Few artists have been able to satisfy listeners and keep them on their toes for so many years the way Jack White has. Many achieve their time of ubiquity when a hit single breaks or garner some popularity when a particular sound become popular. But who can say they’ve released a string of more than ten critically-acclaimed records, in just about as many years, with four different, awesome bands and keep everyone wanting more? Mr. White may be in a company of his own on that one.

It’s difficult to summarize Jack White’s career and influence in anything short of a novella, but here is an attempt. Jack and his ex-wife Meg formed the Stripes in 1997 in Detroit, releasing some singles within the underground, but soon erupted with their breakthrough, White Blood Cells and its lead single, “Fell in Love with a Girl.” Ten years and three more critically-acclaimed records later, the White Stripes broke up unexpectedly, but on good terms. But that didn’t stop Jack White from continuing to push the boundaries of modern music.

During and since the White Stripes glorious run, White made two solid garage-rock records with the Raconteurs, two impressive, darker LPs with the Dead Weather, started a successful and diverse label in Third Man Records, and just released a killer solo record titled Blunderbuss. So what hasn’t Jack White done? Headline a major festival. But that changed with his unrivaled Sunday headlining set at this year’s Lollapalooza.

As part of our Live from Lollapalooza coverage, WXRT Chicago’s Marty Lennartz spoke with White backstage before his set. The two discussed White’s surprise Reckless Records performance, becoming a band leader, and how he finally decided to make a solo record.

For people staying up to date on their twitter feeds on Sunday, they would have seen a couple of tweets around 3:00AM from Third Man Records directing people to the Reckless Records on Milwaukee Avenue. A few minutes later, they would get confirmation that Jack White would be doing a surprise in-store performance. White says that he wanted to shake things up and give him and his bandmates a challenge, as well as combine the newness of social media with the intimacy of a small show.

“I like to combine the internet with tangible things, and soulful things, and romantic things,” White says. “We had a balloon release of a record a few weeks back and if you found the balloon, you could go on the internet and leave on a map where you found it. When you can marry those things together, I really like that.”

White’s new record Blunderbuss has been a critical success and has had a hefty amount of airplay. And for good reason. It’s an electrifying collection of songs that brings together so many of White’s influences and sounds and creates something that can’t be pigeonholed. He says that one particular difference in this new stage of his career is transitioning from being in a band to being now the leader of a band.

“I’ve always been leery of that, the ego-trip of telling people what to do. But I think I’ve been a good boy long enough and I want to get these sounds that I want to get,” White says. “But I put so much trust in them to come up with things and propel themselves. I don’t micro-manage them.”

With so many projects, records, and bands under his belt, it’s surprising that Blunderbuss is only White’s first solo effort. With a fifteen year career in music, it’s rare to find the frontman who hasn’t gone solo at least a few times. But as with most things he does, White admits, it naturally happened by accident.

“I got five or six songs in and said, ‘I guess this isn’t for any of the bands I’m in. I guess it’s me!,’” White says. “RZA was supposed to come in and he had an emergency or something, so we had all these musicians who didn’t have anything to do so I felt bad for them. So I said ‘Let’s record something,’ and it came out really strong.”

If these accidents are how all of White’s material comes to fruition, all we can hope for is more accidents from one of music’s greatest iconoclasts. But who knows where he’ll take his talents next. If there’s one thing Jack White isn’t, it’s predictable.

– Zack Nechvatal + Eric Staszczak, WXRT Chicago