After quietly getting on with their business for the best part of a decade, Ohio duo Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are now calling the shots as The Black Keys have been wooed by major labels, released hit albums and are playing massive sold out shows on both sides of the Atlantic. Working again with producer Danger Mouse – real name Brian Burton – the pair are set to release their seventh album since 2002, El Camino on 5 December. We caught up with the duo to find out how they did it their way…
How the devil are you?
Patrick Carney: “Good, we’re a bit tired to be honest. We’ve just been in a car for an hour getting here and I think we travelled two miles in London! God, I don’t know how people deal with it.”
… Or should we say Hello Black Eyed Peas? At least that’s what MTV like to call you…
P: “Yeah last year they sent us the wrong award. We sent it back because they wouldn’t let us keep it. I guess it’s easy to confuse the two.”
From the outside it looks like you’ve gently bubbled away to the point now where you’re selling out big gigs and signing to majors, how has the ride been?
P: “We’ve just been doing what we do and it’s been kind of crazy the past year and a half. Every record we’ve made has been a natural progression from the last one. We’ve been doing it for a decade, making a new record and touring, making a new record and touring. Now, it seems like something happened I guess. More people started paying attention recently which is kind of bizarre. It’s good, but we’ve always been an underdog band from Ohio we never had a lot of the options of bands from New York, LA or Chicago.”
Dan Auerbach: “Yeah, we’ve never been part of any scene.”
P: “We just assumed that we’d always have to work twice as hard, so we’ve always worked twice as hard.”
A lot of people see your slow rise to success as an unusual thing, but isn’t it how bands used to make their way in the world? You’re old school…
P: “I think yeah, that was the way it used to be. Not always, some bands only existed for three or four years, like Cream.”
D: “I bet it’s going to start getting more like this. Less records sell, record labels are going to downsize, they don’t want to spend a million dollars for a band to make a record in the Bahamas, you know what I mean? I think they’re going to start expecting bands to put out a record every year and get on the road and tour, but that’s just what we’ve done because we like to make records and we like play shows.”
P: “One of the smartest things we did was we were talking to major labels and stuff right after our first album in 2002 and I think if we’d gone that route…”
D: “It would have been disastrous!”
P: “I think we’d have put out a record, it wouldn’t have done what we wanted it to do, we’d have been dropped, but I think in the time before we ended up on a major label we became more established and the whole game has changed. The labels aren’t expecting a whole load of stuff from bands, they’re not throwing money around. I think the only way to do it is to have some smash hit and keep making hits or develop and actual fanbase which is what we did. Having songs on the radio is very new to us, but prior to having a song on the radio we were able to play to 13,000 people in New York, that’s without a single.”
So the plan paid off?
P: “Our whole thing was there is no plan, we just never wanted to sit around and wait for someone else to move before we could.”
D: “We lucked out, it’s not like we’re some sort of super geniuses with the music industry.”
P: “We’re basically retared, idiot savants!”
It’s yet another quick turnaround with your new album El Camino – it’s out 5 December – when did you find time to record it after touring last album Brothers?
P: “We started it in the first week of March, and worked on it and finished it in the last week of May, but we took three and half weeks off during that time, because we had shows and we took an actual week off. That’s the longest we’ve ever spent making an album, normally we’re much quicker. We spent longer on each song, exploring all the possibilities, which was cool and interesting to do. Brian [Danger Mouse] was involved in helping us write the album as well, which I think slowed things down but made things interesting. It was cool, it was different. That’s the pattern, to try to something different with each album. We recorded it in Nashville at Dan’s studio which he’s just built.”
What was the inspiration behind this album? As it was a collaboration was there anything you wanted to get across?
D: “Not really, we just started fresh every day. We didn’t talk about it ahead of time or do demos or anything like that. We just started from absolute scratch each morning. Nothing was pre written.
P: “The only thing that was discussed was halfway through the album we realised all the songs were in the same sort of… they were all kind of up so we decided to try to keep the whole record that way so it was more rock’n’roll. It has a completely different energy to Brothers I think. We’ll see what people say…”
How come you worked with Danger Mouse on the whole album again this time?
P: “He really is the only other person we’ve worked with [he produced Attack & Released and a track on Brothers]. We’ve worked with a couple of engineers but he’s the only producer. With Brothers we did that pretty much on our own, except that Brian did one song [Tighten Up] on it which turned out to be the first song we ever did that got played on the radio. Sometime touring last year we decided we’d like to try to work Brian again and see how it went. We talked to him about it and decided to do it. There weren’t any other producers we’d be interested in working with.”
Did you get offers from other producers?
P: “I don’t know. We didn’t see them. We’ve only asked one other person to help us and they said no. Did he say no?
D: “Who, Geoff Barrow? I think he was just busy in the time we had to record.”
Any personal highlights from the new album?
P: “Every song on the album…
D: “Is a personal highlight. [laughs] There’s no filler.”
With some over-dubs on the album how are you going to play it live?
P: “We’re going to three days of rehearsals with the guys who plays bass and keyboards because Brothers and El Camino both require additional help. Although Dan showed me a clip of that Japanese hologram star, we’re thinking of doing the tour like that. That’s the best way to tour. You get five shows a night, a show in each city!”
The album’s out just before Christmas, is that what all your friends are getting this year?
P: “Yep, it’s designed as a stocking stuffer.”
D: “You need to get Michael Bauble’s Christmas record and then ours.”
P: “Ours also works for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, and also all other religious holidays. It’s a good record to fast to!”
What’s up with the dancing used car salesmen who are cropping up online to promote your record?
D: “We hate footage of us lip-synching, that’s the worst. I’m so uncomfortable when we do that. It’s so weird on your 15th take lip-synching to your song with a bunch of people behind the camera.”
P: “I actually prefer to listen to our songs 15 times in a row, that’s the good part!”
Based on your usual speed, what are your plans for the next album?
P: “I’m not sure when we’re going in the studio next, but sure. We could make a new record soon.”
D: “If we didn’t have to tour, we’d just keep making records. One every two weeks maybe.”
P: “That’s what we should do, take three months off and do six records.”
Any thoughts on doing another collaborative album like your hip hop record Blakroc?
P: “We’re going to work with the Harlem Boys Choir…”
D: “… and the Harlem Globe Trotters…”
P: “… and the Moron Tabernacle [laughs]. Er, I don’t know….
D: “The answer is no! [laughs]”
As the interview starts to wind up, the pair somehow get on to the subject of Creedence Clearwater Revival leader John Fogery who after a contract dispute, ended up being sued by his former label after it was claimed his solo song The Old Man Down the Road plagiarised CCR‘s Run Through the Jungle, a track he had written…
D: “You remember when John Fogery got sued for sounding too much like himself? Fantasy Record own all his records so they sued him because his new song sounded too much like Creedance. [laughs] Love that.”
P: “You know what, John Fogerty is awesome, but he’s a bit of a bitch for not killing the person who made him sign that.”
D: “Do you think he should have gone Rambo?”
P: “Yeah, that’s kind of a bitch move.”
D: “He was 18 years-old [when he signed the original contract], you really think he should have killed him?”
D: “You’re calling Fogerty a bitch because he didn’t kill someone?”
D: “Dude, when was the last time you killed someone?”
P: “No one has ever fucked me like that, but if they did I would fucking kill them!”
D: “You would not. You would play video games and bitch about it.”
P: “If someone took $15 million from me? Fuck no! I would fucking murder them and go to Mexico, no doubt about it.”
D: “They screwed him man. You know who got extra screwed? His band, because he didn’t give them extra writing credits. They got fucking nothing.”
P: “He literary fucked his brother… ’cause his brother’s in the band, right?” [both laugh]