Just for the record: no, the Raconteurs didn’t break up. There was no backstage drama that stopped the rock quartet led by Jack White from following up 2008’s Consolers of the Lonely right away.
“I wish I had a sexier answer for you,” White says down the line from Los Angeles when asked why it took more than a decade for the band to release its third LP, Help Us Stranger. “I wish I could say it was this specific moment and I had an epiphany. There isn’t an amazing sound bite moment to tell you about. We just found ourselves back together.”
Formed in 2005 as White was riding high with the White Stripes, the Raconteurs — rounded out by co-lyricist Brendan Benson, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler — was a side project sparked by the bandmembers’ mutual love of big rock sounds.
Following the dissolution of the Stripes after 2007’s Icky Thump, White regrouped with the Raconteurs for a follow-up to 2006’s Broken Boy Soldiers and formed the Dead Weather, a blues-rock outfit with the Kills’ Alison Mosshart that released three albums.
Then he went it alone for a trio of solo LPs — 2012’s Blunderbuss, 2014’s Lazaretto and last year’s Boarding House Reach.
“So time just flew by,” Benson says, pondering White’s prolific musical output over the last dozen years. “It really wasn’t our intention to take so long. Jack was working on getting Third Man (Records) up and running, and putting out his solo records and before we knew it, it’d been 10 years.”
Help Us Stranger brings back familiar sounding rock riffs and blues-tinged psychedelia thanks to propulsive tracks like Bored and Razed, Sunday Driver and the title cut.
“We just thought of it as a small thing and that was a smart thing to do,” White says of the recording, which took place last year when he was on breaks from his Boarding House Reach tour. “Everyone was excited and inspired and I think what came out of it are some of the best songs we’ve ever done.”
With the band set to tour North America this summer, including a date at Toronto’s Sony Centre on Sept. 12, White and Benson spoke about the Raconteurs’ rock ‘n’ roll camaraderie, playing Canada and keeping their shows phone-free.
After a decade apart, was it easy for you guys to reconnect and find that spark again?
Benson: It was like getting back on a bike. I think we all kind of wondered if it was still going to be good or what. But we took baby steps.
White: You never know how that’s going to work, whether it’s a few months later or years later. You never know how things are going to evolve and how people are going to change, not only in their relationships, but in their perspective to music and art. So when we got together, it was just to play. No one put anything on it. We were just getting together to play a couple of songs.
How did this come together for you Jack? We spoke last year and you were in the midst of Boarding House Reach, but in that interview you mentioned that you had a track that might work for the Raconteurs.
White: If anything, I can say, I don’t plan things in my life very far ahead. We got together last year when I was doing my solo tour. I didn’t say, ‘This is what I’m doing in 2019,’ because I didn’t know if they’d have even been interested in it. It just happened.
Jack, you’ve been a part of the White Stripes and the Dead Weather, and you’ve done your own solo thing. What do you like best about being in the Raconteurs?
White: Sharing the load with people I trust. That’s a totally different experience than doing solo work by yourself… the beautiful thing about being in a band is being with people you trust that you have a history with.
Ten years is a long time to be away from anything. Did you guys worry that people might not care about the Raconteurs anymore?
Benson: I wasn’t worried at all. We’ve all been asked countless times, “When are the Raconteurs going to make another record?” I think it’s remarkable that these fans have held on for so long.
What about you Jack? Did it ever cross your mind: what if people only care about my solo work now?
White: It’s tough… I think if the White Stripes were happening back in the ‘60s or ‘70s, the record label would have said, ‘No, no, no you are not starting another band called the Raconteurs. That’s just a horrible business move. You already have a band that works and it’s a one-in-a-million shot. Why would you want to mess it up?’
We came up with a scenario where we had a lot more freedom to do whatever we wanted to do as artists and I never took that lightly. I never wanted to say, ‘Sorry, I’ve got this other band called the White Stripes.’ So we made music and played shows and it happened again with the Dead Weather.
I never let myself get in the way of music. I let the music be in charge, and it’s worked well for me so far. I don’t worry too much whether people are going to dig it or not because you never really know anyway. In the music business, there are scenarios where people will say, ‘This is a for sure thing. People are going to love this’ and it comes out and it’s like, ‘Pfft… whatever.’ You never know. It’s like magic fairy dust.
Jack in 2005 the White Stripes were huge. So what did you get out of forming this band in the first place?
White: I got to work with larger ideas and bigger band sounds. That was completely different from the minimalism of the White Stripes. The Stripes was a two-piece and I was writing the songs myself. The sound was minimalist and very direct and very raw, and in the Raconteurs I got to write with someone new and do something I had never done before.
So I read you guys came up with 30 songs and you whittled it down to 12. How did you decide what to cut?
Benson: We had a lot of ideas… Born and Razed didn’t make it on until almost the last-minute. Our drummer (Patrick Keeler) was really pushing for that one.
That’s my favourite song on the LP. Wow, I can’t believe we almost didn’t hear that one.
White: It’s cool to hear how songs relate to people and what people think is interesting. When you’re in a band with a few people recording, you’re very close to those songs and it’s hard to think what people will be interested in. I can remember back in the day people not wanting to put (the White Stripes’) Seven Nation Army out as a single. Both the English label and the American label. So it’s not as obvious as you might think. In hindsight it is. But it can be hard to tell what people will like.
The album has a few song titles that seem political, Thoughts and Prayers being one of them. Did politics seep into the lyrics?
White: I thought it was ironic because the character in the song is actually talking about thoughts and prayers, so it seemed to be an almost apropos title I guess.
Jack, the first time I saw you, it was you and Meg opening for the Rolling Stones here in Toronto around 17 years ago. The Stones are still rolling, so I’m wondering what you got out of seeing them at the beginning of your career?
White: The best part of that experience was seeing that they were sound checking like a band of people who were 23 years old. They were still trying to nail down the tempo of Satisfaction, for example. That was very eye-opening to me. They were still attacking it and making sure that song could be as good as possible. They weren’t phoning it in like you might think after all those years.
So you guys are hitting the road soon. Are you banning cellphones on the Raconteurs’ upcoming tour like you did on last year’s Boarding House Reach trek?
White: We’re not banning cellphones (laughs). That sounds a little bit harsh. You can bring your cellphone; it’s just going to be in a Yonder bag in your pocket is all. … My issue isn’t with phones, it’s the not being present and not engaging that started to make me think a few years ago, ‘Man, I don’t know how much longer I want to play live shows if it’s going to keep going like this.’ But no phones make it more exciting for everyone, I think.
Jack, if you were stuck on a desert island, which five albums are you bringing with you?
White: You know what man, I respect you to death, but I don’t answer that question.
OK then, curveball time. I know you’re a baseball fan, Jack, so who’s going to win the World Series this year?
White: That’s tough, but if I had to bet right now, I’d bet the Dodgers.
The White Stripes are one of the only bands I can think of that’s played all across Canada. What’s it mean to you to keep coming up here year after year and seeing how your fanbase has grown?
White: The last show I played in Toronto was actually the biggest concert I played of any of the acts I’ve been a part of that wasn’t part of a festival. I think it was 18,000 people. I don’t think even the White Stripes played a show that was as big. That was great to see in 2018, after all these years. So that makes me excited. Canada has always been so nice to me and definitely has been nice to the Raconteurs.
You look around and think about the White Stripes’ journey and your own solo journey and then the Dead Weather and now the Raconteurs again. What’s the state of rock ‘n’ roll in 2019?
White: It goes in cycles. It’s gone from synthesizers to guitars and back again dozens of times. It’s nothing new under the sun in that sense. But at the same time, I want progression in all forms of music — especially rock ‘n’ roll. We want to move forward and put new things into what we’re doing. We are the sums of our ancestors so … in our short little time on the planet we’re carrying on that torch and we do whatever we can with it. Sometimes you can’t wave a magic wand and reinvent the wheel. We just try to do what we can with our moment.
The Raconteurs 2019 North American Tour Dates
July 12 – Detroit, MI @ Masonic Temple Theatre
July 14 – Milwaukee, WI @ Eagles Ballroom
July 15 – Minneapolis, MN @ Armory
July 18 – Seattle, WA @ WaMu Theater at CenturyLink Field Events Center
July 19 – Vancouver, BC @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre
July 21 – Troutdale, OR @ Edgefield
July 23 – Oakland, CA @ Fox Theater
July 26 – Los Angeles, CA @ Greek Theatre
July 27 – Santa Barbara, CA @ Santa Barbara Bowl
July 28 – San Diego, CA @ Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre
August 10 – Lexington, KY @ Railbird Festival
August 11 – Knoxville, TN @ Knoxville Civic Auditorium
August 12 – Indianapolis, IN @ Egyptian Room at Old National Centre
August 13 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE (Indoors)
August 15 – Cleveland, OH @ Agora Theatre
August 16 – Watkins Glen, NY @ Woodstock 50
August 17 – Washington D.C. @ The Anthem
August 18 – Charlotte, NC @ The Fillmore Charlotte
August 20 – Columbia, SC @ Township Auditorium
August 21 – Atlanta, GA @ Tabernacle
August 22 – Atlanta, GA @ Tabernacle
August 29 – Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium
August 30 – Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium
September 3 – Raleigh, NC @ Red Hat Amphitheater
September 6 – New York, NY @ Hammerstein Ballroom
September 7 – Brooklyn, NY @ Kings Theatre
September 9 – Boston, MA @ House of Blues
September 12 – Toronto, ON @ Sony Centre for the Performing Arts
September 13 – Columbus, OH @ Express Live! Indoor Pavilion
October 12 – Oklahoma City, OK @ The Criterion
October 13 – Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom
October 14 – Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom
October 17 – Kansas City, MO @ Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland
October 18 – St. Louis, MO @ The Pageant