20 years of The White Stripes’ Elephant

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20 years of The White Stripes’ Elephant

The White Stripes' Elephant
Words by Benjamin Lamb

We deep dive into the production behind one of the most iconic rock albums of the 2000s - The White Stripes’ Elephant.

It’s 2002, and the White Stripes have dropped three albums, 1999’s The White Stripes, 2000’s De Stijl, and 2001’s White Blood Cells. But none had been as iconic as 2003’s Elephant.

Elephant has a great deal of interesting production choices behind it, with a lot of the LP having been recorded and produced old school. The duo intended the record to be a ‘back to basics’, hoping that many other rockers in the industry would follow suit.

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The first makings of the record came to light back in April 2002, when production began at London’s Toe Rag Studios, which has also housed performers such as Madness, Supergrass and The Zutons, and many more. 

Famously, London’s Toe Rag Studios contains no equipment that was produced after the 1960’s, which was likely why it was chosen by the band, with Jack White still continuing to approach recording in a left-of-centre fashion to this day. This was referenced in the liner notes of the eventual release – “No Computers were used during the writing, recording, mixing, or mastering of this record.”

Elephant was recorded to an eight track, there was use of an Calrec M-Series mixer, and an old school STC 401 microphone. Each of these elements really allowed the band to lean into the classic rock feel that can be heard across much of their work. 

There’s an interesting story behind arguably the group’s biggest track, which also marked the beginning of Elephant, ‘Seven Nation Army’. The iconic riff that permeates many soccer and US football games has a unique Australian link. While touring here back in 2002, the pair were playing The Corner Hotel, when White came up with the riff, originally intending it to be used for a Bond theme. 


There’s no question – you’re humming the opening lick to that song right now. The riff also famously sounds as if it was performed on a bass guitar, but White manipulated a semi-acoustic guitar with a DigiTech Whammy, which helped to shift the pitch of the riff back an octave.

With Meg White and Jack White being the only two performers on the track, ‘Seven Nation Army’ has quite a full sound, thanks to White’s low-end heavy guitar, and Meg White’s drumming which  almost acts as the heartbeat of the record. 

In what could be considered an outlier on Elephant, ‘There’s No Home For You Here’ is a massive track, and one with a different sound to much of The White Stripes’ other works, with Jack White focusing on a piano-centric composition.

‘There’s No Home For You Here’ also manages to push the envelope in terms of the recording process, also having been recorded on an eight track, with Jack White mentioning in an interview at the time, that “Our idea was to see how far we could go with an eight track recorder, and I think how far we went is too far.”

Tracks like ‘Ball and Biscuit’ and ‘Black Math’ are also fan favourites when it comes to Elephant. Both of those tracks have distinct sounds on the guitar front. Perhaps surprisingly, these sounds were created with only two guitar pedals, the Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi and the Digitech Whammy WH-4.

Unlike many other guitarists in the world of the rock and blues genres, Jack only used two guitars across the tracks of Elephant, with one of them being a 1950’s Kay Hollowbody Guitar (the one pitched down and famously used on ‘Seven Nation Army) and a 1964 ‘JB Hutto’ Res-O-Glass Airline guitar, the latter being bright red, in keeping with the characteristic White Stripes aesthetic.

In terms of the drum gear used on the record, Meg White used a Ludwig Classic Maple kit, which has been used across many classic rock records throughout history. This was recorded using standard microphones, with most of the drumming being mixed onto one track. The bass drum was mic’d separately and mixed onto its own track, which explains why much of The White Stripes’ music has a significant driving element. Continuing this idea, Meg White’s bass drum was mixed to the front for the entirety of Elephant’s tracklisting.

Much of the album also contains double guitar lines, with White using the eight track recorder to include one rhythm line and one solo line, often recorded separately onto the recorder, which helps give the full band sound that we have come to love from the duo across their many popular albums.

Something that’s often overlooked in the world of music is the art of the album cover. Jack White takes every element of his artistic process very seriously, and the artwork of Elephant had a lot of thought behind it. There’s many hidden meanings in the imagery – namely, the formation of Meg and Jack on the record being the shape of an Elephant.

It was intended that after many viewings of the image, listeners would finally realise that Meg and Jack are the ears of the Elephant, with the object they are sitting on making up the face of the animal. Another interesting choice is the certain images that surround the pair, there’s skulls, peanuts, and circus imagery, Meg is crying and Jack is doing devil horns. 

The White Stripes disbanded in 2011, but Jack White continues to use interesting and unique ways of recording, following similar methods of writing and producing on his 5 solo records and counting. 


After the White Stripes’ Elephant was released, the album received a significant deal of critical acclaim globally, collecting many 5 star reviews, and hitting the top 10 spots in charts in Australia, Ireland, Norway, the UK and The USA.

The album was also nominated for, and won, a Grammy Award and Meteor Music Award, and continues to be listed as one of the greatest rock albums of all time, with many ears tuned intp its galvanising riffs and beats to this very day.

Check out more info on The White Stripes here.