A luxuriously-appointed drawing room overlooking Hyde Park, the Royal Suite of London’s Mandarin Hotel doesn’t often play host to rock’n’roll groups – especially not those who only released their debut album a scant five months earlier.
But then The Raconteurs are no ordinary rock’n’roll group – a fact that both privileges and plagues them. Throughout 2006 they’ve enjoyed a profile their peers would kill for, not least thanks to the presence of Jack White on vocals and guitar. But Jack’s celebrity also dictated their first public appearance was a sold-out show at Liverpool’s Academy, rather than something more comfortably low-key, while the media focus on White (to the detriment of the others) sometimes harshes the mellow of a group who want most of all to be seen as ‘just some four guys’.
Those four guys stride into the Royal Suite around lunchtime, still on a bleary-eyed high from the previous evening’s triumphant show at
“Well, cheers to that,” grins singer/guitarist Brendan Benson, as the group clink their glasses and coffee mugs with his bottle of Berocca vitamin supplement.
“You should’ve told us that before the photos,” laughs a visibly-surprised White. “Nice one.”
“Making this record was super-easy,” smiles Benson. “We didn’t try to come up with ‘the best album of all time’ or anything; we were just playing, screwing around, which is always the best way.”
“We made it like groups have always made their first album: quickly,” adds White. “It comes out of your head, you put it down on tape, it’s done.”
“Broken Boy Soldiers is almost like a demo,” nods Benson, “especially when you hear how we play those songs live now. Really, the next record will be our ‘first record’.”
Yes, the cat is out of the bag – new Raconteurs and White Stripes albums are due next year, schedules permitting.
“I’m over-flowing now with so many ideas,” offers White, gleefully. “I have a lot of White Stripes songs I want to record, and I want to make another Raconteurs record – I don’t know what should come out first.”
“How about we take all the good songs?” suggests drummer Patrick Keeler.
“In fact, just give us all your songs,” laughs Brendan, “We’ll sort them out for you…”
2006 was, by the Raconteurs’ own varying accounts, “long”, “busy”, “a blur”. They are unanimous upon the year’s highlight, however: the MTV Video Music Awards, held at New York’s Radio City Hall in August, the group joined by Lou Reed for a chuggin’ ‘White Light White Heat’, and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons for a short boogie through ‘Cheap Sunglasses’.
“Who would’ve thought, learning to play Velvets songs on the guitar at the age of sixteen, that you’d end up playing with Lou Reed?” reflects bassist ‘Little’ Jack Lawrence, softly. “He was… real nice!”
“Surprisingly so,” nods Jack, “having heard all the ‘stories’ about Lou. There’s a moment when we were playing ‘White Light’, and we hit the ‘oohs’ just right, and you can see him just grinning.”
“When we were rehearsing with Billy Gibbons, he plugged in and started playing, and we all looked like excited little kids,” adds Patrick. “My mouth hurt from smiling so much.”
It was a year The Raconteurs spent mostly on the road, playing high profile gigs like Lollapalooza and the Fuji-Rock festival in
“I remember being backstage and thinking, for all we’d done together in the past – touring, recording – the four of us had never walked out onstage together before,” reflects Jack. “It was like we were all starting over again, at stage one – on purpose.”
Still, there are some who dismiss The Raconteurs as a mere side-project, another of Jack’s ‘premeditated’ follies.
“To me, that diminishes what The Raconteurs is,” muses Brendan. “That makes it sound like just some ‘side-project’. I mean, it is, but it’s so much more, as well. We all put our heads together and created something different, and it’s not entirely a reaction to something else – mostly it stands on its own.”
“People think everything I do is ‘pre-meditated’, because of The White Stripes,” bristles Jack. “They don’t understand that all the pre-meditation happened back in 1997, on that day when we said, ‘we’re only gonna wear red, white and black’. We never discussed that again, just followed it. But they think I sat down and decided what the Raconteurs would look like and sound like. And they’re so off the mark. It’s really unhealthy to have that kind of cynicism around you, it’s worse than having drug users around you.”
Cynicism from some corners of the media seems the only cloud souring the view from the Royal Suite this afternoon; soon they’ll be touring America with Bob Dylan, and then – at some undefined point in the hopefully not-too-distant-future, returning to the studio.
“When The Raconteurs make our second album, the dust will clear, and people will see us for what we are,” promises Jack.
Little Jack nods, and grins. “We’re gonna aim for Album Of The Decade on the next one!”(c) Stevie Chick, 2006