There are bursts of marimba, too, which sound like someone shaking a bag of bones. Photos: The White Stripes on Tour in There is no better way to describe the White Stripes themselves. But Jack and Meg are playing to each other. He stands at a mike set at the foot of her kit, his eyes pinned on her as he sings and thrashes his guitar.
She looks up at him with the same undivided attention as she keeps steady, thundering time. It is a perfect picture of a remarkable bond. Publicly, Jack and Meg, both thirty, claim to be brother and sister, even though a Detroit newspaper blew their cover a couple of years ago, revealing them to be ex-husband and -wife married in , divorced in But on their five albums as the White Stripes, and especially onstage, there is no mistaking the truth of their relationship.
They make music like inseparable kindred spirits. The White Stripes are at a commercial and creative peak. And he does almost all the talking. A lot of drummers would feel weird about being that simplistic.
But music was not his first career choice. In high school, Jack, a Catholic, seriously thought of entering the priesthood. After graduating, he considered joining the Marines but instead worked as an upholsterer and, for a time, as a gofer on TV carcommercial shoots. Jack played drums and guitar in several Detroit garage bands Two Part Resin, the Go, Goober and the Peas, the Hentchmen before he and Meg, another Detroit native, made their local live debut in Jack soon found that underground cool came at a price.
Jack may be a reluctant star, but he is a fireball in conversation. He speaks at high speed, his brown eyes looking directly at you like derringer barrels, and his laugh is a series of short, sharp bangs, like a string of firecrackers going off. This is not unusual. Did you worry about how you would perform those songs live? A duo can only make so much music without tapes and samples. Everything was vocals, guitar and drums or vocals, piano and drums. I can only play one thing at a time. The minimalism is still there: vocals, marimba and drums or vocals, grand piano and drums.
Or I play piano, Meg plays timpani and she sings. The whole point of the White Stripes is the liberation of limiting yourself. In my opinion, too much opportunity kills creativity. I remember in high school, a friend of mine had a magazine with a story about some popular band of the time that was recording an album. The story said they had eighty guitars in the studio to choose from and that there were over tracks of guitar on this one song. Good Lord! Maybe two. But when I first saw the White Stripes live, it took me a while to get used to the hole in your sound.
I was in high school when I first heard the Flat Duo Jets. Then, within months, they became my favorite band. Some kind of rawness hit me, and I saw there was no need for anything else.
A year ago, I listened to the first tape Meg and I made. It still sounds raw and cool. There was a red screwdriver sitting on the table.
I write most of my songs on piano and acoustic guitar. Meg is the best part of this band. It never would have worked with anybody else, because it would have been too complicated. When she started to play drums with me, just on a lark, it felt liberating and refreshing. There was something in it that opened me up. Do you think the brother-sister thing was a miscalculation — that you overdid the mythmaking?
Have I sat down and said I was born in Mississippi? Did I say I grew up on a plantation and learned how to play guitar from a blind man? I never said anything like that. But because you present that relationship as fact, it obscures your real connection as a couple — the truth and value of what you play together. I want you to imagine if we had presented ourselves in another fashion, that people might have thought was the truth.
How would we have been perceived, right off the bat? When you see a band that is two pieces, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, you think. So when did you come up with the idea? Go ahead and think that. How do you write songs? Do you sit down and pound something out every day? How much do you write about yourself? Seven Nation Army , on Elephant. That song started out about two specific people I knew in Detroit.
It came from a frustration of watching my friends do this to each other. In the end, it started to become a metaphor for things I was going through. To me, the song was a blues at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It won a Grammy for Best Rock Song.
Rita Hayworth became an all-encompassing metaphor for everything I was thinking about while making the album. There was also the fact that she was Latino and had changed her name.
She had become something different, morphed herself and was trying to put something behind her. Every song on that album is about truth. Could you feel the big time just around the corner? We were the white blood cells. Who do you trust now? It became a global problem.
What was the best thing about success when it first hit the White Stripes? It was mind-blowing to think that people were even interested in this music.
Every moment was shocking. What did you ask for? I wanted complete artistic freedom. I never wanted to owe anybody any money. Our albums are made so cheaply that we recoup the day they come out.
What was the worst part of the media attention? I remember being in a minefield, always trying to avoid something, never feeling comfortable — even knowing about the people who had come before me and been through the same things. You have to keep pushing until you find your niche, your little spot. You never see me and Meg on a reality-TV show. We avoid it. Meg is particularly good at that. How has she managed to stay out of the spotlight that is on you all the time? Meg also reminds me of Rita Hayworth. Rita Hayworth never looked at any of the photos taken of her.
What does she care about? She loves music. Her record collection is twice as big as mine. Can you imagine being in a band without her? Not this band. All the beauty would be gone. There is something about the way I attack things and the way she attacks things.
When you put those dynamics together, something interesting happens. What kinds of music were around the house when you were growing up? My dad was into the big bands: Glenn Miller, Gene Krupa. I found the first Stooges album in a dumpster behind our house, in the garbage of my next-door neighbor Brian Muldoon.