“I would say it’s magic,” Dead Weather singer Alison Mosshart says when asked how her fledgling band has created two critically acclaimed albums in less than a year. “The whole fact that there’s this band now called the Dead Weather is pretty bizarre to all of us, you know. None of us had time to do this or plan this or knew what this would become.”
But the band has become a seemingly unstoppable beast, a Frankenstein of misplaced musicians, the latest burst of genius to come from the endless depths of mind of the new Mad Hatter of Rock, Jack White.
“Working with Jack is incredible. He’s a man that has 25 ideas a minute and endless amounts of energy and enthusiasm,” Mosshart says. “He’s inspired from everywhere, and he’s so involved in everything. He’s a great person to make stuff with, and he’s incredibly encouraging and incredibly interested in your opinion, and he’s really a team player. I don’t think that many people realize that about him.”
Though the details vary depending on the day and the storyteller, the basic facts suggest that the Dead Weather essentially began on a 2008 tour with one of White’s other projects, the Raconteurs, who were touring with The Kills, Mosshart’s other band. White had a sore throat, and he asked Mosshart to fill in on vocals. Something clicked. After the tour, Mosshart grabbed a bus to Nashville and met White and two of his fellow Raconteurs, keyboardist Dean Fertita and bassist Jack Lawrence, at White’s studio and started making music.
That’s when the aforementioned magic started.
With White manning the drums and Fertita grabbing the guitar, they recorded six songs in 15 hours, Mosshart says, songs that made it to their first record, Horehound. They knew they had something. Finding just one person you can make music with can be a monumental, life-changing discovery for a musician; to simultaneously find three other players with whom you breathe and act as a single musical organism was breathtaking.
“We don’t have to have conversations about what we’re trying to do, what we’re trying to make, it just happens,” Mosshart says. “The music kind of tells us everything. We play it with astonished looks on our faces, you know?” The music they have produced — two stellar, critically acclaimed albums in nine months — is similarly astonishing. They are blues-rock at its rawest. Fertita’s grizzled guitar lines weave with White’s spastic drumming and Lawrence’s distorted bass to create the perfect backdrop for Mosshart’s snarling vocals and vaguely suggestive lyrics. The band’s second, equally ferocious album, Sea of Cowards, came out in May of this year.
“To me, it was a record written for the stage,” Mosshart says. “It’s kind of daredevil shit, and the whole record is sort of filled with it. A lot of the stuff on it is like, recorded, half-recorded, when we have a day off in Nashville or two, and we’d go in and record 45 seconds of something and then leave again and come back to it and be like, ‘That 45 seconds was so bad-ass we have to keep it, but it’s not a song, so what do we do?’ We need to make it into a song but we don’t want to lose it, so we start playing along with that 45 seconds, we’d get another tape machine in there so we could run two reels of tape at once and try to play along with ourselves and try to turn the song into a song, and so all these songs, they feel like they’ve got this kind of weird life. They kind of start in this one way, then they grow and then they grow and they grow and they become what they are.”
The music feels gritty and vintage, like a worn album cover. Since both Dead Weather albums are recorded on tape, not digitally, all the pops, hisses and barely audible mistakes are still there in the final versions of all the songs. The tracks that were good enough for the album were selected for their musical accomplishment, not their audiophile perfection. It’s a simpler way to record, free from the daunting infinity of tweaks and options included in a box of Pro Tools, and it seems to be the way Mosshart likes it.
“[Using analog] makes the recording process a little bit more like the performance process,” she says.
“There’s a human feeling to it, you know what I mean? You can’t go through and get rid of every little crackle or every little mess-up. And I think those things are beautiful, and that it gives character to records and songs and makes them human, and people can relate to them more.” Mosshart also has found time to work on the Kills’ newest album, which she expects to finish by the end of September, though she didn’t want to speculate on a release date.
On the Bill
Dead Weather play the Ogden Theatre on Saturday, July 17. Doors at 8 p.m. Must be 16 to enter. Tickets are $32.
935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-830-2525.