The Black Keys back on key

By Scott Kara

Pat Carney (right) and Dan Auerbach have survived tough times. Photo / Supplied
Pat Carney (right) and Dan Auerbach have survived tough times. Photo / Supplied

After a break, the Black Keys are back with an album they consider their best to date. Scott Kara talks to one half of the band, Pat Carney.

You've heard the one about life in a rock'n'roll band being like a marriage? Well, Pat Carney of the Black Keys reckons it's more like "the most dysfunctional relationship you could ever possibly have".

It seems, in the last few years, he and his bandmate Dan Auerbach have been through a few tough times. Not that Carney is ready to talk specifics and for the time being he's keeping his psycho-babble more general.

"The dynamic between all bands is really interesting," he says in his droll, soothing lilt. "You are combining friendship, creativity, work, travel and money. It's madness."

And with this the drummer and groove-making force of the Akron, Ohio, two-piece starts off on a laid-back rant about animosity, jealousy, and pettiness in the world of rock'n'roll.

"Look at the book Keith Richards just wrote. It's incredible that the biggest rock band ever, who have been together forever, have these childish and petty little bullshit things that for some reason Keith Richards felt he kind of needed to get it off his chest," he says with a wry snigger.

Phew. Things must have been bad between Carney and the music-making mate he started the Black Keys with in 2001.

"I didn't necessarily want to have the break. It was kind of imposed on me," he offers in a glum deadpan of Auerbach's decision to record and release his debut solo album, Keep It Hid, early last year.

During this time Carney started a new band, Drummer, and left his hometown to live in New York ("My little brother got a job there so I kinda followed him up there."), and is now living in Nashville where Auerbach lives ("It's like a small big city. It reminds me of home but there's enough stuff going that it doesn't get boring.") So the band, who have played in New Zealand several times but play their first Big Day Out next year, are well and truly back on track.

"The break kind of worked out for the best," he resolves on the phone from his home in Nashville, where he's talking to TimeOut during a break from playing video game Blackout: Call of Duty and "getting murdered by 13-year-old kids".

Their latest album, Brothers, is the band's best yet - and one of the albums of the year. Which is not bad considering it's their sixth in eight years, not counting Auerbach's solo record, Carney's album with Drummer, and the pair's excellent hip-hop-rock collaboration Blakroc from last year.

Carney says the year-long break meant they got out of certain habits they we were in, such as recording a particular way (usually at break-neck speed with 2003's excellent Thickfreakness taking just 14 hours) and for the first time they recorded outside Ohio - in Alabama, New York, and San Diego.

"I think all those things were factors [in making it their best album]," he says.

Musically, the Black Keys were once again influenced by hip-hop on Brothers, which gives their blues-rock songs a slop and strut effect, as well as 60s and 70s soul like the Isley Brothers.

"You can hear it in a lot of Dan's guitar licks," says Carney.

There's the distorted bluesy bounce and stomp of Howlin' For You, the lazy yet powerful groove of Sinister Kid ("Those are the easiest songs for me. I can play shit-illy but it still sounds really good," jokes Carney.), and the cooing, keyboard-soaked ballad The Only One.

Another influence rubbing off on Brothers is Carney's personal preference for, not cheesy tunes, but classic anthems with big hooks and heartfelt soul. He never used to like tunes like that, preferring more obscure and little known tracks, but now that he's getting older "I don't really care what people think, which I did care about when I was younger".

"I'm really bored with obscure nuggets. I'd rather hear a really good Otis Redding or Marvin Gaye song than one I've never heard before that's got an interesting drum beat. I just don't have the time for it. I want to get to the hooks. And I really think there are reasons why no one ever heard those songs," he laughs.

"I hope I didn't just sound like a [expletive] just now?" he asks.

Not at all brother.


Who: Black Keys
Line up: Pat Carney (drums) and Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals)
Latest album: Brothers, out now
Key albums: Thickfreakness (2003); Rubber Factory (2004); Attack & Release (2008)
Where & when: Big Day Out, January 21


- NZ Herald

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