June 21, 2019 9:15 am

Jack White talks The Raconteurs’ ‘Help Us Stranger,’ phone-free shows and playing in Canada

WATCH: 'Help Me Stranger,' The Raconteurs' latest single from the long-awaited 'Help Us Stranger' album

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It’s been more than 11 years since we’ve heard an album from garage rock outfit, The Raconteurs — one of Jack White’s many many side projects, featuring Brendan Benson, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler.

However, that’s about to change, because this Friday, June 21, the rockers best known for hits like Salute Your Solution and Old Enough are finally releasing their highly-anticipated third album, Help Us Stranger.

The quartet made its global comeback last December after releasing two critically-acclaimed singles, Sunday Driver and Now That You’re Gone.

Jack White performs live on stage during a one-off solo concert in support of ‘Blunderbuss’ at the Kentish Town Forum on April 23, 2012, in London, England.

Jim Dyson / Redferns via Getty Images

Now, as they dominate the Canadian rock radio charts once again, The Racontuers are gearing up for an extensive world tour, with two stops in Canada.

READ MORE: Jack White’s Raconteurs release new music after 10 years

For those who may not know the history of The Raconteurs, the former White Stripes frontman formed the Nashville-based group with Benson in 2005 after co-writing their soon-to-be worldwide hit, Steady, As She Goes, together.

The pair enlisted Lawrence and Keeler as their rhythm section and became The Raconteurs. They established a massive rock following after releasing two critically-acclaimed records, Broken Boy Soldiers (2006) and Consolers of the Lonely (2008).

The Raconteurs perform at Zilker Park during the 2008 Austin City Limits Festival on Sept. 28, 2008 in Austin, Tex.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

After initial worldwide success and a non-stop cycle of touring, their status became unclear for a while. Each member began to focus on other musical projects.

The hiatus may have been unofficial, however, to the dismay of many it lasted more than a decade. In that time, White started a new band, The Dead Weather, with Lawrence, then released three solo albums, including last year’s Boarding House Reach (2018).

READ MORE: The Cult’s Ian Astbury talks Indigenous influence and the evolution of the band

Before hitting the road, White, 43, took the time to sit down and chat with Global News. He discussed what it was like for The Raconteurs to reunite, technology-free shows and what playing in Canada means to him.

Global News: Help Us Stranger — the third Raconteurs album — it’s out this Friday, June 21st. How are you guys feeling about


Jack White: Everyone in the band feels really good about it. We really feel it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. It’s nice, years later, to be able to get in the studio and feel like “Wow, this really sounds great.” We didn’t really know what it was going to be like. We thought that we’d get together and record one or two songs and see what’s up, but it quickly turned into an album. We had 25 or 30 songs happening very quickly… In only a few days. It was very cool.

WATCH: Jack Black’s take on ‘Help Us Stranger’

 

Global News: It’s been eleven years now since you put out Consolers of the Lonely, which is nuts. We’ve missed you a lot. Would you say it was easy for you guys to get back into the groove and get that synergy going again?


Jack White:
[Laughs] It shockingly was. It was almost scary how quickly and easily it came back together. I was thinking, “There should be something wrong right now, in this scenario, and there’s not. It’s going together very easily.” So that got us all very excited and inspired.

I really think that it was a combination of things. We’re older and more experienced, we’ve all been in several bands by now, and we can appreciate when things are going well and something’s sounding good. When the situation is cool, it’s easier to appreciate and understand it. All those things combined just made it a really great recording experience.

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Global News: You guys have been really busy over the last decade, did the four of you stay in touch? Did something specific prompt the revival?


Jack White: We can’t really remember, exactly. [Laughs] The three of us, me, Brendan and Jack Lawrence, all live in Nashville — Patrick Keeler, the drummer, lives in L.A. now — so we see each other all the time, but I think Third Man Records put a lot of stuff on my table over the last decade. There was a lot of work and energy I put into that and then I started a new band, The Dead Weather. We did three albums, so that took a lot of my time, and then I did three solo records. [Laughs].

I don’t plan anything ahead of time, I think if I did plan things anytime I would have said, “This year’s a Dead Weather record, next year’s a Raconteurs record or something like that.” And it was definitely harder when I had the White Stripes as an active band. So it was kind of a testament to that I don’t really plan things too far ahead, which is why it took so long. But none of us can really remember why we got back together, it’s funny. [Laughs]

The Raconteurs: (L-R) Jack Lawrence, Jack White, Patrick Keeler and Brendan Benson in 2019.

Big Hassle / Third Man Records

Global News: You just finished up some shows across Europe, Asia and Oceania, right? How was the reception?

Jack White: It was incredible! I really can’t believe how electrifying the crowds have been this year. It seems like all of a sudden everything went back to being like shows from 15 years ago. I think that there’s just this new rock and roll energy in the air…

When we played London and Paris a couple weeks ago, for example, it was all 18-year-old kids who were moshing and crowd-surfing. It was really rock and roll and punk. It’s just great to see that happening again.

Global News: Do you think they took well to the new material then?

Jack White: Yeah! It was nice, because you could play songs that you know the crowd had not heard yet and you could test them out and see people’s cold reactions from that. They were working out really well. It was great to see that.

READ MORE: Rancid announces September tour, including 1 Canadian date

Global News: As soon as you guys dropped Sunday Driver, it seemed everyone dropped what they were doing and all of a sudden had something to look forward to. Did you anticipate that the Raconteurs’ return would be this big?

Jack White: [Laughs] I didn’t really know what what it would be like. The state of rock and roll these days is kind of blurry and hard to define; what the appeal is and who’s into it and ultimately where it’s headed. Hip-hop is so gigantic now, so it’s kind of hard to know what will people care about in terms of rock music, especially a band like The Raconteurs.

If I were to say “We’re gonna play a festival,” then there’d be the question of “Well where should The Raconteurs be in the line-up?” and I have no idea. If you’re an 18-year-old kid now, the last time we put out a record you were eight years old. [Laughs] So it’s hard to say like what it would be like.

That’s why it was surprising to me when we got to Paris, London and Tokyo. It was all teenagers at the show, so that was cool, man. We kept saying to ourselves “This is really amazing by all accounts.” I wouldn’t be surprised if everybody in the crowd was the same age as us, but they’re not. It’s a great mix. I love it! It’s really cool.

WATCH: The Raconteurs’ comeback music video, ‘Sunday Driver’

Global News: So far, we’ve heard four or five songs from the album now and they’re doing really well on Canadian rock radio. I’m wondering is there like a recurring theme on Help Us Stranger? and should fans expect something completely different?

Jack White: To me, every song on the album feels like a different personality or a different character. It was really exemplified by… In this band, Brendan Benson and I write songs together, so you really get an even wider variance than if I was doing something by myself. I often try to make any record I do have every song sound different than the last one, if possible. But this one is especially so.

It’s really great to see that in Canada, too. A lot of the people who seem to be interested in the music I’ve been trying to put out over the years are from there, which is a blessing.

I think what was really interesting — and I’ve always had a great time in Canada — was that last year I played my biggest show that wasn’t a festival. We played Toronto and there was 18,000 people at my solo show. I thought, “Wow, that is pretty incredible,” especially touring the very strange and divisive album that I put out last year, Boarding House Reach.

It really made me really feel good about the longevity of songs. Some of them really stick with people. So even a band like The Raconteurs can have a life beyond what you think it is. There’s a whole pocket of people who maybe are just fans of that band and they never really got interested in anything else I’ve done. That alone is pretty cool to have that in your stable.

READ MORE: Rare ’90s cassette unearthed featuring Jack White covering Blondie

Global News: I was at that show in Toronto last year and it was incredible. One of the most active crowds I’ve ever seen in the city. Other than the music, I think it had something to do with the Yondr pouches. Are you guys utilizing those on The Raconteurs’ tour too.

Jack White: We are. I told the guys what I had been doing last year with those, and basically, each show requires that people lock their phones away in these Yondr pouches. Everyone in the band came to see me play on the last tour and they loved the concept. They really loved looking out and seeing no phones in the crowd and said that they wanted to try it too. So we’ve been utilizing them so far this year and everyone’s been loving it.

I’m just shocked people actually love it, because I thought it would be something we did away with very quickly. But it’s really catching on. People love it. I think it’s the new way to to experience shows.

(L-R) Patrick Keeler, Jack White and Jack Lawrence of The Raconteurs, performing onstage at the Third Man Records Blue Room in Nashville, Tenn. on April 8, 2019.

The Raconteurs / Third Man Records

Global News: Would you say that using the Yondr pouches helps with fan engagement during shows?

Jack White: It most definitely does. My shows are sort of like a stand-up comedian’s in my mind, where if I don’t hear the laughter, I don’t really know what to do next. I wouldn’t know what kind of joke, or song, to do next if they’re not responding and engaged. It’s hard to be engaged if you have something in your hand. Whether you’re looking at the sports score or you’re texting somebody, realistically you’re only half paying attention.

READ MORE: The Raconteurs announce North American tour, 2 Canadian dates

I don’t really care about the filming or the audio recording, that doesn’t really mean anything to me, I just care about being engaged with people. That’s the part that you can see a total night and day difference, especially when you play a show from the stage point of view — from where I’m standing. I think other people to feel that way too, That it’s like, “Wow!” It seems like there’s at least 95 per cent positivity about it all and people saying, “Please do that again next time,” so I think it’s catching on.

Help Us Stranger drops this Friday, June 21 worldwide through Third Man Records, where the album can be purchased.

WATCH: The Raconteurs announce long-awaited North American tour

Select tickets are still available for the band’s upcoming Canadian tour dates.

For every ticket purchased for The Raconteurs’ North American tour, a physical copy of Help Us Stranger will be sent out in the form of a CD. If fans prefer to vinyl, they have the option to upgrade to the standard black wax LP.

Additional tour dates and information can be found on The Raconteurs’ official website.

The Raconteurs’ Canadian tour dates 2019

July 19 — Vancouver, B.C. @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre
July 20 — Vancouver, B.C. @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Sept. 12 — Toronto, Ont. @ Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]

adam.wallis@globalnews.ca

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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