Posted September 4, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney: Underdogs take risks

The Black Keys, photo by Danny Cinch
The Black Keys, photo by Danny Cinch

Recorded at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles during the summer of 2013, The Black Keys’ new album presents a kinder, gentler version of the garage blues they’ve played for the past decade. Danger Mouse is still at the helm, adding loops and beats, but the band goes for atmosphere on the dreamy album opener “Weight of Love,” a song that, despite its reverberating guitar solo, has more in common with Broken Bells than the White Stripes. Drummer Patrick Carney phoned us from his Nashville home where he was “chilling out” to talk about the new album and the band’s roots as an indie rock act out of Northeast Ohio.

I think people don’t give you guys enough credit for having a sense of humor. Talk about how important it is that you don’t take yourselves too seriously.
We’re obviously proud of our career and our music — everyone should be if they’re artists. But only a real true narcissistic freak would actually think they’re cool as shit for doing something. That’s not necessarily the case. I guess that’s the way we’ve always been.

When you look back on all the funny things that have happened to the band, what stands out? I loved the bit on The Colbert Report with the prostrate exam.
[Singer-guitarist] Dan [Auerbach] and I got to meet a lot of real, serious legendary musicians—John Fogerty, Neil Young and those types of dudes. That’s awesome, but we nerd out the most when we meet comedians. That’s when we get the most star struck. We’ve always geeked out over people like David Cross. We met Robin Williams about 10 years ago at an ACLU benefit.

Talk about how growing up in Northeast Ohio contributed to the band’s sound. Even though your sound is much different, is there a line that we can connect between, say, Devo, and the Black Keys?
Musically, it’s hard to connect. I wish I had more things in common with Devo. The main thing we have in common is that you’re instantly an underdog. I was thinking about this watching the Browns’ game the other day. I want the Browns to be good. Everyone is losing their shit over [quarterback Johnny] Manziel, but there’s a whole debate about Manziel and [Brian] Hoyer.  I never even heard of [Connor] Shaw and he comes in not giving a fuck and throws a Hail Mary. Sure, it was a sloppy reception but he went for it. It was the most exciting part of the game. It’s about when the pressure is off and no one expects anything. People in New York have this mentality that nothing good comes from the flyover states. When you’re from one of the flyover states, you take risks. One of my favorite live recordings is Devo playing at Max’s Kansas City. It was their first big show in New York. David Bowie and Andy Warhol were there. They just slayed and they’re the weirdest band ever. It was super aggressive, just their entire presence. What Dan and I have in common is that kind of mentality. We just wanted to do what we wanted to do. We ignored everything else and worked at it.

I guess it’s a blue-collar thing. We didn’t expect it to turn into what it has and we don’t’ feel entitled to it. I wake up thinking it will go away. One day it will.

What’s been the key to sustaining your popularity over the last few years?
We’ve only been selling records and in the big venues for two or three years now. It’s a matter of time before it stops happening. Maybe it doesn’t stop but I’m a realist. What goes up must come down. We’re both proud of the fact that we got to see both sides of the coin. The record that blew up was Brothers and we recorded that in a Muscle Shoals’ studio that was basically out of business with gear we had to bring down there. We never thought in our wildest dreams that that record would go on to sell over a million copies. That’s the thing. It’s a fluke. We’ve always done things the way we’ve done them. We started working with Danger Mouse and that was different but the first record we made with him didn’t do any better than the records we made in our basement. I don’t know. I can’t explain it. It’s been good have that experience.

Talk about how Danger Mouse’s sensibilities mesh with yours.
If you made a Venn diagram of Dan, Brian [Burton] and I, there’s a crossover point that’s pretty large. The thing we bond over is the Beatles and psychedelic rock and hip-hop. I like stuff that Brian hates and Dan hates stuff that I like and I like stuff that Dan hates. We started working with Brian just when we felt like for the first time we could embrace collaborating and get inspiration from somebody else. We kind of got freaked out early on and retreated into our basement. We were looking for somebody and Brian was right there. Of all the people in the world, he’s the best guy for us. It’s a perfect democracy and everyone can suggest anything and we try it and that’s the rule. There’s no power struggle. It’s a super creative experience.

It takes you a while to learn from your mistakes. The biggest mistake we made was not looking for Brian earlier.

Did you have any formal discussion prior to Turn Blue about what you wanted the album to sound like?
We never have formal discussions or a real solid game plan. Dan and I might email him some songs we’ve been listening to. We like to go in the studio and we like to go to different studios to mix it up. Something happens when you’re in a different environment. That’s the fun part about making a record, embracing whatever X factor a studio brings. We like to make records off the cuff because we don’t know what it’s going to be even while we’re making it.

Did you use a lot of synthesizers on the record?
We didn’t use that many on Brothers because we had to bring all our stuff down to Alabama. I only had an old Radio Shack synthesizer that I brought down for that one. We had a Mellotron there too. For this one, we put string pads down and I’ve been listening to John Carpenter soundtracks for inspiration.

You should put a waiver on the album that no synthesizers were hurt during the recording.
Well, I’m sure that they were because those things break constantly.

What do you miss most about Akron?
I miss my friends and the people. I miss the feeling of Northeast Ohio . . . especially this time of year when the air is thick as a blanket and the Browns and Cavs are about to play and the Indians may be blowing it. It’s a good time to be in Cleveland.

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Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].