Jack White speaks about choosing constraints over efficiency in order to drive creativity and create a better result. Taken from the documentary The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights.
Ten years later, just working in the same box you think “God!” One part of my brain says I’m tired of trying to come up with things in this box but I force myself to do it because I know something good can come of it if I really work inside of it. Inspiration, work ethic, they ride right next to each other. When I was an upholsterer, sometimes you’re not inspired to reupholster an old chair, sometimes it’s just work and you just do it because you’re supposed to. Maybe by the end when you’re finished you look at it and say “That looks good, that’s pretty good” and that’s it and you move on and that’s it. Not every day of your life are you going to wake up and the clouds are going to part and the rays from heaven are going to come down and you’re going to write a song from it. Sometimes you just get in there and force yourself to work and maybe something good will come out of it.
One of the things was, whether we like it or not we’ll write some songs and record them. Force yourself into it. Force yourself – book only 4 or 5 days in the studio and force yourself to record an album in that time. Deadlines and things make you creative but opportunity and telling yourself “Oh, you’ve got all the time in the world, all the money in the world. You’ve got all the colors in the palette you want, anything you want” – that just kills creativity. On stage, I’m using the same guitars on stage that I used ten years ago. I like to do things to make it really hard on myself. For example, if I drop a pick, to get a another pick I have to go all the way to the back of the stage to get another one. I don’t have picks taped to my microphone stand. I put the organ just far away enough that I have to leap to get to it play different parts of the song. It’s not handy to jump from one thing to the next. I always try to push it just a little farther away so I have to work harder and get somewhere. That way, everything, all that stuff, all those little things – there’s hundreds of those things like that – Those guitars I use don’t stay in tune very well, they are not conducive, they are not what regular bands go out and play. I’m constantly fighting all these tiny little things, ’cause all those things build tension. There’s no setlist when we play, that’s the biggest one too, Each show has its own life to it. It’s important to do that kind of stuff.
When you go out and everything is all pre-planned and everyone sets everything out for you and the table is all set and nice and perfect nothing is gonna happen. You’re going to go out and do this boring arena set or something. So that’s why all those things have always been a big component of The White Stripes. Constriction to force ourselves to create. Only having red, white and black colors on any of the artwork or presentation of aesthetics of the band, guitar drums and vocals, storytelling melody and rhythm, revolving all these things around the number three, all these components force us to create.