Published Jun 26, 2019It isn't easy being in a band with one of the most successful rock stars in the world, and Brendan Benson will confirm it: Help Us Stranger is the first new album from the Raconteurs in 11 years, and according to the singer-guitarist, the delay mostly comes down to co-frontman Jack White's hectic schedule.
"He's got Third Man," says Benson in an Exclaim! interview, referring to White's music empire, which includes a label, studio, vinyl pressing plant, store and more. "That took up all his time, and still continues to. He's the busiest of us all, so it's mostly down to him."
Since the last time the Raconteurs were active, White has formally launched his label, made two albums with the Dead Weather, released three solo LPs and produced countless other projects. The Raconteurs were on the back burner, but that finally changed when White was working on his 2018 solo effort, Boarding House Reach.
"I went over to his house and he played me a song called 'Shine the Light on Me,'" Benson remembers. "He said it wasn't fitting on his solo record and he thought it sounded like a Raconteurs song. I thought, 'Oh, that's interesting. I haven't thought about the Raconteurs in a long time.'"
Drummer Patrick Keeler now lives in Los Angeles, so he flew out to Nashville to reconnect with White and Benson, plus bassist Jack Lawrence (aka Little Jack, or LJ). Once they finally got into the same room together, Benson admits that there was a touch of awkwardness among the old friends.
"I don't think of any of us were sure what to expect," he acknowledges. "Obviously the most important thing was the music. Could we play, still? Was it going to be good? We took it in baby steps, but it became very clear very quickly that it was just like no time had passed. It was exciting, too — 'Yeah, right on! We rule! We're awesome!'"
The group began churning out new material, and it wasn't long before they had written the 12 songs that make up Help Us Stranger, their third LP. Blending the harmony-kissed garage pop of their 2006 debut Broken Boy Soldiers with the expansive country rock of 2008's Consolers of the Lonely, the record captures the group at their most urgent and energetic. "Sunday Driver" is a clear standout, its atmospheric intro exploding into a crunchy garage riff before sweetly drifting into a psychedelic, Beatles-esque bridge.
As usual, the two frontmen split vocal duties roughly evenly on Help Us Stranger: White brings his manic, untamed rock energy, while Benson is more studious with his carefully composed pop tunes. Benson sings '60s-inspired acoustic numbers like "Only Child" and "Somedays (I Don't Feel Like Trying)," while White unleashes his most ferocious yowls on the blistering "Don't Bother Me" and adopts a rap-inspired flow on "What's Yours Is Mine."
The sessions went so well that Benson feels like this new phase of the Raconteurs' career might just be getting started.
"The last song we cut on the record was 'Help Me Stranger,' and I think that's when we hit our stride," he says with a chuckle. "And then it was too late. We had a record already."
Benson estimates that the band have "20 more or 30 more" song ideas that came out of the same sessions. This means that fans probably won't have to wait another 11 years for the next Raconteurs album — unless White gets too busy, that is.
"You never know in this band," Benson says wryly. "But we have enough for another record. We've even talked about it. But still — no promises."
Help Us Stranger is out now on Third Man Records.