April 6th, 2012

This interview was written and conducted by James Montgomery (@positivnegativ) on April 6, 2012

Jack White’s brand-new “Sixteen Saltines” video combines all the warm-and-fuzzy sentiments of a Larry Clark production with the nihilistic, general grotesquery of, well, any Harmony Korine picture — only with more auto-erotic asphyxiation, creative drug use, property destruction and flat-out visceral violence tossed in for good measure. Needless to say, it’s pretty amazing.

It’s the brainchild of director AG Rojas, who’s made a name for himself in recent years with the similarly gripping, warts-and-all videos he’s directed for the likes of Spiritualized (“Hey Jane”) and Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt (“EARL,” aka the clip that probably got Earl sent off to boot camp). And though those vids strike at the same exposed nerve, none of them have garnered the same kinds of reactions “Saltines” has in the 24 hours since it first premiered, as he told MTV News on Friday (April 6).

“I try to pay attention to what people are saying, especially with something like this, because I’m not used to people having any sort of interest in the work I do … it’s usually niche artists,” he laughed. “So I try to see what people think; I mean, it also stems from my natural narcissism too.

“Basically, I was working off the energy of the track, and I just wanted to create all these little vignettes about youth,” he continued. “The kids are the only people left on earth and Jack is the last adult, and so because of that, he becomes their enemy. And I wanted to explore the rest of that world, and see what the kids get up to. They just kind of go wild.”

They certainly do. Shot outside White’s home of Nashville, in a town called Springfield — “They were super-down to let us just kind of run around and do what we wanted,” Rojas explained — the “Saltines” clip is three minutes of kids running amok. They hold White hostage (and seemingly burn him alive), chug Robitussin, spit, slice, and smash everything in their wake. It’s part bleak suburban nightmare, part post-apocalyptic horror show. And all of it is real.

“Everyone’s local … a lot of them, we just found them through street casting,” Rojas said. “There’s one scene with this kid who just had this certain weird charisma, and I asked the production designer to give me some weapons and we went through a warehouse, which was incredibly dangerous, so many holes and nails everywhere. I just told him what to do, and he was just, like, super-stoked to just smash sh–. We like to keep it pretty loose on set, just let everyone have fun.”

OK, not all of it is real. Because though the video has already drawn some rather amazing knee-jerk criticism — “Is It Kiddie Porn?” remains our favorite — Rojas wants it to be known that it’s mostly just the product of his fervent imagination and even its most gripping scenes (like the one where kids huff steamed booze through a gas mask) should be taken with a grain of salt.

“There was definitely stunt booze, for sure. A lot of the stuff is pretty ridiculous,” he laughed. “Like, you know how espresso machines have the steam wand to do the espresso? I’ve had this idea for a while, and I’ve always wanted to do it where you put some sort of alcoholic liquid in there. It’s such a totally ridiculous idea, like, it would never work, but I always thought it would be funny for kids to try and do weird drugs, just out of desperation.”