Although they’re a well-known rock band, the members of the Raconteurs all live in Nashville. So when they decided to take a shot at turning one of their newer songs, “Old Enough,” into a bluegrass number, they just made a few calls. Shortly thereafter, Ricky Skaggs and singer Ashley Monroe joined the band during a video shoot inside a former church that has since been converted into a recording studio.
In a recent interview with CMT.com, Jack White (best known for his work in the White Stripes) and Brendan Benson explain how the Raconteurs found inspiration in the roots of country music, while Monroe shares her hopes about what happens next.
CMT: How did you guys first hear about Ashley Monroe?
White: I had heard her on the Grand Ole Opry one Saturday, just driving around town. I thought, “Wow, this is really good.” I don’t remember who introduced you, but someone was talking you up. I expected you not to be as great as the introduction said, but when the song started — “Whoa, this girl can sing! This is really good!” And I thought, “I’ve got to remember this girl’s name.” I parked the car and waited to hear another song. Weeks went by, and luckily we met at the airport. She said her name, and I said, “You’re not the singer, are you?” She thought I was making fun of her. She thought I was making a joke. (laughs)
Monroe: I thought he was making a joke on my name, since it almost sounds like a made-up name.
White: Right. So it was meant to be then. … We met [and thought] somewhere down the line, there’s probably going to be something where it makes sense for us to work together. Then, when we started talking about making a bluegrass version of “Old Enough,” I thought, “Oh, man, I’ll have to see if that Ashley girl’s around.” And she was.
Ashley, what was going through your head the first time you heard the song?
Monroe: I already had the record, so I was already familiar with the song. And then I listened real, real, real good — “What can I do? What kind of harmonies can I put on this?” I absolutely love the song. I think both versions are great, but I think the bluegrass version is … so much better because I’m on it. (all laugh) No, I just think it’s really organic, and I think it’s magic and I love it.
What is it about Ricky Skaggs’ music that made you think, “Yeah, that’s the guy we need.”
White: I’d seen a clip, not long before that, of him playing as a child with Lester Flatt, playing that song, “Ruby.” I thought, “Wow, that is incredible.” It killed me that, at that young of an age, he was playing that well. And also I had already been a fan, but he was just in my mind because of that clip. So I thought, “I want to see what’s happening with Ricky. Now, is he around? Does he want to do something like this?” I’m so glad he said yes, and the same thing with Ashley. It’s so great that everyone wants to do it. And when people want to do it, it immediately inspires us. It immediately inspires me: “Wow, something new is going to happen here.”
What do you remember the most about making the video?
Benson: There were so many moments for me that were memorable, and what’s cool about the video is that you’re seeing all those moments. Whether it’s me looking over at Ashley, singing with Ashley and realizing we’re locked in, or doing “Wake Up Little Susie,” and you’re seeing it all go down.
Monroe: I would always tell Jack to look up at me when it was time for me to sing, because I never knew how long the intro was. I got so excited because he had on his hat, and I would just see his eyes. (laughs) That was memorable for me — Jack’s eyes.
White: It felt so great because nothing was pre-planned. Actually, the version of the song changed three or four times. That was the final one, like … “Oh, that’s it.”
Of course, you don’t often get to stand in a circle when you perform. Why was that appealing to you to stage it that way in the video?
Benson: This was a good set-up because it actually lent itself well to us improvising and coming up with new ideas, because we’re all facing each other. I think it’s sort of a challenge. We challenge each other to come up with something.
White: We’re face to face with each other. There’s so much talent in that room. Something’s going to happen.
Monroe: I have so much respect. Everybody respected everybody else. It feels like family. I went home, and even though I had just met these guys, I felt like I had known them forever.
White: It did feel good like that. Also, it’s so great to have something being really performed. It’s not lip-synched or put together to market something. It’s the real thing. It’s real music — people really playing, performing on the spot. I mean, how often do we hear it? How often do we see it?
Benson: It’s kind of funny that it’s such a huge issue, almost. A rarity and a big topic of conversation. Most of the music should be that way.
Now that you have this song completed, what’s next for you?
Benson: Hopefully, it will continue. Ashley and I have been writing more together, and hopefully, the bug will spread, and the ideas.
Monroe: Playing live, good music, and then maybe we all can make another video, too. That’s what I think!View the video for “Old Enough.”