All Access: The White Stripes - Mixonline

All Access: The White Stripes

Early in the set, there's a moment when everything stops for the White Stripes. It lasts only a few seconds so short that the audience (still reeling
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All photos by Steve Jennings

Early in the set, there's a moment when everything stops for the White Stripes. It lasts only a few seconds — so short that the audience (still reeling from the head-rattling opener “Blue Orchid”) hardly notices the delay — but it's a key time for the show. Whereas most bands use this pause between songs for a breath, the two famous garage-rockers from Detroit are doing something different. Similar to jazz musicians or performance artists, Jack and Meg White are crafting the evening's set as they go. Mix caught up with the show at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, Calif., in mid-August.

Jack White’s electric guitar is miked with a TLM 103, while his acoustic and mandolin are taken DI.

MONITOR ENGINEER NEIL HEAL

Monitor engineer Neil Heal doesn't have as many challenges as his engineering counterpart on this tour, relying mostly on providing a loud and powerful mix to the band through wedges and sidefills. Even the presence of so many instruments onstage doesn't faze him. Everything — from a set of bongo drums to marimbas to two timpani — are carefully measured onto the stage by Heal and his crew before the show, allowing Jack and Meg White the freedom to choose what they want to play from song to song. Needless to say, because of these requirements, the White Stripes call for anything but a clean stage.

Meg White’s drum kit is miked with all Sennheiser models: e902 (kick), e905 (snare), KM184 (hi-hat and overheads) and e904 (toms). She sings through a Sennheiser e935.

Asked why Heal monitors using a Midas 3000 console, the answer comes simply. “Because it's a Midas. It's the best.”

FRONT-OF-HOUSE ENGINEER MATTHEW KETTLE

One person who must contend with the ever-evolving set list is front-of-house engineer Matthew Kettle, who's been mixing for the duo since the 2001 White Blood Cells tour and recorded their recent studio effort, Get Behind Me Satan. “It's one of the aspects of the job I really enjoy,” Kettle says of mixing sans set list. “It makes my job much more of a challenge, but it's exciting because I don't know what's going to happen next. Every day is a new challenge. It's fun.”

Monitor engineer Neil Heal

On his mixing toes each night, Kettle has opted to ride the faders with an analog board. “Part of the band's aesthetic is analog,” says Kettle, who mixes on a Midas 3000, using 37 stage inputs and four audience mics. “That's the kind of technology they really feel [comfortable with]. But it's really a practical thing because the show is entirely improvised. It really helps when I can have everything available at one time; easy to reach. Also, it sounds great — you can't complain about the sound of a Midas console.”

Kettle's gear also includes a Meyer MILO P.A. — which is new to the Stripes' tour — and Nexo S2 subs. “The company we're hiring from [Thunder Audio] has traditionally been a Nexo company, but they're moving toward MILO,” says Kettle. “We happened to be on a South American tour and the MILO system kept on popping up in really unexpected places like Guadalajara, Mexico. I got a lot of hands-on time with it and I liked it a lot.

FOH engineer Matthew Kettle

“We've got a good stage set going,” Kettle continues, “but I really had to change my approach to mixing because before, I could pretty much leave most things open. When you start muting things too much, you hear the natural ambience of the stage come and go, and that would be really noticeable and unpleasant. So I try to incorporate some of the natural ambience of the live sound of the band. But this year, it's much more complicated: We've got seven vocal mics onstage because Jack's playing all these instruments and can go to any of them at any time. I have to keep my eyes peeled.

Both pianos are taken DI; amps are BBS. When Jack White performs at the piano, he sings through a Sennheiser e935.

“I treat the stage almost like a monitor engineer would. Based on where I see Jack move, I can open up or close those channels. The ambience thing hasn't been too much of a problem. It's a loud sound onstage and I definitely have to mix around it. That's their sound: It shouldn't be over-engineered, it should be raw.”

Wanna read about the White Stripes' Elephant tour? Click here.