How the Raconteurs were born

August 03, 2006|By CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER | CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- "We didn't plan for this at all."

Pride dripped from Jack White's voice as he said that about the Raconteurs, his first new band since becoming one of the most iconic rock stars of the '00s in the White Stripes. The group started as a casual collaboration between White and Brendan Benson, who earned critical raves for a string of solo albums. A year later, with the addition of the Greenhornes rhythm section -- who worked with White on Loretta Lynn's Grammy-winning album Van Lear Rose -- and help from the radio hit "Steady, As She Goes," they have one of the year's biggest rock albums, Broken Boy Soldiers. Talking by phone last week before their second U.S. gig in Tempe, Ariz., the two Raconteurs talked on a four-way phone line that also included their publicist.

Purportedly, the PR woman was poised to end the call if the questions turned personal or White Stripes-related. White rarely does interviews related to his other band anymore, but he was chatty and even cheery talking about this one.

If you guys didn't have any intentions when you started collaborating, at what point did you decide, "Hey, let's make this a band?"

White: Probably when Little Jack and Patrick [Greenhornes bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler] came to Detroit a few days after we wrote "Steady, As She Goes" and the song "Broken Boy Soldiers." They started playing with us at Brendan's house, and we came up with another song right away, too, and it was like, "OK, I think we got a band now."

Originally, we thought we were doing something for a Brendan solo record. We didn't really know what we were doing. It wasn't too far from when Patrick, Jack and me worked with Loretta Lynn. We just found ourselves doing it.

Benson: Actually, Jack made us all do this.

So, thumbs down on calling it a side project?

White: Yeah. We're touring. We're making records. We're a band for as long as we last, like any other band.

The album shows off different sides to each of you that we didn't hear before. Was that intentional, or did it just grow out of collaborating together?

Benson: From the beginning, I saw it as an opportunity to try new things. It was almost the perfect disguise. I could do things in this band I probably wouldn't do on a solo album. But that's a little after the fact. It all just happened so fast, we really didn't have time to think it out when we started.

White: The live show is really sculpting the band right now, because we still really don't know what the band is. People are watching us learn. We don't have the luxury of playing in small bars where only 10 people showed up. But I love it. The newer songs we're writing are so different from the ones on Broken Boy Soldiers because of the shows. I can't wait to see what the next record sounds like.

What do you like about this band vs. your previous projects?

White: Brendan and I are really interested in exploring the structure of really interesting pop harmonies and melodies, things we couldn't do in our other bands. We couldn't do three-part harmonies before this. We couldn't have layers, like synthesizer and dual guitars. You know, in the White Stripes, I really don't have much time to do guitar solos because I have to play lead and rhythm at the same time. I love that challenge, but this is nice, too.

How did you guys meet?

White: I think it was downstairs at the Magic Stick [a Detroit club]. I remember Brendan coming by the house when we were recording De Stijl [the Stripes' second album], and that was around '99, so we've been close friends for a long time.

Brendan, lots of people are discovering your solo albums now because of this record. Do you see them as sort of belatedly jumping on the bandwagon?

Benson: It's a weird thing. Of course, I'm very glad about it. I'm mainly just stoked. There's no animosity for not being discovered sooner.

White: In Detroit, the running line about Brendan was always, "It's unbelievable this guy isn't huge." We all thought he's so good, but also so accessible. You know, only a select crowd is going to get the Two-Star Tabernacles or the Detroit Cobras, other bands we love there. But we never understood why Brendan didn't get a bigger audience.

"Steady, As She Goes" is a pretty sweet love song. Is that a fitting starting point for the band?

White: Yeah, definitely. It's the first song Brendan and I wrote together after years of being friends, so it means a lot. It was perfect having it be the first song on the album, and then our first single, and now our first No. 1.

After all the Raconteurs shows, what's next for you guys?

White: I think we'll be ready to make another album right away. I've got a lot of songs for the White Stripes record, too. I don't know which will happen first.

The Raconteurs are slated to perform at the Virgin Festival Sept. 23 at Pimlico Race Course. Tickets are $97.50 and are available at 410-547-SEAT or ticketmaster.com.

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