroit—except for the Motown artists, really. ALDRIN: I’m in Los Angeles, in Century City. We’re occupying a EHRLICH: Did you grow up in the temporary residence . . . I filed for Cass Corridor? divorce back in June. You don’t know about things like that, do WHITE: Yeah, close to the Cass you? Corridor, in southwest Detroit. WHITE: [laughs] No, I’m not familiar. ALDRIN: I grew up in New Jersey, but it turns out I’ve been in CaliALDRIN: Anyway, I got a sweet fornia half of my life now. young lady keeping me company. WHITE: Really? You can’t resist EHRLICH: You live in Nashville the weather out there. now, don’t you, Jack? ALDRIN: It’s pretty good. But I WHITE: Yeah. I grew up in De- travel quite a bit. troit, but I’ve been living in Nashville for the last six or seven years. Ehrlich: Before we get too far, I had a quick question about space ALDRIN: I understand that De- travel. I just got back from Thaitroit was a pretty rough place to land, and I’m really jet-lagged, and grow up in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I’m sure Jack deals with that all of the time because of all of the travWHITE: It was, man. But it’s got a eling he does. But if you travel to stiff upper lip, that town. the moon, Buzz, is there any sort of jet lag that you experience when ALDRIN: You get beat up? you come back to Earth? Or is it Mugged? Threatened? WHITE: [laughs] Not too much. You know, I think you learn how to walk down the street in a certain way. I think you just learn to have a way about yourself, a style of walking down the street, that keeps people away from you. EHRLICH: Did you actually grow up in the City of Detroit or in the suburbs? WHITE: I grew up in the city. I don’t think there have been too many musicians who have made it out into the
not even an issue because you’re traveling so far beyond all the time zones? ALDRIN: Well, we didn’t really have jet lag in the same way. We all wore watches and stayed on Houston time while we were gone so that we would be in sync with the mission crews and the flight crews controlling the mission. Of course, when we came back, we’d been away for eight days in reduced gravity or floating in zero gravity with the spacecraft going and coming, and it takes a while to get used to gravity again. We had to get our land legs—kind of like a sailor who has been rolling around on the ocean has to do. You feel like you’re really heavy for a day or so after you get back. All of that, of course, was overshadowed by the success that we had on the mission. But after we got back, we went on a tour of the world for 45 days, visiting kings and queens and all that. On that trip, there was jet lag. WHITE: I can’t imagine the cour-
age that it took to get in that tin can and travel to the moon like you did. I often think about Michael Collins. You guys decided that he was going to stay in the capsule and orbit the moon while you and Neil Armstrong went down to the surface, is that right?
successfully carrying out the mission, which was to land on the moon. But we figured that we had about a 60 percent chance of successfully landing, and even if we had to turn back without landing, I think we figured that we had a 90 percent chance of coming back alive-which is not bad, actually. We ALDRIN: Yeah. Michael was satis- had to have Apollo 13 turn around fied just to be a part of the historic and come back, and everybody first landing. He had to do a lot of helped them out, and we brought critical things to bring us back. All them all back safely. We got 24 we needed to do was fire up the en- people to the moon and 18 of us gine and then find Michael in orbit. are still alive. I think that I just had I’m sure that if he’d stayed around, the great fortune to come along at he could have been on the last landing that went there . . . He’s hard to get hold of these days. He’s out fishing all the time. WHITE: I’ve always thought about you guys walking on the moon and Collins up in that capsule by himself—two very lonely scenarios. But at the same time, you had so much work to do, so maybe you couldn’t really have a fear of being by yourself so far away. Would you say that was true? ALDRIN: That, and also, when I was a kid, President Roosevelt said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” WHITE: But the three of you trained for that mission for such a long period of time. Did you feel confident when you got in the capsule and prepared for takeoff? Or was it like, “Wow . . . Anything could wrong at any moment”? ALDRIN: There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong that would have prevented us from
a really eventful time in the history of our country. My mother was born when the Wright Brothers flew their airplanes. My father was an early aviation pioneer. I was a teenager when World War II was going on, and I fought in the Korean War, and then got into the space program and was able to carry out the country’s commitment to land on the moon. Now I’m trying to put America at the forefront in establishing a permanent human presence on another planet. So I have to say, Jack, it’s been a pretty remarkable time to be alive.
something similar: that it’s a beautiful moment in human history when we’re actually talking about visiting other worlds. ALDRIN: I noticed that you did something with Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, is that right? WHITE: Yeah. We put out a record on Third Man [a seven-inch of composer John Boswell’s “A Glorious Dawn,” which features spoken-word portions by both Sagan and Hawking]. That’s one of the records that I’m proudest of having released. Carl Sagan was a huge influence . . . We have a secret project at Third Man where we want to have the first vinyl record played in outer space. We want to launch a balloon that carries a vinyl record player, and possibly that Carl Sagan record, and figure out a way to drop the needle with all that turbulence up there and ensure that it will still play. ALDRIN: There’s no turbulence up there if you get up high enough. But I know the guy who is CEO of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Maybe you should talk to him. Richard is always interested in doing unusual things. EHRLICH: I guess one problem would be if you got so high that there wasn’t gravity to get the needle to fall on the record. You’d have to account for the lack of gravity if you went really out there. //
WHITE: Carl Sagan once said POLYPHONICA 23