Outside Lands Picks Part 2: Dead Weather

Supergroups, by nature, are volatile beasts. All that individual talent and reputation comes together in the calculated hope that the sum will exceed its celebrated parts.

But what if it's an accidental supergroup? And what if some members are content to be role players rather than superstars to keep things afloat? Such is the case with the Dead Weather, the quartet consisting of White Stripes and Raconteurs mastermind Jack White on drums, the Kills' Alison Mosshart singing and playing guitar, Queens of the Stone Age multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita on guitar and organ, and Jack "LJ" Lawrence of the Raconteurs and the Greenhornes on bass. The group's existence, unveiled in March during the grand opening of White's Third Man Records headquarters in Nashville, caught music fans and the media by surprise. Not long before that, even its members were shocked to find themselves in a new band.

"We were just gonna spend a couple of hours recording a 7-inch, and then the next thing you know ... " Fertita laughs over the phone from his native Detroit, where he's relaxing for a few days before the Dead Weather resumes its first U.S. tour.

The Raconteurs (with Fertita as a touring member) and the Kills had teamed up for a U.S. jaunt last fall. Late in the tour, White began to lose his voice, so Mosshart joined the Raconteurs onstage to help out on vocals during the final few dates. At the conclusion of their shows together, the foursome — having bonded over tunes and booze — dropped by White's Nashville studio on a lark to bash out a cover of the 1979 Gary Numan–penned Tubeway Army song "Are 'Friends' Electric?" As it turned out, the vibe in the room was so electric that they spent the next two weeks writing and recording (with White producing) a dozen more tracks that turned out to be the band's debut album, Horehound.

"After we worked on it, we were like, 'All right, what do we do with this?'" Fertita says. "And we were all behind it and really wanted to tour it."

It takes only one spin through Horehound to understand why the newly minted group put everything else on hold for a while. Snarling and sinister, the album finds its creators taking the best of their musical tendencies — White's sweaty garage-rock fervor; Mosshart's feral abandon; Fertita's gritty, fuzzed-out riffs; LJ's devotion to the nasty, rock-solid groove — and ramming them together into swaggering, stomping psycho-blues and stoner-rock jams.

Onstage, the raven-haired Mosshart is the focus as she prowls and howls, though White, mostly tied to his drum kit, remains a commanding presence because of his dynamic playing and, obviously, his stature. Though Fertita is also an indispensable member of the group, he has no illusions about the real stars of the show. "Alison has been incredible," he says. "I'm watching her, wondering what she's gonna do every night. Unpredictability is a real strong suit for both Alison and Jack, so LJ and I want to keep a foundation [to allow] those two to go in any direction they want to."

That mutual respect — and the inherent spontaneity of making music — might keep the Dead Weather together past the usual supergroup expiration date. The foursome's other projects apparently aren't beckoning as much as the prospect of another Dead Weather album, which, Fertita says, they've already started writing and plan to record later this year. "Queens is on a bit of hiatus. The Kills are between records. And you know, Jack's gonna go wherever he feels inspired to go," he says. "But he's kinda superhuman in his work ethic, and he seems to find room and time for everything. He's really into this right now, so hopefully we can keep it going."

 
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