How Eddie Van Halen Influenced Jack White’s New Album
Throughout his career, Jack White has shown a fondness for vintage and obscure musical gear because of how they sparked his creativity. But when making the guitar tracks on his new album, Boarding House Reach, he got a brand-new Wolfgang Special and a 5150 amp from Eddie Van Halen's signature brand.
As White told Rolling Stone, it was the result of reading an interview with Van Halen talking about the guitar. "He said, 'I wanted something that doesn't fight me,' " White recalled. "I was like, 'Those are the magic bad words that I completely disagree with. And that's why I'm picking his guitar.'"
He had his engineer, Joshua Smith, pick up one of Van Halen's guitars and an amp, as well as a pair of other musician-branded instruments: The Ernie Ball model designed by St. Vincent and the Gibson Firebird named after Jeff "Skunk" Baxter of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. The amplifier "didn't last," but the guitars changed his views on the concept of playability.
"Oh, my God," he added. "If people only knew how hard it was on these shitty guitars ... because I didn't know!"
White actually demoed Boarding House Reach on a reel-to-reel tape recorder that he's had since high school. But he ended up making concessions towards modernity by using ProTools to edit the tracks. Part it stemmed from a comment made by Chris Rock, in reference to White's predilection for showing off his latest pawnshop finds: "Nobody cares how it's done!"
"I wish he wouldn't have said that to me," White said, "because it's haunting my days. Because I've built my whole artistic creativity on this. But he's right, because nobody fucking cares! Even musicians don't fucking care. You know?"
Rock's words stung, but after they sunk in, White began thinking less about the process and more about the result. "It became, 'I've got to let this go,'" he said. "This album is the culmination of, like, 'I don't care.' I want it to sound like this. I don't care how it was made."