The Raconteurs: New Music for Old Friends The rock group, led by Brendan Benson and Jack White, recently surprised the rock world by releasing its new album on one week's notice. But the two guitarists surprised themselves with the new musical identity they forged.
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The Raconteurs: New Music for Old Friends

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The Raconteurs: New Music for Old Friends

The Raconteurs: New Music for Old Friends

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Jack White is best known as the lead guitarist and singer of the rock group The White Stripes. But his other band is becoming increasingly well known. The Raconteurs received critical acclaim and a Grammy nomination for their 2006 recording, "Broken Boy Soldiers." Now, the band has released a follow-up. It's called "Consoler of the Lonely."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JACK WHITE (Guitarist, Singer): (Singing) I still think, I think I got a little situation so listen to me, sister, listen, maybe you can help.

NEARY: I spoke with White and his Raconteurs songwriting partner, Brendan Benson. The two men were friends back in Detroit, and Benson says that's when they got the idea to form the band.

Mr. BRENDAN BENSON (Songwriter, Raconteurs): Well, it started with a song, "Stay as She Goes." I was working on it and Jack stopped by for a cup of sugar probably and I said, hey, why don't you have a listen to this. I'm having trouble with this and the lyrics.

Mr. WHITE: Which is a lot better than helping him cleaning out his flooded basement, as usual.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BENSON: So, yeah, before we knew it we had a song. And we kind of sat back and thought, wow, this is really good. Let's try another one.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: You decided to form this group but you're both involved in a lot of other things. Jack, you haven't left the White Stripes, you don't consider this a side project. How do you make time for both?

Mr. WHITE: Well, it gets tough. I thought it would be a little bit easier to switch gears like that and it wasn't as easy as I thought it was. It was totally changing my entire attitude towards how to perform. But it's really worth it because it's pushing me to learn more about what I do.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) You don't understand me. But if the feeling was right, you might comprehend me...

To learn more about songwriting, especially, and also guitar playing because it's the first band I've been in for a long time, since before the White Stripes, that I played lead guitar in, I guess, you know, dual lead guitar with Brendan.

(Soundbite of song "You Don't Understand Me")

Mr. WHITE and Mr. BENSON: (Singing) There's always another point of view, a better way to do the things we do, and how can you know me and I know you, if nothing is true...

NEARY: You know, your voices really blend together so nicely there. I just love the sound of that.

Mr. WHITE: Thank you.

NEARY: How do your voices sort of balance each other out?

Mr. WHITE: They come from different sort of perspective, I think. You know, Brendan's more of a song craftsman, I guess. Maybe I'm more gutteral or more emotional or something.

Mr. BENSON: I resent that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WHITE: But what I was going to say was it's almost like my role in the White Stripes is Brendan's role, you know. Meg's the more emotional, more shoot from the hip. You know, so it's changing roles for me.

Mr. BENSON: We're almost at opposite ends of the spectrum. I mean, like Jack says, I think Jack's a little more sort of gruff and I might be a little more smooth or something like that, you know.

(Soundbite of song "Old Enough")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) You look pretty in your fancy dress but I detect unhappiness. You never speak so I have to guess you're not free.

NEARY: So the lyrics in this song really grab you at the top. What is this girl's story? Who should I be asking this of?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BENSON: This is Brendan. That's a song that I wrote the verses in that song. And, you know, I think trying to elaborate on it would be, you know, what's the point? I mean...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BENSON: ...I think it's up to you to figure out what her deal is. But you're on the right track. What is her deal?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) You're too young to have it figured out, you think you know what you're talking about. You think it all will work itself out, but we'll see...

NEARY: Well, who is the lyricist? Are you the lyricist, Brendan?

Mr. BENSON: We both are.

NEARY: How do you write songs together? How do you work together when you're writing songs?

Mr. WHITE: We do it different every time. You know, sometimes, you know, Brendan's singing words I wrote or I'm playing chord changes he wrote. It's good that way. You know, if you have it the same way, you know, you kind of don't push each other enough. It's good to just kind of work in that framework and say we're writing this song together. Doesn't matter if it's 90 percent or ten percent or whatever. Just contribute, you know.

Mr. BENSON: It's been great because I think we let each other just go. Like, for instance, in "Old Enough," I wrote and sing these verses and then he comes in with these bridges, you know, that he wrote and sings. And together it just really makes it so cool.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) What you're going to do, what you're going to do now? What you're going to do, what you're going to do now? What you going to do now?

Mr. BENSON: There's quite a few songs on this record that are like that.

NEARY: Um-hum.

Mr. BENSON: There's almost, like, songs that are kind of crammed together, you know.

NEARY: What do you mean crammed together?

Mr. WHITE: Like he took my parts and said, will this even fit? At times, you know, we can take a bridge from another song and just push it in there on purpose and see what happens. We did that with the first track, "Consoler of the Lonely."

Mr. BENSON: We forced things into that song that weren't there to begin with and got something really interesting out of it.

(Soundbite of song, "Consoler of the Lonely")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) Haven't seen the sun in weeks, my skin is getting pale, haven't got a mind left to speak, and I'm skinny as a rail...

NEARY: So, is this one of the songs you were saying that you crammed things into?

Mr. WHITE: Yeah.

Mr. BENSON: Yeah. If you were to listen to this section going into the next, I think it'd be very obvious.

(Soundbite of song, "Consoler of the Lonely")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) I'm bored to tears, yeah, I'm bored to tears, yeah. I'm looking for an accomplice, a confederate...

NEARY: Okay. I hear that now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BENSON: Yeah, normally...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BENSON: That wouldn't make sense normally.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Consoler of the Lonely")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) ...Find yourself alone...

NEARY: So that's sort of a really good example of your two different styles too. That sort of very melodic style and then very aggressive style coming in then.

Mr. WHITE: Um-hum. Yeah, it's the great way to open up the album really. To have this kind of song that has so many different things colliding.

NEARY: So, how does that come about, that kind of decision to sort of push something like that into a song?

Mr. WHITE: It can be very scary. Especially when you're - when you're knee-deep working on a song, you become very protective of it and it's really tough to take chances. And you can even say really that most songwriters don't because it's really scary. Once you're in there and you have an idea in your mind, you don't want to mess it up and ruin what you've worked so hard on.

NEARY: Um-hum. Yeah. All right. Let's play another song, and this one is "Many Shades of Black."

(Soundbite of song, "Many Shades of Black")

Mr. BENSON: (Singing) Go ahead, go ahead, smash it on the floor, take whatever's left and take it with you out the door...

NEARY: That has such a sort of '50s kind of feel to it at moments. Is that conscious at all?

Mr. WHITE: A little bit. I think we all felt the same way when we started playing it and maybe we ran with it a little bit.

NEARY: Well, I mean, I was listening to it and I thought, you know, you can almost see kids dancing at a sock hop to that song at certain moments, you know.

(Soundbite of song, "Many Shades of Black")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) Everybody sees and everyone agrees that you and I are wrong and it's been that way too long...

It's really soulful. The Memphis Horns came to us to do a tune with us and, you know, we tried them out on that and it just worked beautifully. It really started to swing.

(Soundbite of song, "Many Shades of Black")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) And there's many shades of black, there's so many shades of black, there's so many shades of black...

NEARY: Well, you guys are both from Michigan originally and, you know, were part of the Detroit rock scene. But now you're in Nashville. Do you find your music is changing and that the scene around you is inspiring you to go different directions or...?

Mr. BENSON: I don't know. I've always loved country music.

Mr. WHITE: This is Jack speaking. I don't know if it's really changed that much, this environment. I guess I'm a little bit more closed off than I used to be. I used to go to sort of shows every night at clubs but I don't really do that anymore. I can't really do that anymore.

NEARY: Well, you know, I ask that because of one song in particular, and that's the song "Carolina Drama." Because I was thinking about the fact that maybe being in Nashville, the whole country music thing would seep into your work and that seemed like a possible example of that. So let's listen to that.

(Soundbite of song, "Carolina Drama")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) It was a junk house in South Carolina, held a boy the age of ten. Along with his older brother Billy and their mother and her boyfriend. Who was a crippled loser with some blue tattoos that were given to him when he was young. And a drunk temper that was easy to lose, and thank God he didn't own a gun.

Jack speaking - this one's mine. The story was something I'd been throwing around. It had become really complicated and I had lots of verses. You know, I had 15 more verses than we put it in the song. It was a really long story. I only wanted the one person's name to be said, and that was this person Billy. You know, I didn't even want to call him Billy because it's been used before.

Actually, I asked Bob Dylan what he thought, and he said maybe I should change it to Eddie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WHITE: But no, but then he told me, he goes, no, you should stick with Billy. But the point was there was only one person who had a name. Nobody else has a name in the story and I guess that's as far as I could really explain it.

(Soundbite of song, "Carolina Drama")

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) Now, Billy knew but never actually met the preacher lying there in the room. He heard himself say, that must be my daddy, then he knew what he was going to do. Billy got up enough courage, took it up and grabbed the first blunt thing he could find. It was a cold glass bottle of milk that got delivered every morning at nine...

NEARY: Do you like that idea of telling stories through your songs? I mean it…

Mr. WHITE: You know, the name of the band is Raconteurs, you know, and that means a really good storyteller, you know. And I have always been somebody who's, in regular life, I'm not good at telling stories. So it's always been a struggle to try to figure out a way to do that and I guess on stage is the only weird place I feel I can actually get away with it.

NEARY: Do you think of yourself that way too, Brendan?

Mr. BENSON: Well, yeah, in a way. Probably a different way than maybe Jack. I'm more interested or I've become more interested or fascinated with the way it all sounds. And sometimes forgoing real content, admittedly. There's certain people who can do that, tell stories in songs, that I think is really admirable and very hard to do.

NEARY: Well, you know, there's just in general, there's a kind of real sort of creative exuberance in this music. What does that say about where you guys are at right now in terms of your music?

Mr. WHITE: Well, it feels good. I mean, also we were in a - this is the first time in a real modern studio. The first time was done in Brendan's attic so it was a big step - I don't know if it was a step up or sideways.

Mr. BENSON: Step down actually. From the attic.

Mr. WHITE: Yeah, from the attic it was a step down. But we got to do things that we would never normally have done in other circumstances like that. So we got to places that I think are worth exploring even more.

NEARY: Well, thanks. It was fun talking with both of you.

Mr. BENSON: Thank you very much.

Mr. WHITE: Thank you.

NEARY: Jack White and Brendan Benson are with the band The Raconteurs, and their new album is called "Consoler of the Lonely."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WHITE: (Singing) Momma, let's put this body underneath the trees and put daddy in the truck and head to Tennessee. Just then his little brother came in holding the milkman's hat and a bottle of gin singing...

NEARY: You can hear full songs from the Raconteurs new album at our music Web site,

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary filling in for Liane Hansen who's on assignment and will be back next week.

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