Detroit minimalist rock duo (specifically, southwest Detroit minimalist rock duo) the White Stripes — Jack White, guitar and vocals, Meg White, drums — formed in 1997 (Bastille Day, to be precise) with the idea of making simple rock & roll music.
From the red-and-white peppermint candy motif of their debut singles, self-titled album, and stage show to their on-the-surface rudimentary style, they succeeded wildly and immediately with that mission. Their first recordings were a mix of garage rock, blues, and the occasional show tune. In frontman Jack (a former drummer for Detroit country outfit Goober & the Peas), the White Stripes have a formidable songwriter, guitar player, and vocalist capable of both morphing between styles and changing the musical styles themselves; ranging from the folk blues of Blind Willie McTell to soaring Kinks-esque pop and narrative pop tunes worthy of Cole Porter and into deepest Captain Beefheart territory within the span of 15 minutes is not an uncommon listening experience with either the White Stripes live show or on record. In drummer Meg, the White Stripes have a minimalist percussionist who seems to sense intuitively exactly when to not play. The White Stripes are grounded in punk and blues, but the undercurrent to all of their work has been the aforementioned striving for simplicity, a love of American folk music, and a careful approach to intriguing, emotional, and evocative lyrics not found anywhere else in the modern punk, or garage rock (or among postmodern “blues” practitioners such as Jon Spencer, for that matter).
While they may have sprung from the Detroit rock scene, the White Stripes quickly gained a national following after two successive tours with indie rockers Pavement and Sleater-Kinney in 1999 and 2000. The White Stripes released their second LP, De Stijl, in 2000 and it further spread the group’s reputation. They followed its release with successful tours of Japan and Australia and entered the Memphis studio of renowned producer Doug Easley for 2001′s White Blood Cells. The album was a critical smash and the White Stripes soon found themselves, along with the Strokes and the Hives, at the forefront of the new wave of rock & roll bands poised to take over the world. The band certainly did their best to achieve world domination, appearing on Late Night with David Lettterman, being written about in Time, The New Yorker, and Entertainment Weekly, playing the MTV Movie Awards, and having their video for “Fell in Love with a Girl” in heavy rotation on MTV. They also made the tough decision to jump to a major label; White Blood Cells was reissued on V2 in January of 2002 and their first two records followed suit in June. The White Stripes truly became big time rock stars when their “Fell in Love with a Girl” clip was nominated for four MTV Video Awards, including Best Video of the Year (alongside Eminem and *NSYNC!), Breakthrough Video, Best Special Effects in a Video, and Best Editing in a Video. That summer the group also played four triumphant shows with the Strokes, two apiece in the bands’ respective hometowns. In spring 2003 their fourth full-length, Elephant — recorded in two weeks at London’s Toerag Studio and dedicated to “the death of the sweetheart” — arrived to nearly unanimous critical acclaim.
In 2005 the Stripes returned with Get Behind Me Satan, a dizzyingly diverse album that spanned disco-metal and light, marimba-driven pop and was written and recorded in two weeks that spring. While touring that year, the band covered Tegan and Sara’s “Walking with a Ghost,” which they released as a single at the end of 2005. That year, Jack White and his wife, model/singer Karen Elson, moved to Nashville, TN. White also formed the Raconteurs with Brendan Benson and the Greenhornes’ Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler, and spent much of 2006 touring in support of the group’s debut album, Broken Boy Soldiers. Early in 2007, the White Stripes announced they were working on a new album; Icky Thump, which included the first-ever Stripes songs with bagpipes and mariachi horns, was recorded in three weeks at Nashville’s Blackbird Studio and was released that summer. – Chris Handyside