NEW YORK (Billboard) - It all started with a lost voice and a missing tour bus. Alison Mosshart sings for the Kills, the dirty blues-rock band that opened for the Raconteurs last fall, when Jack White lost his voice.
White’s hoarseness came near the end of a fairly cataclysmic tour for both White and Mosshart; the White Stripes/Raconteurs frontman injured his back, and the Kills’ tour bus driver disappeared with the group’s bus. (A week later the bus was found in a Los Angeles parking lot and the driver was arrested in February in Miami.)
“I was wearing the same clothes I’d been in for a week, because the bus still hadn’t been found,” Mosshart says. To get their minds off their mishaps, White suggested an impromptu end-of-tour jam session in Nashville.
“We had one day left with her before she had to go to New York and we were in Nashville together so we said, ‘Why don’t we record a 7-inch?’” White says. “We had absolutely no energy left and were completely burned out.”
And so the Dead Weather was born, with White on drums, Mosshart on vocals, Raconteur Jack Lawrence on bass and Dean Fertita — a member of Queens of the Stone Age who tours with the Raconteurs — on guitar.
“We burned the candle at three ends, and all of a sudden we had four songs done,” Mosshart says. “And then we just kept going and going, and all of a sudden, we were this new band with this new record. I couldn’t believe how kind of natural it felt.”
The “supergroup’s” album, “Horehound,” comes out July 14 on White’s label, Third Man Records; it will be distributed by Warner Music. For an album that was spawned from frenzied late-night sessions, it doesn’t sound at all slapped-together. It’s a deep, sludgy collection that recalls early Led Zeppelin and includes a dark, bluesy cover of Bob Dylan’s “New Pony.”
“For that song, we were just seeing how we could attack it and what we could get from it,” Mosshart says. “We were kind of assuming we wouldn’t even put those songs out. But they turned out really fiery and electric, so we kept them. I don’t think we ever would have said that we’ll put a Dylan song on this album. We’d never premeditate that, but it just came out so powerful.”
The band starts its U.S. tour July 13 in Washington, D.C., and will spend the rest of July and August on the road. It will play clubs on this outing, despite the fact that White’s name alone could draw much larger audiences.
“It’s good to pay your dues a little bit with the band,” White says. “We would never be so presumptuous to do something like move to Nashville and try to book our first gig at the Ryman Auditorium.”
The band members rush to add that the birth of their new project doesn’t signify the death of the Kills, the Raconteurs or the White Stripes. Sprawled on a velvet couch in a suite at New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel, Mosshart takes another drag on a cigarette and explains that the Kills are in the process of writing their fourth release, after putting out an expanded version of their first album, “Keep on Your Mean Side.”
For his part, White is taking on James Brown’s title as “the hardest working man in showbusiness.” He recently opened a Nashville music complex that recalls the setup of old-school labels like Stax: recording studio in back, record store in front, office on the premises. His excitement about his new building is contagious, and his eyes brighten and he leans forward when he explains his vision for the label. And while plenty of musicians talk about their love of vinyl, White set up the Third Man store to sell it exclusively.
But not as a collector’s item. “We gave all the people who attended the Third Man opening-night event 7-inches with a handmade cover that had pictures of the band,” he says. “Right up until the end I was mixing the album, while behind me three people were painting and cutting up photographs and making records. We gave those to people in the record store of the Third Man building that day. We had them in white envelopes and people were afraid to open them and I was like, ‘Cut those open! Play these records!’”
Besides the store and studio, the Third Man complex contains a space for photo shoots — complete with dark room — and an area for live performances.
“I didn’t have any models when I started thinking about the space,” White says. “I just kept thinking of things that I would like to have in a building and how many of them I could cram into this space I bought. The vinyl plant, United Pressing, is a few blocks away, so we’re going to press everything there.”
For the time being, White will be Third Man’s only producer, so his aesthetic will rule. “Say a band comes to town and I see them and I like them on a Friday night,” White says. “I can go in on Saturday and record them at the studio and take the masters over to the vinyl plant. We’ll take the photos at the building and we can put out a record in a few weeks and the MP3s on iTunes can be out very quickly as well.”
Control and creativity have always been central to White’s musical vision. The White Stripes, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather all release albums through Third Man. Because of the success of the White Stripes and his other projects, White is in a privileged position — he can put together a band, fund the recording and then talk to any number of partners about making any kind of deal.
White says all the artists he signs to Third Man will have flexible deals. For example, here’s White’s game plan for Rachelle Garniez, a singer/songwriter and accordion player signed to Third Man: The label will press 500 copies of her album on vinyl, put the track up on iTunes and give Garniez 10% of the pressing. “She can buy more at cost from the label and take it with her to sell at shows,” White says. “Maybe she’ll buy 200 copies, and maybe we’ll sell them out in two seconds and we’ll press another thousand a couple weeks later. We’ll just press them as they go. We have the ability to turn on a dime and act quickly.”
Which is something White seems singularly talented at doing. After all, how many bands go from jam session to full albums so quickly?
“I learned a lot about how quickly things could be done when I did ‘Consolers of the Lonely’ with the Raconteurs,” White says. “We released a double-album with vinyl in three weeks’ time from mastering to in-stores. I loved that because from now on, no label can tell me, ‘We can’t do it unless it’s three months or six months.’ And it’s like, ‘Bull——, I’ve put out an album in three weeks.’”
Editing by Dean Gooodman at Reuters