White Stripes (The) Biography
After releasing several singles and three albums within the Detroit independent music underground, The White Stripes rose to prominence in 2002, as part of the garage rock revival scene. Their successful albums White Blood Cells and Elephant drew them attention from a large variety of media outlets in the United States and the United Kingdom.
The White Stripes use a low-fidelity, do-it-yourself approach to writing and recording. Their music features a melding of punk and blues influences and a raw simplicity of composition, arrangement, and performance. The duo is also noted for their fashion and design aesthetic which features a simple color scheme of red, white, and black.
The White Stripes' discography consists of six studio albums, two extended plays (EP), one concert film, one tour documentary, 26 singles and fourteen music videos. The band has sold approximately 12 million albums worldwide, two million in the US alone, and their latest three albums have each won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album.
Jack White first played as a professional musician in the early 1990s, as a drummer for the Detroit cowpunk band Goober & the Peas. This led to work with various other bands, such as the garage punk band The Go (on their 1999 album Whatcha Doin'), for whom White played lead guitar, and Two-Star Tabernacle. Also, neighbor Brian Muldoon (later of The Muldoons) played drums with Jack White – still known then as Jack Gillis – and the duo informally called themselves Two Part Resin. Their post-breakup 7-inch single Makers of High Grade Suites, released in 2000 on Sympathy for the Record Industry, is credited to The Upholsterers.
Gillis married local bartender Megan Martha White on September 21, 1996. In unorthodox fashion, he took Meg White's surname. While the newly-christened Jack White continued to play in multiple bands, Meg White first began to learn to play the drums in 1997. In Jack White's words, "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". The duo then became a band, calling themselves The White Stripes. They first performed publicly on July 14, 1997 at the Gold Dollar in Detroit.
The White Stripes began their career as part of the Michigan underground garage rock scene, playing with local bands such as Bantam Rooster, The Dirtbombs, The Paybacks, Rocket 455, and The Hentchmen. The White Stripes were signed to Italy Records, a small and independent Detroit-based garage punk label, in 1998 by Dave Buick. Buick approached them at a bar and asked if they would like to record a single for the label. Jack White initially declined, but eventually reconsidered. Their debut single "Let's Shake Hands" was released in February 1998. Its first pressing was 1,000 copies on vinyl only. This was followed in October 1998 by the "Lafayette Blues" single. Again, 1,000 copies were released on vinyl only. A third single, "The Big Three Killed My Baby" on Sympathy for the Record Industry followed in March 1999.
During the early phase of their career, Jack and Meg White provided various descriptions of their relationship. In many early interviews Jack claimed that he and Meg were siblings, a claim which was widely believed and repeated despite rumors that they were, or had been, husband and wife. In 2001, proof of their 1996 marriage emerged, yet they continued to insist publicly that they were brother and sister. The couple were divorced in March of 2000 just before the band gained widespread attention.
In a 2005 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Jack White claimed that this open secret was intended to keep the focus on the music rather than the couple's relationship:
When you see a band that is two pieces, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, you think, "Oh, I see . . ." When they're brother and sister, you go, "Oh, that's interesting." You care more about the music, not the relationship -- whether they're trying to save their relationship by being in a band.
The White Stripes' debut album, The White Stripes, was released on June 15, 1999 on the independent label Sympathy for the Record Industry.
The self-titled debut was produced by Jack White and engineered by Jim Diamond at his Ghetto Recorders studio in Detroit. The album was dedicated to the seminal, Detroit-area Delta blues musician, Son House—an artist who greatly influenced Jack White. The track "Cannon" from The White Stripes contains part of an a cappella version, as performed by House, of the traditional American gospel blues song "John the Revelator". The White Stripes also covered House's song "Death Letter" on their follow-up album De Stijl.
Looking back on their debut during a 2003 interview with Guitar Player, Jack White said, "I still feel we've never topped our first album. It's the most raw, the most powerful, and the most Detroit-sounding record we've made."
Allmusic said of the album:
"Jack White's voice is a singular, evocative combination of punk, metal, blues, and backwoods while his guitar work is grand and banging with just enough lyrical touches of slide and subtle solo work... Meg White balances out the fretwork and the fretting with methodical, spare, and booming cymbal, bass drum, and snare... All D.I.Y. punk-country-blues-metal singer/songwriting duos should sound this good."
At the end of 1999, The White Stripes released "Hand Springs" as a 7" split single with fellow Detroit band The Dirtbombs on the B-side. 2,000 copies came free with the pinball fanzine Multiball. The record is currently—like the majority of vinyl records by The White Stripes—out of print and difficult to find.
The White Stripes' second album, De Stijl (Dutch for "The Style"), was released on the Sympathy for the Record Industry label on June 20, 2000. Considered a cult classic and self-recorded on an 8-track analog tape in Jack White's living room, De Stijl displays the simplicity of the band's blues and punk fusion prior to their breakthrough success.
The album title derives from the Dutch art movement of the same name; common elements of the De Stijl aesthetic are demonstrated on the album cover, which sets the band members against an abstract background of rectangles and lines in red, black and white. The White Stripes have cited the minimalist and deconstructionist aspects of De Stijl design as a source of inspiration for their own musical image and presentation. The album was dedicated to furniture designer Gerrit Rietveld of the De Stijl movement, as well as to the influential Georgia bluesman Blind Willie McTell.
Party of Special Things to Do was released as a 7" on Sub-Pop in December 2000. It comprised three songs originally performed by Captain Beefheart, an experimental blues-rock musician.
De Stijl eventually reached #38 on Billboard Magazine's Independent Albums chart in 2002 when The White Stripes' popularity began establishing itself.
The White Stripes' third album, White Blood Cells, was released on July 3, 2001 on Sympathy for the Record Industry. The band enjoyed its first significant success the following year with the major label re-release of the album on V2 Records. Its stripped-down garage rock sound drew critical acclaim in the UK, and in the US soon afterward, making The White Stripes one of the most acclaimed bands of 2002.
Several outlets praised their "back to basics" approach, with Daily Mirror calling them "the greatest band since The Sex Pistols." In 2002, Q magazine named The White Stripes as one of "50 Bands to See Before You Die". White Blood Cells peaked at number 61 on the Billboard 200, going Gold and selling over 500,000 units. The album reached number 55 in the United Kingdom, being bolstered in both territories by the "Fell in Love with a Girl" single and its Lego-animation music video directed by Michel Gondry. The video won in three awards at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards: Breakthrough Video, Best Special Effects, and Best Editing. It was also nominated for Video of the Year, but did not win. Stylus Magazine later rated White Blood Cells the fourteenth greatest album of 2000–2005 , while Pitchfork Media ranked it eighth on their list of the top 100 albums from 2000–2004.
The White Stripes' fourth album, Elephant, was released in 2003 on V2. It marked the band's major label debut and was their first UK chart-topping album, as well as their first US Top 10 album. The album eventually reached double platinum certification in Britain, and platinum certification in the United States.
Elephant was recorded in 2002 over the span of two weeks with British recording engineer Liam Watson at his Toe Rag Studios in London. Jack White self-produced the album with antiquated equipment, including a duct-taped 8-track tape machine and pre-1960s recording gear.
Elephant garnered much critical acclaim upon its release. It received a perfect 5 out of 5 star rating from Rolling Stone magazine, and enjoys a near-unanimous 92% positive rating on Metacritic. Despite the band's increased fame, Allmusic believed the album "sounds even more pissed-off, paranoid, and stunning than its predecessor... Darker and more difficult than White Blood Cells." Elephant was additionally notable for premiering Jack White's first formal use of guitar soloing, and Rolling Stone Magazine placed him at #17 on its list of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". That same year, Elephant was ranked number 390 on the magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".
The album's first single, "Seven Nation Army", was the band's most successful yet. Its success was followed with a cover of Burt Bacharach's "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself." The album's third single was the successful "The Hardest Button to Button". "There's No Home for You Here" was the fourth single. In 2004, the album won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, while "Seven Nation Army" won a Grammy for Best Rock Song.
The White Stripes' fifth album, Get Behind Me Satan, was released in 2005 on V2. The title, Get Behind Me Satan, refers to a well-known quotation of Jesus from the Gospel against the disciple Simon Peter, in Matthew 16:23 of the New Testament (in the King James Version, the quotation is slightly different: "Get thee behind me, Satan").
Get Behind Me Satan was recorded in Jack White's then-Detroit home. It has garnered mixed reactions from fans, as well as critical acclaim. With its reliance on piano-driven melodies and experimentation with marimba on "The Nurse" and "Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)", Get Behind Me Satan downplayed the explicit blues and punk styles that dominated earlier White Stripes albums. However, despite this, Jack and Meg White were critically lauded for their "fresh, arty reinterpretations of their classic inspirations." Jack White plays with different technique than in past albums, trading in his electric guitar for an acoustic on all but a few of tracks, as his trademark riff-based lead guitar style is overtaken by a predominantly rhythmic approach. Rolling Stone ranked it the third best album of the year and it received the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 2006.
Three singles were released from the album, the first being "Blue Orchid", a popular song on satellite radio and some FM stations. The second and third singles were "My Doorbell" and "The Denial Twist", respectively, and music videos were made for each of the three singles. "My Doorbell" was also nominated for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
Jack White married British model Karen Elson, whom he had met on the set of the "Blue Orchid" music video, on June 4, 2005. The White Stripes released a cover version of Tegan and Sara's song "Walking with a Ghost" on iTunes in November 2005. The song was later released in December as the Walking with a Ghost EP featuring four other live tracks.
The White Stripes postponed the Japanese leg of their world tour after Jack White strained his vocal cords, with doctors recommending that Jack not sing or talk for two weeks. After a full recovery, he returned to the stage in Auckland, New Zealand to headline the Big Day Out tour. Jack subsequently relocated to Nashville, Tennessee with Elson.
In October 2006, it was announced on the official White Stripes website that there would be an album of avant-garde orchestral recordings consisting of past music written by Jack White called Aluminium. The album was made available for pre-order on November 6, 2006 to great demand from the band's fans; the LP version of the project sold out in a little under a day. The project was conceived by Richard Russell, founder of XL Recordings, who co-produced the album with Joby Talbot. It was recorded between August 2005 and February 2006 at Intimate Studios in Wapping, London using an orchestra. Before the album went out of print, it was available exclusively through the Aluminium website in a numbered limited edition of 3,333 CDs with 999 LPs.
On January 12, 2007, it was announced that in the process of reconstruction, V2 Records would no longer release new White Stripes material, leaving the band without a label. However, the band's contract with V2 had already expired, and on February 12, 2007, it was confirmed that the band had signed a single album deal with Warner Bros. Records.
The White Stripes' sixth album, Icky Thump, was released in 2007 on Warner Bros. Records. This was their first record with Warner Bros., since V2 closed in 2006, and it was released on a one-album contract. Icky Thump entered the UK Albums Chart at number one and debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 with 223,000 copies sold. By late July, Icky Thump was certified gold in the United States. As of March 8, 2008, the album has sold 725,125 copies in the US. On February 10, 2008, the album won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album.
Following the mixed reception of Get Behind Me Satan, Icky Thump marked a return to the punk, garage rock and blues influences for which the band is known. It was recorded at Nashville's Blackbird Studio and took almost three weeks to record — the longest of any White Stripes album to date. It would also be their first album with a title track. The album's release came on the heels of a series of concerts in Europe and one in North America.
Prior to the album's release, three tracks were previewed to NME: "Icky Thump", "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You're Told)" and "Conquest". NME described the tracks as "an experimental, heavy sounding 70's riff," "a strong, melodic love song" and "an unexpected mix of big guitars and a bold horn section," respectively. On the US Billboard Charts dated May 12, 2007, "Icky Thump"—the first single—became the band's first Top 40 single, charting at #26, and later charted at #2 in the UK charts.
On April 25, 2007, the duo announced that they would embark on a tour of Canada performing in all 10 provinces, plus the Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories. In the words of Jack White: "Having never done a tour of Canada, Meg and I thought it was high time to go whole hog. We want to take this tour to the far reaches of the Canadian landscape. From the ocean to the permafrost. The best way for us to do that is ensure that we perform in every province and territory in the country, from the Yukon to Prince Edward Island. Another special moment of this tour is the show which will occur in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia on July 14, The White Stripes' Tenth Anniversary." Canadian fiddler Ashley MacIsaac opened for the band at the Glace Bay show; earlier in 2007, MacIsaac and Jack White had discovered that they were distantly related. It was also at this time that White learned he was related to Canadian fiddle player Natalie MacMaster.
On June 24, 2007, just a few hours before their concert at Deer Lake Park, The White Stripes kicked off their cross-Canada tour by playing a 40 minute set for a group of 30 kids at the Creekside Youth Centre in Burnaby. The Canadian tour was also marked by concerts in small markets such as Glace Bay, Whitehorse and Iqaluit, as well as by frequent "secret shows" publicized mainly by posts on The Little Room, a White Stripes fan messageboard. Gigs included performances at a bowling alley in Saskatoon, a youth center in Edmonton, a Winnipeg Transit bus and The Forks park in Winnipeg, a park in Whitehorse, the YMCA in downtown Toronto, the Arva Flour Mill in Arva, Ontario, and Locas on Salter (a pool hall) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and an infamous one-note show on George Street in St. John's, Newfoundland. Video clips from several of the secret shows have been posted to YouTube. As well, the band filmed its video for "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You're Told)" in Iqaluit.
On September 11, 2007 the White Stripes announced the cancellation of 18 tour dates due to Meg's suffering from acute anxiety problems. Following this, the duo cancelled the remainder of their 2007 tour dates including their scheduled tour of the UK.
In June 2008, at the end of a Detroit show by The Raconteurs, Meg appeared onstage—apparently fully recovered from the anxiety that forced The White Stripes to cancel tour dates the previous year—and sat down at Patrick Keeler's drum kit, as Jack introduced her by saying to the crowd, "Hey everybody, this is Meg White!" as she waved at the audience. Meg then left the stage after teasing the audience, and The Raconteurs came back and played their encore.
Jack has said that The White Stripes are already working on their seventh album. Furthermore, Jack has recently formed a group called The Dead Weather featuring himself, Jack Lawrence, Dean Fertita, and Alison Mosshart; although Jack stated the White Stripes album is top priority as of now. Jack published a poem on July 6—clearing up any misconceptions about his love for his hometown of Detroit due to previous comments about the city's "negative" music scene, and his move to Nashville in 2006—in the Detroit Free Press. In September 2008, Jack White slipped a disc in his neck, causing him to cancel his scheduled appearance on the MTV Europe Awards in November.
The White Stripes performed live for the first time since September 2007 on the final episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien on February 20, 2009, where they performed an alternate version of "We're Going to Be Friends".
In an interview with Self Titled, Jack White alluded to the creation of a White Stripes film to be released later this year. In an article dated May 6, 2009 with MusicRadar.com, Jack mentioned recording songs with Meg before the Conan gig had taken place, saying, "We had recorded a couple of songs at the new studio." About a new White Stripes album, Jack said, "It won't be too far off. Maybe next year." Jack also explained Meg's acute anxiety during the Stripes' last tour, saying, "I just came from a Raconteurs tour and went right into that, so I was already full-speed. Meg had come from a dead-halt for a year and went right back into that madness. Meg is a very shy girl, a very quiet and shy person. To go full-speed from a dead-halt is overwhelming, and we had to take a break."
The White Stripes' Under Great White Northern Lights was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 18, 2009. The film, directed by Emmett Malloy, documents the band's summer 2007 tour across Canada and contains live concert and off-stage footage. Jack and Meg White appeared at the premiere and made a short speech before the movie started about their love of Canada and why they chose to debut their movie in Toronto. A pre-order for a box set containing the film was announced recently on the White Stripes official site. The box set is to include; the Under Great White Northern Lights documentary, a DVD of the band's 10th anniversary show, Under Nova Scotian Lights, a 16-track live album CD, the same 16-track live album on 180-gram vinyl, a live 7" single featuring "Icky Thump" on one side and "The Wheels On The Bus" on the other, and a 208-page hardcover book of photographs from the tour and a silkscreen print. During the tour, The White Stripes played a very short free concert of only a single note, which is part of the CD/DVD.
In 2010, a Super Bowl ad by the U.S. Air Force Reserve caused The White Stripes to "take strong insult and objection to the Air Force Reserve presenting this advertisement with the implication that we licensed one of our songs to encourage recruitment during a war that we do not support". The Air Force Reserve denied the song was The White Stripes and the music was scored by an advertising agency for the commercial.
In an interview with contactmusic.com Jack White claims that working with The White Stripes would be "strange". "It would definitely be strange to go into The White Stripes again and have to rethink my game," adding "But that would be the best thing about it, because it would be a whole new White Stripes."