One of America's biggest rock bands is also one of its smallest. The White Stripes is a hard rock duo: Jack White on guitar, Meg White on drums. That's it. The band draws from blues and punk in equal measure. But their latest release is inspired by a pop song from the '50s.

(Soundbite of song, "Conquest")

Ms. PATTI PAGE (Singer): (Singing) Conquest. He was out to make a conquest…

MONTAGNE: That's Patti Page - you might know her from her hit, "How Much is that Doggy in the Window?" - here, singing her much more sultry "Conquest." It's a song Jack White wanted to sing for years.

(Soundbite of song, "Conquest")

Mr. JACK WHITE (Singer, Guitarist The White Stripes): (Singing) Conquest. She was just another conquest…

MONTAGNE: "Conquest" is the A-side on three new vinyl singles from The White Stripes. The B-sides are new songs.

In putting out this set of vinyl singles, Jack White says he and Meg had help from another rock star, an innovator: Beck.

Mr. WHITE: I was at his house once and saw his little studio on the back. I said, is it alright if me and Meg come over and just record a couple of songs over there? And he said, well, I just moved. And I said, oh, maybe next time or something. But he called back and the next day, it's all set something up. Why don't you guys come by? And we went over there, and he had set up a whole studio in his living room, you know? I had written a song on the plane on the way out there, which was "It's My Fault for Being Famous." So it was a good little session there.

MONTAGNE: Was part of doing it in Beck's living room that B-sides are supposed to be a bit ragged?

Mr. WHITE: Well, the problem with B-sides is, it's almost like, okay. We'll go and write some mediocre songs, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Right, because that's the tradition. The B-side is like it sounds. There's the A-side. And then…

Mr. WHITE: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: …the not-so great song that has to be on the other side. But also - good for you. So you don't have any B-sides.

Mr. WHITE: Well, it's like, you know, I mean, you go and write some songs, and you're supposed to be, well, don't make them too good because then, you know, you're "throwing them away or something," quote, unquote. You know what I mean? I really love B-sides, because it gives you a new chance to breathe some new life into a whole project that you were already working on. It's almost like the stepchildren of the project - of the album.

(Soundbite of song, "Conquest")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) Conquest.

At Beck's house, I said, do you know of any trumpet players who can come in? We could do an acoustic version of "Conquest." He said no. But there's a place in L.A. where mariachi bands just wait in this square for people to hire them for barbecues and parties.


Mr. WHITE: So while we were working on a song, we asked if somebody could go over there and check and see if there was anybody there. And they went over, and she called back and said, do you want a four-piece or a five-piece band? So we say, yeah, we'll take a five-piece band.

(Soundbite of song, "Conquest")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) And then in the strange way things happen. The roles were reversed from that day. The hunted became the huntress. The hunter became the prey. Conquest…

MONTAGNE: It's so lends itself to this treatment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WHITE: Mm-hmm, yeah. It sure does. I have always been interested to - what was the whole point of the song "Conquest." I thought it might have been from a movie. It sounds so cinematic. And I finally got the chance to talk with Patti Page, and she couldn't remember the recording session at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Mr. WHITE: So that was funny. But she said, you got to remember, Jack, when we recorded back then, you did four songs in three hours. And if you're doing a whole album, it was two, three-hour sessions. So I can't really expect me to remember that one 20-minute moment in 1952.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "It's My Fault for Being Famous")

MONTAGNE: This is the song that you wrote, "It's My Fault for Being Famous," on the plane. And interesting because in the lyrics, you are in, at one point, in LAX - that's the Los Angeles International.

Mr. WHITE: Mm-hmm.

MONTAGNE: Did that song come out of an experience before you got on the plane the day you wrote it?

Mr. WHITE: Yeah, but it had been the last time I was in LAX. And I was wondering if it was going to occur again. There was a bunch of paparazzi idiots sort of hanging out around there, and they're just sort of waiting for somebody else to get there. You know, someone real famous or something.

And then I just happened to walk in or whatever. So they were just killing time by kind of harassing me. And one of them had said the phrase, oh, it's like an animal in a cage. You know, he's trying to rile me up. And he said the phrase, oh, it's like an animal in a cage, isn't it? And I thought, wow - to taunt another human being to make money off them, you know? And that really kind of stuck with me.

(Soundbite of song, "It's My Fault for Being Famous")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) I'm at the LAX just a-checking my bag, when up comes a little paparazzi scumbag. I took a laptop, slapped him on the side of his head. The cops wanna know why I left him for dead.

MONTAGNE: So, you fantasized about smacking him on the head with your laptop. That didn't happen. That's what writing songs is all about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WHITE: Well, yeah, it's - well, the idea was, you know, who's more accountable in the characters in the song, you know? Sort of the police are asking this character, why did you do it?

(Soundbite of song, "It's My Fault for Being Famous")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) But it ain't her fault for being ruthless, ain't her fault for being toothless, ain't her fault for being crazy, yes. But it's my fault for being famous.

MONTAGNE: You have a song that was on your last album, "Icky Thump," that is right at the heart, if I may say so, of what people like about The White Stripes, and that's the blues. And the song is "Rag and Bone."

(Soundbite of song, "Rag and Bone")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) Rag and bone.

Ms. MEG WHITE (Drummer, The White Stripes): (Singing) Rag and bone.

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) Rag and bone.

MONTAGNE: I think the part of it I'd want to hear is the part that speaks to the part of The White Stripes that is about making all of the things that other people might think are useless or just junkie something new.

(Soundbite of song, "Rag and Bone")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) Hey, if you ain't gonna use it, just give it to us. We'll give it a home. Well, have they got something shiny for me? Anybody got a Christmas tree? Can you part with a toilet seat? A jump up, a jump up, a jump up, come on and give it to me. Rag and bone.

MONTAGNE: When you think of what you can use with the music, what is that treasure chest of old things that you like to rifle through musically?

Mr. WHITE: One thing we've always tried to avoid in The Write Stripes is all those words that I can't stand that start with R, such as retro and relic and reissue and recreate - all of that stuff. All I know is I just want my step to sound as soulful as I can.

(Soundbite of song, "Rag and Bone")

Ms. WHITE: I saw some stuff in your yard. Are you gonna give it to us?

Mr. WHITE: Oh, Meg, don't be rude.

Ms. WHITE: Why not?

Mr. WHITE: They might need it.

These characters in that "Rag and Bone" that you played, that's an English term for a junk men, you know, who come by in a cart and they scream out rag and bone, and you're supposed to bring out your junk to them. And I liked this idea. It's almost like as artists and songwriters and performers, I'd sort of scrounge around for people's problems and try to make something out of them.

(Soundbite of song, "Rag and Bone")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) Come on, come on, come on, come on and give it to us.

MONTAGNE: Jack White of The White Stripes.

Hear his take on playing Elvis in the new movie "Walk Hard" at our music Web site,

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm John Ydstie.

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