The press materials accompanying Let’s Rock
, the latest album from the Black Keys, find singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach talking about how the disc marks a return to the band’s early days when it made stripped down, grunge-y garage blues records out of drummer Patrick Carney’s basement.
Songs such as the swaggering “Eagle Birds,” a tune that features a gritty mid-song guitar solo, and the rousing “Get Yourself Together” come off as vintage Black Keys.
“When we’re together we are the Black Keys, that’s where that real magic is and always has been since we were 16,” he says.
In a recent phone interview, drummer Carney, who had just returned from vacationing in France, expanded on Auerbach’s statement.
“I think he was speaking about how there wasn’t a producer for the album,” says Carney when asked about Auerbach’s statement. The Black Keys perform with Modest Mouse and *repeat repeat at 7 p.m. on Monday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse
. “We hadn’t been in the studio for ve years. We had burned out. I think we became afraid of making a record because we were afraid of the time it would take. That’s why I booked a trip [to France] the day the record came out. I booked a trip in case we are convinced to do more shit. This record is returning to the idea that this band needs to be fun for us. It needs to be enjoyable. We need to be in control of it despite the commitments we have to make.”
The Black Keys didn’t become an overnight sensation. The band played its first gig at the Beachland’s tiny tavern and then slowly graduated to bigger venues until it started packing arenas and playing to tens of thousands of fans at festivals.
“The weird thing is that it wasn’t until [2010’s] Brothers
that things got really crazy,” says Carney. “We transitioned from places like [Jacobs Pavilion at] Nautica to the Q [now Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse]. Already, playing Nautica was a huge thing. We went one more step to an arena. When those opportunities present themselves after years of working, you can’t say no. We did it so much that it wasn’t until I broke my shoulder that we slowed down. When we did slow down, we realized we needed to stop doing it for a while. It was a time suck. We couldn’t appreciate the idea of getting to play for people. [Let’s Rock
] is more similar to [2004’s] Rubber Factory
in the selection of sounds. To me, it’s just us coming off the train of what happened between 2010 and 2015 and stepping back into the band and realizing the main goal is to just have fun and make music. If it requires playing 60 shows a year, then we can’t do that.”
During the band’s four-year hiatus, both Carney and Auerbach pursued other musical endeavors. Carney produced the latest effort from singer-songwriter Michelle Branch, and the two married earlier this year. Auerbach put out a solo album and released an album with the Arcs. He also embarked on a solo tour and toured with the Arcs.
The hiatus also came with some heartbreak. In 2017, Carney’s uncle Ralph Carney, a saxophonist who had played in the Akron New Wave band Tin Huey and with singer-songwriter Tom Waits, passed away, leaving a huge hole in Carney’s life. Carney says he’s one of the few people he’s ever met who “truly made music without any consideration about whether people gave a fuck or not.”
“My uncle Ralph was a huge inspiration to me,” says Carney. “At about the time I was 14, Ralph, who was living in San Francisco at the time, started coming home more often. He would come home and became a mentor. He encouraged me. He introduced me to so much cool music and ideas. My 16th birthday present was to visit him in San Francisco. We would walk to the pawnshops each day and just buy weird shit. He had me listen to Can records. We made music together, and I have a few things we didn’t put out. I built a studio in my house in 2013, and to test and make sure everything worked, I made an instrumental track and sent it to Ralph and he played some horns on it. Not thinking twice about it, it became the theme song to BoJack Horseman. He died unexpectedly, but it does make me feel good to know that he was very proud of that [song]. It rocked my world when he died. I helped settle his estate, and I bought every single one of his saxophones, and I have them all at the house.”
Carney currently lives in Nashville, where he also operates a studio. And yet, he hasn’t forgotten his Northeast Ohio roots. He closely follows the Indians and he just recently was checking out Akron’s PorchRokr Music and Art Festival by looking at what photos bands had posted on Instagram.
“I can’t speak so much for the quality of the bands but there were hundreds,” he says. “It’s like a cult. [In Akron] everyone is doing something creative and the expectations are all about what your friends think of it, and that’s about it. You hope your friends are supportive, and that’s the main consideration."
For the current tour, he and Auerbach have recruited a couple of Ohio guys — Andy Zach Gabbard from the Buffalo Killers — to play along with them and guitarist Delicate Steve. The Keys played with the Gabbard brothers years ago when they were in Thee Shams.
“We rehearsed in June, and it sounded really cool,” says Carney.
According to our calculations, the band will be eligible for induction into the Rock Hall in 2027. One thing for certain is that if that day comes, the guys will attend, and Carney says he’ll try to improve upon his last appearance at the 2016 induction ceremony.
“I wrote one line of our speech,” says Carney of the Keys’ induction of Steve Miller, who famously ripped the Rock Hall backstage after his induction. “It was the opening line. Looking back on it, a guy like Steve Miller has been making music for 50 years. It must’ve pissed him off. I didn’t think about it. I said something like, ‘There’s been a lot of Millers from Milwaukee but only one of them wrote ‘Fly Like an Eagle.’ That’s something a total shithead would say.”
We suspect Carney will one day get the chance to redeem himself.
The Black Keys, Modest Mouse, *repeat repeat, 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 30
Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, One Center Court, 216-420-2000 tickets: $39.50-$399.50, rocketmortgagefieldeldhouse.com
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