Conducted backstage at the Magic Stick before a Dirtbombs show for use in Everett True's book The White Stripes and the Sound of Mutant Blues.
B: What made you first play guitar and what were you listening to back then?
J: Back when? (laughs) I started listening to rock and roll music in 1969. The Beatles made me want to play guitar…and the Shocking Blue and Creedence Clearwater Revival and Steppenwolf ‘cause they scared me.
B: What was your first guitar?
(Diamond, shirtless, backstage in Scotland, 11/25/01)
J: My first guitar? Well, my parents bought me a classical guitar when I was eight and I took classical guitar lessons
B: What about electric?
J: Oh, my first electric guitar, I saved up lawn-mowing money and when I was fourteen I bought a Vox 12-string ‘cause I really liked the Byrds and Jefferson Airplane.
B: What was your first band like and what kind of covers did you do?
J: Oh, my first electric bass, I bought a bass in 1978 when I was thirteen and my friends, these guys in middle school/junior high had a band called Inferno and we did Ted Nugent covers, Kiss covers and Aerosmith covers. That was my first band, Inferno, and we played a show at our junior high and we made a cassette of it and the singer lost it.
B: Tell a story from your childhood to explain why you are the way you are like where did you grow up…maybe the story about you at the Brownie meeting, I think, personifies a lot about you…
J: Yeah, well in 1968 I was at a Brownie meeting…Brownie’s are little girls like Girl Scouts or Bluebirds. So it was ’68, I was three I was pretty excitable and there were these girls all talking in this church basement, my sister, my mom, they’re all just going “blahblahblahblahblah” you know, making all kinds of horrible racket and I was playing with a wooden train set and I’m sitting in this little room and I couldn’t stand the way they all sounded like yapping crows so I walked out in the middle of the room and I screamed “SHUT UP!” And everyone was silent and my mom took me upstairs and spanked me. That’s a good story.
B: How did you get into producing and who are your producing influences and how would you describe your recording technique?
J: Well I got into working at a studio because I always wanted to work in a studio, or I always liked music and liked messing around with microphones and recording things as a kid. But, I always had these horrible bands to work with when I got out of college, a lot of Christian metal. But I never really produced anything, I just would kinda go “does that sound okay?” because I hated all the music so I didn’t even care. I wanted to go home. I wanted to get my $6.50 and hour and go home. So it just eventually sprang from that…being frustrated working with bands I hated.
B: So what would you say for producing influences and recording technique?
J: I guess for recording technique I’ve been pretty lucky actually because everyone I worked with never had much money because they would get those Sympathy (for the Record Industry) Record deals, they’d get like two-three thousand dollars and go “oh my god, we gotta make a record!” And I’d go “ok, I’ll charge you $35 an hour” I think I started at $25 when I started the studio and I inched it up to $30 and then $35 and you could make a record for $2000 or like $1300 as in the Clone Defects’ case. So that got me to do it really quickly but do it well at the same time. So that was really great practice. People go “How many records have you made? A million?” I go “I don’t know…fifty.” Because everyone would only spend a couple of weeks on each one. But as far as other producers, I never really listen…
B: Did you ever notice, like George Martin and say “Wow, he’s a good producer” or you just noticed a record you thought sounded good?
J: Yeah, I never really thought about George Martin like “Oh my god! This kick drum sounds amazing!”
B: Tell us a lie about the first time you met Mick Collins, or the truth…whichever is more interesting.
J: I was working with Bob Mulrooney, Bootsey of Bootsey X and the Lovemasters and we were at the Tempermill, this studio I worked at in Detroit, in a suburb of Detroit, where I had to do a lot of music I didn’t like. Bob Mulrooney was one of the people I actually liked so Bob and I were working on something and this guy Mick came in and I didn’t know who he was. He was just some guy. And he came to pick up a record that Bob Mulrooney had because Bob Mulrooney worked in a record store. So I introduced myself and we started talking, I had just moved to Detroit and I said “hey, I’ve got this little 8-track at this space where I’m living” Mick said “Hey, maybe I’ll give you a call, I’ve got to do some recording” Well he just got a bunch of money from Warner Brothers and he spent it all so he needed some place really cheap to do it at to finish his Warner Brothers demos which he didn’t pay me for like a year for.
B: Did anything ever come of those Warner Brothers’ demos?
J: No. He charged the bill to Larry Hardy (In the Red Records owner) I found out later. So that’s how I met Mick. And I had a dog’s playing roulette poster…painting on the wall and that really attracted him to the studio (imitating Mick’s voice) “Well I really thought that was something special when I saw that painting.”
B: What is your motivation?
J: For what?
J: Well, my motivation is a combination of things of course I want to make some money and I like having a decent car that is not falling apart and I would like to get a ’69 Alfa Romeo at some point. But my motivation is to make records that I like and to work with bands that I like, personally, because I spent some long times working with bands that I hated…and if you know who you are, fuck you anyway, ‘cause I still hate you.
B: What do you think about on stage?
J: Oh, all kinds of things. Sometimes nothing, sometimes I listen to what the drums are doing so I play in time, listen to what Mick’s doing to hear how out of tune he is…I’m looking at girls. Usually I’m thinking about the music (first) and girls second.
B: Describe Dave Buick
J: Dave’s a great guy, we’re not real close friends but I know him, I can say “Hey Dave, what’s happening?” and he’ll say “Aw Jim, I’m drunk.” No, he’s not drunk all the time, he’s a great music fan and he’s knowledgeable about music and he’s got quite a fashion sense. Yeah, he’s a good guy, he’s never done me wrong. Ever.
B: Describe Mr. Collins
J: Mick Collins is talented with…you know, there’s some parameters there, I’m not gonna say “Oh my god! Mick Collins is a genius!” Mick Collins is not a genius. Mick Collins is a musically-talented guy and I’ll tease him about this as long as I know him that he’s the inventor of punk-blues. And he’ll hate that and he’ll claim that he’s not garage.
B: If Mick isn’t a genius, who would you claim is a genius?
J: No one I know.
B: Give us a genius on any level
J: I don’t know if there are any geniuses
B: Would you say Paul McCartney is a genius?
J: No, I think he’s a good musician, he writes catchy songs…I guess Einstein is a genius, you know?
B: Describe Mr. Blackwell
J: Who, Ben? Ben is a very enthusiastic kid. You know, becoming a man, he’s very enthusiastic and that’s probably the greatest thing about him being in the band (Dirtbombs) because he’s more enthusiastic than Mick or I ‘cause we’re all jaded old guys. Ben collects music and he’s very knowledgeable about music…should practice drums a little more.
B: Tell us something about Ben that most people don’t know
J: He likes to drop his pants all the time.
B: Describe Jack White
J: You know, I just know Jack from working in the studio mainly. He’s got some talent too, and he knows how to channel it, I think that’s why a big part of it is being successful…he and Meg have a good sense of style and fashion and I think once you put that all together with musical talent and good songwriting, then that’s a pretty winning combination.
B: So describe Meg apart from what you already said.
J: Meg’s really sweet, I probably hang out with her more than I do with Jack, just seeing her in a bar or something and she’s super down to earth and her drumming’s sky-rocketed from what it was when I first met her, which is great.
B: Describe Jason Stollsteimer
J: Jason, you know, he and I have had fine times together in the studio, you know, sometimes he can talk some shit, but he’s never been malicious towards me and he’s always done right by me, so I never have anything bad to say about him. He’s using the garage rock thing right now to his advantage, which is great, so we’ll see how their record goes…I’m sure everyone is curious.
B: What would you say is the best part of Detroit, and conversely, what do you think is the worst part of Detroit?
J: The best part is the livin’ is easy, ‘Cause I can live downtown and I won’t even tell everyone what I pay for rent. It’s easy to live in, it’s a small town, there’s a definite clique and if you’re in that clique then that’s great. You know I’m not in the clique, bands like Illegal and Forge are in, thank god. No, it’s great because it’s really tight-knit and most people are friends…not as much as they used to be before money got involved. Money and big egos. The worst part about Detroit is that it’s so miserable and it’s so ugly, aesthetically. But the good thing, on that same hand, is when you go to any other city in the world, that city is beautiful…
B: Well do you think it being ugly maybe is something that keeps people away that people who may be superficial, people who go to LA or New York wouldn’t come to Detroit because it doesn’t seem like a pretty place?
J: Possibly. Detroit’s horrible. Every time I go out of town I come back and say“This place fucking sucks. I hate this.” You know, there’s some one-legged guy outside my door saying “gimme some change” and I go “all I have are euro’s and pounds” and he said “I don’t care” so I gave it to him anyway. But yeah, it’s just really ugly here. And depressing.
(Diamond, Detroit Metro Airport, 11/2003...Dirtbombs myth has long-said Jim's luggage for this trip was just a garbage bag with his clothes in it, but I will honestly say he was doing the dirty work of smuggling Dirtbombs t-shirts into the UK, a job no one likes)
B: Are you punk rock? If so, could you please explain why?
J: No, I’m not punk rock…what’s punk rock? Is John Lydon punk rock?
B: What about spray painting “Helter Skelter” on your front door?
J: I don’t think that’s punk rock, I thought that was funny.
B: What about drawing the Black Flag logo and writing “My War”?
J: No, I’m gonna write “My War: Johnny Bob Goldstein”, “Chavo” or “Robo”. No, I’m just gonna write “Robo” on my front door.
B: What are the mechanics behind your songwriting? How do you create a song and particular vision, not necessarily Dirtbombs songs, but anything you write.
J: Anything I’ve written, I usually come up with the melody and the music right away. So I can do that in a second. But putting words…I’m not a real wordsmith, as they say. But I can come up with a melody very fast.
B: Who are your favorite singers and guitarists?
J: Probably one of my favorite guitar players, I’ve got a few favorite guitar players, Jorma Kaukonen is one of my favorite guitar players. He’s from Jefferson Airplane, but he’s a great acoustic finger-picker too. And I liked Eric Clapton up until pre-“Layla”, up until ’69…up until Cream broke up Eric Clapton was amazing. After Cream I’m not really into him. You know Jimi Hendrix, he’s alright but sometimes he gets a little over-rated. Actually I like the lead guitar player from Big Brother and the Holding Company a lot, it’s either Sam Andrew or James Girly…I can’t remember.
B: Do you want your parents to be proud of you?
J: Yeah, actually they are. I’m very happy that they’re proud of me because I spent a lot of years where I don’t think they were very proud of me.
B: When do you think it finally clicked over?
J: Well, I’ve been pretty lucky because my parents have always been supportive of what I did, because my dad had his own business for years. So I think, even though they didn’t really understand what I do…I was in Austin, Texas working in a studio and I said “you gotta come in, this is what I do” and it was a 48 input Neve board, all computerized and the faders would move and my dad’s like “woah jimbo! This is like a rocketship in here!” And I said “That’s right” and he said “You know how to operate this?” and I said “Yeah” and he couldn’t believe and said “ Huh.” And then I finally started making money and they see my name in the paper and they say “You know, you should really try to get more local press out of all your travels” and I say “Mom, who cares? They know who I am in Holland now”
B: Is there anybody you openly hate?
J: God…probably the closest I come to hating anyone is Chris Fuller, manager of the Electric Six. He’s just a moron.
B: There’s specific events that have happened between you…would you like to bring that up?
J: He’s just lied a bunch of shit about telling his band “We paid Jim for playing that saxaphone” when he really didn’t.
B: This is for “Danger! High Voltage!”?
J: Yeah, “Danger! High Voltage!”
B: So what did he say and what did you say?
J: I said, “Look man, let’s get something in writing, this song is getting big, we gotta take care of this, legally”, because I basically produced the song with them and played on it and he said “We’ll do this when we feel the time is appropriate” I said “The time is now” and basically had to threaten to sue them, just to get something in writing and they still wouldn’t respond so I’m like fuck you. I didn’t have to sue anyone, thank god, ‘cause I didn’t even want to do that, but yeah, the guy’s a moron and I’ll say that’s for the record.
B: Talk about recording the White Stripes first record, their self-titled record and just tell me what you can, off the top of your head about that.
J: It took awhile because they were just a beginning band and they had one of those Sympathy for the Record Industry deals where I think they got $2500 or $3000. So it took a while because Meg had barely been playing the drums. So we had to do a lot of takes because she’d fuck up…she’d just started playing.
B: Did you save every take or would you re-use tape…
J: We couldn’t afford to keep going through reels of two-inch tape, that would’ve used up their whole budget.
B: So this was January/February of 1999?
J: Was it? Or was it ’98?
B: The record came out in’99, so…
J: I don’t remember…
B: So the geek stuff, what kind of mixing board did you use and what kind of tape machine…
J: Well I hate talking about this shit because all you fuckers are gonna go try and buy one of these mixing boards but they’re mine, if you see one, sell it to me, at a decent price. They have this mixing board called an Electrodyne, it was made in Los Angeles in the late sixties and early seventies and they’re totally awesome.
B: How did that become yours? Did you search out a bunch of different mixing boards or what?
J: I got it on accident. I bought a 16-track tape recorder from this music school in northern Michigan called Interlochen and they said “Hey, you want this old mixing board?” I said “Yeah” and I got there and it was huge and ridiculous and it weighed 500 pounds…it was made of wood and ¼ inch aircraft aluminum and stuff and big VU meters and knobs and I’m like “Wow, this thing is incredible!” and I plugged it in and it worked…it’d been sitting in a barn since 1980. And I got in in ’98. So yeah, then I realized this thing is really amazing. Hmm…so I kinda lucked out.
B: So at that time, was Jack just using his red hollowbody…
J: Yeah, his red hollowbody…
B: or did he use any of the guitars you had lying around the studio?
J: He had a Silvertone, I think we used…Mick had a 100-watt Silvertone that he bought with Dirtbombs’ money way back that he embezzled from us…you can print that too. So Mick embezzled money from the band, Jack used his 100-watt head through a cabinet, through like, a 15-inch Electrovoice speaker in that cabinet and I miked it with two Shure SM-57’s.
B: And Jack, for singing, wouldn’t he just sing through a guitar amp?
J: Yeah, cause I’d go “Hey Jack, try this mike” and he’d be like “It sounds like we’re in a studio.” He was very self-conscious of being in a studio and having it sound polished like you’re in a studio. But I said “You ARE in a studio, if you want to make a field recording, dig up Alan Lomax and have him go hook up his Ampex”
B: What do you think when Jack has said in interviews before that the first album is favorite one, that he doesn’t think they’ll ever top it?
J: I don’t know, I mean, the first record…everyone’s first record is usually really good because they’ve had a while to get ready for it. And then the other one’s they’re pressured to repeat or do better. So the first one rocks the hardest out of all of them, I think. It’s tough sounding.
B: Were they drinking?
J: I think Meg drank tea, because she was cold.
B: Do you remember anything that they did for that album that didn’t make it on the album? Do you remember them doing “My Little Red Book” and “Let’s Build a Home”…
J: Yeah, they did do that stuff…I forgot about that.
B: But that never got released…
J: No, I forgot about it. I guess I’ve got copies of that somewhere
B: Or maybe you don’t.
J: I have the DAT…I’m sure I’ve got the DAT.
B: I shouldn’t have told you that then because you would’ve forgot…
J: Oh my god…it’s going up on eBay!
B: How would you describe Jack as a producer…after he recorded “De Stijl” and “Sympathetic Sounds” at his house you did the mixing on that, what would you say about his recording technique?
J: He’s got some specific ideas on how he likes things to sound, and that’s good. Some of it’s different from what I would do…he likes things too loud, I’m like “I cannot sit here anymore” so, I hope that boy’s ears are working in ten or twenty years. He’s got his own ideas and that’s good, because most people have no ideas.
B: What would you say about, the early shows you went to, the early punk and hardcore shows, do you ever see that translate, or how does that feel nowadays, especially the fact that you went to the shows down the street from where you now live…
J: In 1982 I went to go see Black Flag, there used to be this place, City Club or Clutch Cargo’s…right next door to where I live now, where the studio is. And I remember it being 1982, the summer and I was like “wow, it’d be really cool to live down here, it’d be like cool, punk rock guy” and so I’m sitting there, next thing I know I’m thirty-one going “aw fuck, here I am. I’m broke next door to that place I dreamed about as a teenager.” Those punk rock shows, I mean, going to see Black Flag in 1982 was amazing.
B: What about when you saw Minor Threat?
J: Minor Threat at the Serbian Church Hall in Ecorse, Michigan. I lost my shoe and Ian Mackeye, I said “Hey Ian…” I tugged on his jeans and said “Ian, I lost my shoe” and he said “Hey hey hey…this guy lost his shoe down here, anyone find his shoe?” And from the back of this little Serbian Church hall, the black shoe was thrown over people’s heads and we caught it and I put I back on and I waved and said “thanks everyone.” And then we kept slam-dancing.
B: Anything more to say about dealing with “De Stijl” and “Sympathetic Sounds”…did you have to fix those up or…
J: No, “De Stijl” was fine. Jack’s good at recording his own band…he’s not a recording engineer, he’s a guitar player and a singer and a songwriter.
B: Do you get sick of people going up to you saying “Oh, you recorded the first White Stripes album, you must be rich.”
J: Yeah, I don’t like that at all. I made $2000 on the damn thing. No, probably two reels of two-inch, that was $150, so I only made $1700 off the thing. But I’ve gotten good props out of it, people go “Cool man, you did that record” and I go “Yeah, I did 50 others too, you wanna hear those?”
B: Well, it’s the idea that one of them is going to stick out more than the others…
B: What would you say about recording the latest stuff on the Von Bondies new record?
J: Uh, that was fun. I mean, Jason let me go “Hey, try this” or “Don’t do that” but he wanted everyone to be producing it equally which I don’t think is the best idea.