So, The Black Keys are comin’. Free show, Gallivan Center, Twilight Concert Series—it’ll be one of the biggest shows of the year because, unlike a few years ago when City Weekly first spoke with drummer Pat Carney, the Akron bluesrock duo is kinda huge now. They’ve moved on from backwoods indie label Fat Possum to Nonesuch, the suburb of major-label-land where bands like Wilco go when their hipster fan base reaches critical mass. Odds are you already know plenty about these artists, or have at least heard one of their tunes in a TV show (Sons of Anarchy, The O.C., Big Love, Entourage …), commercial (Victoria’s Secret), video game (Grand Theft Auto 4), a movie (School of Rock, Black Snake Moan, Cloverfield). Like our dear, departed Larry H. Miller, you know these guys.
The Black Keys don’t need help promoting a free downtown show that’ll be jammed with fans like you. Hell, there’s not even a new album to plug—Attack & Release came out almost 16 months ago, because frontman Dan Auerbach was working on and touring behind his solo record, Keep It Hid, which came out in February. But, damn, they’re good—and usually pretty funny. So, City Weekly got on the phone with Carney to contemplate the “ifs” of The Black Keys’ career to come:
If Auerbach can release a solo record, so can Carney. His album would be “less about traditional songs and more about atmosphere and rhythm.” He’s already working on “semi-improvised jams” with his uncle, Ralph, who plays sax with Tom Waits. And there’s Drummer, the indie rock supergroup band where Carney plays bass alongside members of Teeth of the Hydra and The Six Parts Seven (Feel Good Together comes out Sept. 29). “People tell me we sound like Journey,” he says. “I hope we don’t.” As for a true solo effort, he says he’d love to have guitarist Marc Ribot guest on it, along with Uncle Ralph, but not Carney’s buddies Gil and Ultimate Donny (from Gil Mantera’s Party Dream). “I can’t hang with those guys. They’re my friends, but they’re legitimately, awesomely crazy.”
Dirty … Whores!
Long careers can result in weak, repetitive albums—or worse, bids to stay relevant, usually by licking up a mainstream, or flava-of-the-month, producer. How would The Black Keys sell out? With P. Diddy or Kanye? “If we were really gonna sell out, it’d be P. Diddy ‘cause I don’t think he’s done anything that hasn’t been disgusting… It’d probably be us covering a Sting song, with P. Diddy producing and a couple of American Idol runners-up singing on it.”
The inevitable breakup. Like Cormac McCarthy wrote, “You can’t stop what’s comin.’” For one reason or another, bands grow tired of each other and seek the Strange. The Black Keys are already doing that with their record labels (Carney owns Audio Eagle), protégés (Auerbach’s Jessica Lea Mayfield), etc. Could the duo someday go their separate ways (ha—Journey joke!)? “Dan and I have been through so much shit together—good shit and bad—that, at this point in our lives, if we were to stop making music together it’d be a mutual decision. But I’m sure if I was like in a Nike commercial, air drumming, that’d probably end the band.”
Talkin’ Some Shit
It’d be an amicable split, sure. But, you gotta have some juicy tidbits for the Behind the Music episode. What kinda dirt do these Akron boys, who’ve known each other since “the fuckin’ sixth grade,” have on each other? “We have brutally damaging information about each other, just as far as former musical tastes,” Carney says. “But I think I would keep my mouth shut. I think he would, too.”
And It Feels So Good
Might as well reunite, right? Like fake encores, fake breakups/reunions are virtually required. Will the TBK recommencement feature flashy stage shows with bigger tire piles? Fancy entrances on flying harnesses or spring-loaded sub-stage platforms? “We’d probably hire personal trainers in order to be presentable 20 years from now,” says Carney. “[As for the tires], I’d like to think we wouldn’t rehash the same old shit.” And though he’s “all about” bands swooping onstage from lighting rigs, he demurs. That’s for party rockers. “But, we would encourage our opening band to do it. Maybe the Party Dream could reunite at the same time.”
Hall of Lame?
Let’s assume 40 years from now The Black Keys are as adored as Michael Jackson. They’ve made their artistic mark, given younger artists a leg up only to be outsold by them, scored films, organized huge charity concerts, and it’s time to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “I don’t see it happening,” says Carney, “because I don’t see anybody givin’ a shit about rock & roll in 40 years… and [the HoF] keeps inducting a lot of irrelevant shit—I think Madonna’s in there. The fact it took ‘em this long to put the Stooges in there was kind of insane to me. I don’t know, man. Awards and stuff—it’s completely pointless. But, if we did [get inducted], we would definitely have B.B. King’s skeleton onstage with Joe Perry and Slash.”