Drummer Patrick Carney and singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach, the two cats behind the sinfully soulful sounds of the two-man band The Black Keys, have been playing and producing music for what seems like decades. The Black Keys’ direct, subterranean approach to the writing and recording process (their second album, Thickfreakness, was recorded in one 14-hour session) proves, especially when heard live, that the bigger the heart, the bigger the sound. No doubt Carney and Auerbach could double as the Red Cross of the music industry. Each song they play is a stitch that helps pull the past and future together so that the music we experience today is truly memorable.
Straight from an exploding rubber bubble in Akron, Ohio, they’ve been rising to the top of the industry leaving a trail of honest, bone-serious blues-rock records that lead directly to their souls. The Black Keys are the future. See them now.
Read on for an exclusive interview with carney after he returned home from a long tour stop in Australia earlier this summer.
While recording in a vacant floor of a rubber factory, how much of your soul bounces off the music?
It’s really an awful place to be.
Are you both hermits like your sound sometimes suggests?
Maybe, although Dan more so than me. When we get off of being on tour we are, and when we’re recording a record we are.
Blog entries on you and Dan are insanely cult-like. Do you feel at home more in the studio or live in concert?
Really both. I think recording is more relaxing but concerts are more rewarding.
There’s a video game on your site. How many pinners and Buds prompted that idea?
I think it’s just that we like video games. At least, I do.
Are you still gaming every day?
I am playing one right now… it’s just on pause.
“I Cry Alone” may very well be your most representative song—all things considered. It’s as honest and pure as a winterbourne, yet dirtier than floodwater. Translate that song as it relates to your definition.
Well, Dan wrote the lyrics. The song is about one of his relationships I guess. It was the summer of 2002 when we were writing those songs and we were both broke as fuck! We both quit our jobs and we recorded that song after our first tour in the basement on the four-track.
Place these words in order of importance: bass, treble, dirt and reverb?
Hmmm… I think dirt, treble, bass and reverb, but you know it depends on the music.
Akron is synonymous with rubber. What is your most memorable rubber story?
My grandfather used to work at Goodyear and he always had weird strands of solid polymer lying around the house that we used to play with. It was probably extremely toxic.
Rod Stewart expressed interest in working with you on a back-to-basics blues album. How do you feel about potentially joining the ranks of Jeff Beck and Ronnie Wood?
I don’t know if we would be joining the ranks of anyone, but it would be a good way for us to never have to work again.
Albums like Magic Potion, Rubber Factory (2004) and Thickfreakness (2003) drag listeners’ ears through a muddy, subterranean world of heavy, well-defined emotions. With Danger Mouse, your collaborative Attack and Release album has you stepping comfortably out of that “rubber bubble,” giving way to a progression into a world of complex emotions. Reflect on your experience with Danger Mouse and his young engineer of choice, Kennie Takahashi.
Kennie didn’t engineer he just mixed it. He was a cool dude though. I think we both wanted to do something different, and instead of using my basement to make a record and keeping everything extremely introverted, we decided it would be a good time to get out of the studio and go to an actual place. That way, we can’t be interrupted by bullshit—like, you know, Dan flaking or a female unexpectedly interrupting. That’s how we have always made the records, and this time we decided to go and spend two weeks in one spot and spend every waking minute in the studio. I think it’s the best way for us to work honestly. It was one of the best creative experiences that Dan and I have ever had. It was really relaxing. We learned a lot from Brian, Kennie and Paul, and and I think that Brian was learning a lot from us, too.
With Dan managing to fill so many shoes, how much of the total sound do you commonly hear in your minds at a song’s conception?
We both know what it shouldn’t have. I know that. It just depends.We disagree on some things, sometimes. Occasionally, I’ll like something that he doesn’t like, but more often than not we have the same idea on what should happen.
Do you ever miss having other musicians on stage?
No, every time we play with a third person it’s awkward. I was in another band that had no more than one other person and I liked that.
How do you go about writing for a pioneer like Ike Turner?
When we were putting the music together we didn’t want something that sounded too modern, but at the same time, we didn’t want it to sound too retro. Also, since he was 75, we were trying to do stuff that was heavy but at the same time was slower tempo.
When he passed away, did you believe the music you were writing for him could be taken back and used as fodder for an album of your own?
The songs were mostly the songs we had. But yeah, that is part of the reason why we put the breaks on the project because we were making what we thought was our best record and we just didn’t want to give it away.
What is your philosophy going into a studio?
It changes because sometimes Dan and I are in completely different spots as far as sounds. He is really into being minimal and lately I like technique. It’s how we started off and I have been into combinations of old and new. When we actually spend a day or two, we can figure out a common ground.
You are walking down death row…what did you just eat and drink? Last words?
A Swenson cheeseburger (it’s an Akron drive-in place), and a root beer. I would probably be screaming.
Your vices are?
I smoke and stay up too late.
I’m a good dude and I am a cheapskate. I think that is a virtue.
What was the last thing you spent 500 dollars on?
Define the following:
- Dirty Rock?
It’s hard to define because there are a lot of bands that do it well and others that really don’t. It’s extremely loose and flawed and soulful music. But it is extremely honest, too.
I don’t know. I pity no one.
- Berney Kozar?
- Lebron James?
Bikes, he has a bike thing here.
- Music fails the listeners when it____?
- Music is most enjoyable when___?
- Ohio needs____ more than it is prepared to admit?
- What were your last two jobs before Rock and Roll started paying your rent?
I cooked hamburgers and was mowing lawns.
- They just legalized Absinthe in America. Do you plan to try?
I already have and I have no interest in that shit.
- Les Paul or Leo Fender?
Scariest memory growing up?
My parents threw me into an elevator with a clown to scare me when I was 3. I can just remember screaming my head off for one whole floor.
Do you get along with your parents now?
Yeah, but it did scar me.
Cream or The Jimi Hendrix Experience?
Jimi Hendrix and Ginger Baker.
Is the L.A. acronym more appropriate for: Los Angeles or Lower Akron?
I prefer Los Alamos.
Top five records of all time?
Howlin’ Wolf Electric Wolf, Captain Beefheart Safe as Milk, The Clash London Calling, Sonic Youth Sister, Pavement Slanted and Enchanted.
Last 2 albums added from bands of 2005-2008?
Hmm... Times New Viking and White Williams.
Zips or Bucks?
Remember your stats:
Age you lost your virginity?
I don’t know.
1983 Cadillac Sedan Deville—that was a peach.
Best concert you saw in Ohio?
Pavement, May 19, 1995 at the Agora Ballroom.
If you could go three rounds with anyone in your industry, whom would you pick?
I can’t really fight so I don’t want to pick anyone. There are tons of people that are annoying in the music industry, including myself.
If my uncle worked for Tom Waits, I’d divorce my family and become a roadie for my uncle by the age of eight. Did Waits’ reclusive style have any impact on the band?
Dan and I are both fans of his music, but I am mainly a fan of the people he used to have play with him like Mark Rebo, Greg Cohen and my uncle. I thought the records he made with that line-up were the best.
Name one song that should never be heard on a jukebox?
“Nights In White Satin.”
Who would you least like to be stranded on a desert island with and why?
That’s a hard question to answer…Tom Greene.
Do you collect anything?
Records and instruments.
You’re swept up by an F4 tornado and dropped in a little village with munchkins and a yellow brick road. What do you ask the wizard for?
What is the most annoying thing about your business?
What’s your drink of choice?
How do you relax?
The one book all Americans must read before they die is?
If you could have a drink with anyone in history, whom would you choose and what would you drink?
I would drink shampoo with Abraham Lincoln.