The White Stripes

So, what’s the deal with POLLSTAR’s cover? It’s a joke perpetrated by The White Stripes on its agent (Dave Kaplan), manager (Ian Montone) and tour manager (John Baker). When the duo learned they were going to be the HotStar, they wanted to surprise some of their industry reps.

That’s how the band shifts attention away from itself, which is fine considering how much attention others are giving it. For instance, across the Pond, there’s a London club owner who told the BBC he hasn’t seen anything like it since he booked Oasis in 1994. A Radio One broadcaster declared them the best live band he’s seen since the early days of punk rock or even Jimi Hendrix.

If you look at who their talking about, a brother/sister duo who dress in red and white and decorate the stage with peppermint swirls, you might think the praise is a byproduct of all the smog and rain, some kind of Vitamin D deficiency thing.

But the band was voted one of Rolling Stone’s Top 10 to watch in 2001 and its White Blood Cells was one of the mag’s top choices. The album just hit the No. 1 spot on SoundScan’s new artist chart.

Even Jucifer’s Amber Valentine, one half of a duo, gave one of the most roundabout plugs of all time, proclaiming to Guitar Player magazine, “We are not The White Stripes.”

Kaplan couldn’t talk to POLLSTAR without his other line interrupting with calls for The White Stripes. He said he gets about 15 inquiries a day.

“It’s sort of funny,” Kaplan said. “You get all these people saying, ‘I just found out about this band. They’re my favorite band.’ And they’re freaked out about it like they discovered the Holy Grail or something.”

Russell Warby, the band’s rep at The Agency Group in London, said he too averages about 15 inquiries a day. During the band’s last visit to the U.K., it played 2,000-capacity rooms in London and 1,000-capacity rooms outside the city. The Stripes sold out a club of 400 just by telling three people, he said. Warby anticipates venues up to 8,000 on the next visit.

“The economy of The White Stripes is one of the most beautiful things about it,” he said. “You don’t need 12 crew; just set up the instruments and go. And they’re very sensible. They get on the stage and do it. No late night shenanigans.”

Warby, who was introduced to the band through Kaplan, said he has even heard comparisons to Led Zeppelin. Getting back to the world of earth, water and sky, though, the band is just Jack White, a young man from Detroit, and his sister, Meg, on drums.

The White Stripes

The music could be lumped into the genre of garage rock, but it ranges from Delta blues to the MC5 to Country Joe McDonald. There can also be an innocence to it, as if the songs were sent over to a Japanese girl rock band for final approval.

Jack runs his guitar through a single amp; Meg has a simple drum kit. The only elaborate requirement is a second mic for distorted vocals. The duo doesn’t use a song list and never rehearses before a show, opting instead to go wherever it is that Jack feels like heading.

“This way, it feels like one man against the world, with a rhythm accompanying it,” Jack told POLLSTAR. He said the band has been asked a few times if they wanted a bass player to fill in the sound, “but a resonant No! comes out of our mouths.”

White Blood Cells is the duo’s third album, per se, if a couple of 45s on a small Detroit label called Italy Records aren’t counted. The 45s were cut right after the band started; Jack was rehearsing one day when Meg joined him on drums.

“We were just messing around, kind of as a joke, but it ended up being perfect. She played like such a child; it was something fresh.”

Jumping ahead a few years, a few tours and a few albums, The White Stripes were offered the opening slot for Sleater-Kinney in 2000. Jack said that was the turning point.

“We didn’t know if it was the same audience as us but at the last second we thought, that’s probably the best part,” he said.

During the tour, the band got reviews in Rolling Stone, Spin, Time and The New York Times, to name a few, but it still didn’t have a manager. The duo chose, instead, a “lawyerger.”

“It seemed like a conflict of interest at first for Ian (Montone) to be our manager and our lawyer,” Jack said. “Nobody touches that, but we did it. You get to a point where you think what’s a manager going to do except, when he gets an offer, he’s just going to call me up and ask me if I want to do it or not. Is there any point to that?”

Last week, The White Stripes had a four-night stand at NYC’s 600-capacity Bowery Ballroom. Kaplan said, “We could have done a couple of Irving Plazas or something even bigger, but there’s a definite intimacy to seeing them in that size of room.”

Jack agreed. Although the band has played for tens of thousands at Big Day Out in Australia, there’s energy in the small rooms, and the two-piece setup sort of requires it. They’ve turned down lucrative opportunities to tour with artists such as Rob Zombie, but gave consideration to a high school prom.

“I hate to sound pretentious but [money] never really interested me that much,” Jack said. “We’re not going to work with Rob Zombie’s crowd. We’re not going to win anybody over. … A high school prom would at least be interesting.”

The band has dates lined up through April in the U.S.

“Then they have to record a new record,” Kaplan said. “Then they’re going to do the rest of the U.S. (through June), then the record comes out and then they have to do all the world over again,” He said, panting.