Jack White’s sit-down with NPR’s All Songs Considered is chock-full of relevant information about the Nashville rock’n’roll impresario’s upcoming album, Lazaretto. For instance, White explained the title of the June 10 full-length (pre-order it via iTunes or Third Man Records), said he struggled to write the lyrics, and acknowledged that he turned for inspiration to material he wrote way back when he was 19. But tucked away in all those album-cycle tidbits was a jolting revelation: White still doesn’t have a cell phone.
All right, considering the former White Stripes leader’s known technological bias, that he’d stay off the cellular grid isn’t a shock. And at least as recently as 2012 — when he was promoting his debut solo album, Blunderbuss — The New York Times Magazine‘s Josh Eells reported that the Third Man boss was still mobile-free (though he did own an iPod, use Skype, and sometimes email Conan O’Brien to chuckle over a tweet). But still, in 2014, when more people reportedly own cell phones than ever had land lines, surely he has changed his ways?
Oh, heavens, no. “I don’t like to carry anything with me,” White told NPR, explaining why writing down ideas has never been his strong suit. “I don’t have a cell phone. I don’t like to carry a wallet with me if I can help it. I just don’t like having things in my hands like that.”
To his credit, he’s aware of his curmodgeonliness.
“I’m very much like Larry David in my everyday,” he told Rolling Stone in a separate story. Though he’s not as averse to popular music as his reputation might suggest. He also described Daft Punk as “amazing” and said he contributed to several unfinished Jay Z tracks (“I’m not sure he even liked them”).
White also said Kanye West asked him to work with him on SPIN’s 2013 Album of the Year, Yeezus, but it fell through, which reportedly disappointed the rock’n’roller because he has only the highest praise for West’s live show. “That might have been the greatest show I’ve seen in my life,” White told RS. “It was more punk, more in-your-face than anything I’ve seen.”
Still, White’s lack of a smart phone or even an old-fashioned flip phone suits his interest in limitations. That dovetails neatly with the meaning behind the album’s title. Lazaretto is, as a dictionary corroborates, “a word for a quarantine hospital, or a quarantine island, or something like that,” he said. “It’s a beautiful-sounding word, too, ‘lazaretto’ — coming from Lazarus, I guess.”
He went on to explain why in the world he’d name a record after a word that can describe such a horrible phenomenon as leper colonies.
“[The title track] is the only thing I that I really put in the album of my own personality,” White told NPR. “There’s also a song called ‘That Black Bat Licorice,’ where I talk about being confined, a prisoner in a hospital. That really is me, personally. My sort of fantasy that I have is, I wish that some other forces, some powers that be, would push me into this scenario for a month and lock me somewhere, instead of me doing it to myself all the time. I’m always imposing restrictions on myself. And so I guess my fantasy is, it would be so nice to be in a quarantine hospital, but not to die from it — just to know that I had to stay here for two months and I can’t do anything else.”
One of the reasons White might hold that particular fantasy is his difficulty writing lyrics for Lazaretto. He said the words didn’t come until “seven or eight months” after he’d recorded the music. One way out, he said, was “to collaborate with a 19-year-old version of myself” by pulling character names and sentences out of “one-act plays and poems” he’d written when he was half his current age. Elsewhere in the interview, White discussed the Spanish language in the title track, the opening sound effect on Lazaretto‘s “High Ball Stepper,” and why he and his band are still recording new music.
Listen to the full interview or read a transcript over at NPR. From the album, you can hear “High Ball Stepper,” “Lazaretto,” and “Just One Drink.” And if you want to call up the man born John Gillis, you’d best try him at home.
Check out Jonathan Richman’s “You Can Have a Cell Phone That’s OK But Not Me” below.