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Icon: Jack White

The White Stripes’ Grammy Award-winning guitar god steps behind the drum kit with his latest band, the Dead Weather. He’s also a singer, songwriter, producer, record-label owner, and upholsterer. What can’t the guy do?

You play guitar with the White Stripes and the Raconteurs but drums with your latest band, the Dead Weather. Do you consider yourself a better guitarist or drummer?
I’m glad I started out on drums—and I actually think my guitar playing is 60 percent drumming. When I was growing up, it always seemed embarrassing to call myself a guitarist. Being a drummer seemed cooler. [Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer] Mitch Mitchell, jazz great Gene Krupa—these people are cool as hell. In the real world, though, drummers get the shaft. It’s funny—there are guitar players who are incredible but don’t become known for it. Like, why isn’t Prince considered one of the greatest guitarist ever?

The new Dead Weather album is called Sea of Cowards. Are you ever a coward yourself?

I would put money on no. I have a real chip on my shoulder about always calling someone out when I see cowardice. And on the Web you can’t click on a site without seeing cow­ardice—people hiding in a cubbyhole, not showing their true faces. But I despise it so much, maybe there’s a hint of it inside of me.

Was this album easier to make than the first Dead Weather record?

Much easier, just because we actu­ally knew we were making an album. Last year we didn’t know what it was; we were just going to make a seven-inch single. I was putting together the White Stripes documentary and box set, and I didn’t have the time. A lot of people think I plan all this stuff out, but when art’s happening, I don’t like to get in the way.

You’ve also produced The Ghost Who Walks, the debut album from your wife, model Karen Elson. Is making an album with your wife good or bad for your relationship?

It’s good that she finally played some of her songs for me! I waited a long time—eventually she stopped by the studio and picked up a guitar. That’s where you go if you want to talk to me. She’s very humble, but once I heard the songs I said we have to record them.

At the beginning of last year’s guitar documentary It Might Get Loud, you say you want to trick Jimmy Page and the Edge into showing you their secrets. Did you succeed?

Yeah, man, it was all a learning exper­ience. They even filmed us teaching each other songs, and, really, it was ridiculous for me to be teaching anything to Jimmy Page or the Edge. I’m the youngest of 10, and I know better than to show one of my older brothers how to do something.

So what did you teach them?

Not much!

What do your brothers and sisters know about you that most people wouldn’t?

There were lots of roles in the family, but at some point everybody was a parent. Except me. It’s a funny family. If you don’t have a dark sense of humor, you’ll get chewed up. Luckily, I like dark humor.

Before the White Stripes took off, you made your living working in an upholstery shop. If you had to repair a couch in your home, would you do it yourself?

I couldn’t have for a while there, but now—for the first time in a decade—I would. I just rebuilt my upholstery shop and installed the cutting machine. I also uphol­stered the walls of my studio.

You have a pretty carefully con­structed persona. What’s something that people get wrong about you?

People in Detroit used to think I was a control freak. I never understood what that phrase meant. It’s not like I get a buzz from telling people what to do. If I have to tell this person to change the reverb, I hate saying it out loud. I’m the guy who reluctantly has to make sure something gets completed. But I was supposed to pretend not to care.

We hear you like to collect taxidermied animals.

I don’t have much choice in the matter—I feel like a rescuer, a Humane Society employee. There’s a majesty to these animals that I want to preserve; I can’t see them looked at in a comedic way. Some­times people get it wrong, and it’s so insulting. They’ll buy me a squirrel playing pool or some shit like that.

Have you ever sabotaged one of your own relationships to have material for a song?

No, I’ve never been that hard up. I already have too much drama in my life—I have a whole list of enemies, and I don’t want to have any! It’s easy to say, “It’s not my fault,” but I know I could never have this much drama without bringing it on myself.

What’s the closest you ever came to death?

There’ve been times. Once I got in a car accident and shattered my finger. A few years ago I didn’t feel like being alive. That’s all I can say.

What’s the most superficial thing about you?

I used to pose for photographs or do interviews and then regret it the second it was over. I felt like I was selling myself short, chopping myself into a sound bite so I could sell a few more tickets. Now I look at it like a gigantic game. At dinner the other night, I took seven different photos with people. Somebody asked me, “How do you stand it?” There was a time, five or six years ago, when I would have told those people to fuck off. But something changed. Is that good or bad?