The Dead Weather‘s Alison Mosshart is in a defunct Nashville abattoir, buried waist-deep in dirt. This is what serendipity has wrought in 2016.
Sure, this might not sound particularly lucky at face value, but the fact she, Jack White, Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age), and Jack Lawrence (the Raconteurs) are all in the same room certainly is. The fact they are in a band together in the first place absolutely is. Back in 2009, when Mosshart’s main project The Kills were on tour with the Raconteurs, White lost his voice in Memphis. Mosshart dutifully filled in for “Steady as She Goes” and “Salute Your Solution.” Fast forward 7 years and three albums, and all four Dead Weather band members are shooting a music video for “Impossible Winner,” the final track from their 2015 record, Dodge and Burn.
Though, perhaps serendipity is a misnomer for Mosshart and the rest of the Dead Weather. Sure, it was fortuitous for the band that White lost his voice that night, but the individuals that comprise the endeavor were bound—by dint of their freakish work ethics—on a crash course for one another. When I speak with Mosshart on the phone as she overlooks the city of Los Angeles from some eastern hill of Los Feliz, she jokes (but not really) that she is “three years behind” on sleep. Take a look at the cover of the group’s latest record, and you’ll see bassist Jack Lawrence subtly sporting a sixth finger. And frankly, you already know Jack White’s history.
These are workaholics. Eternal moonlighters. Luck is sheerly a byproduct of the endless effort that these musicians put into constantly creating music, usually at a lightning clip.
Mosshart jokes (but not really) that she is “three years behind” on sleep.
“There’s really not much talking…the boys are playing and I am just scribbling lyrics as fast I can,” Mosshart explains of the group’s songwriting dynamic. “From the moment that we sit down until we have a finished song that’s recorded, I mean sometimes that can happen in an hour.”
To be clear, this is fucking insane. Perhaps crazier, even, than their brand new music video, which features the four band mates as freak show attractions locked in separate cells on a locomotive destined for certain doom. Directed by Sophie Muller and Ross McDowell, the visuals have a black-and-white, Tim Burton flare for the grotesque. White grows an extra arm as he taps furiously at a vintage typewriter; the two cell guards have gaping, feral mouths for faces; Lawrence’s sixth finger has a cameo behind cage bars. Semi-interred and writhing, Mosshart belts, “I’m no beginner; I’ll be here every night.”
“Impossible Winner” is the obvious outlier on an album filled with slash-and-burn blues-rock numbers. For one thing, it is a meditative ballad that offers Mosshart’s best vocal performance on the record. And unlike the spontaneous combustion that accounts for the remaining 11 tracks, Mosshart penned this one awhile back, when she was feeling bummed out in London.
“I wrote it when I was feeling like the last man standing,” Mosshart remembers. “I was frustrated by a million things and a million people, things not moving, not happening and feeling like the only like boxer left in the ring. It’s also a really hopeful song, but I’m kind of against explaining what anything is about exactly.”
“Working with Jack [White] is a fucking roller coaster. It’s fantastic.”
Though she is rightfully mum about the exact things the prompted the song, the music video—borne from the same emotional palette—paints the same themes of isolation with a broader brush and more deliberate strokes. Miller, who directed several videos for the Kills before the Dead Weather, explained how to use the constrained space to emphasize both alienation and solidarity.
“Even though they were separate, how do you create the idea of a relationship?” Muller asks rhetorically. Coincidentally or not, White prompts every interaction the band has. He writes, crumples, and passes a note through the bars to his fellow band mates and prisoners. Toward the conclusion of the video he reaches beyond his cell to comfort Mosshart.
Surely it must be a singular experience to work and perform with someone like Jack White, who drums for this particular band. Mosshart confirms this. “It’s a fucking roller coaster; it’s fantastic to collaborate with anyone that has a million ideas a minute. I have seen Jack perform a million times… so to stand there in front of him on stage is weird for me: ‘How are you sitting down?’ I would spend a lot of time singing at him, trying to get him up [from the drums].”
It has been a while, however, since the band has actually toured. Sure, there are the odd dates here and there—most recently on Colbert this past September—but they haven’t hit the road for an extended duration since 2009. And unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that is in the cards anytime soon. Mosshart is buried deep in the Kills masters, perfecting the next album. And according to the singer, the rest of the Dead Weather are “on different corners of the planet.”
For now, Dodge and Burn is all we get from the band. “But that’s got to be kind of a relief though, right?” I ask Mosshart. “Just being able to let a creative project be?”
“Are you kidding? It’s not a relief. No, I want to show up. I want to show up every time for everything.”