TFP interview: The Black Keys riding high with ‘El Camino’Written by John Benson | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Black Keys — singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney — is currently the hot rod of the record industry with its latest album, “El Camino,” debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 and already certified gold. Its lead single “Lonely Boy” hit the top of the alternative and AAA charts, and led to appearances on “The Colbert Report,” “Late Show with David Letterman” and “Saturday Night Live,” twice in a calendar year, which is a rare distinction.
Now the Rubber City natives, who recently relocated to Nashville, are mounting their first arena tour, which includes sold out shows at Chicago’s United Center, Washington, D.C.’s, Verizon Center and two nights at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The act also plays Cleveland on March 20 at Quicken Loans Arena. Toledo Free Press Star talked to Auerbach about the band’s history, “El Camino” and its rise to the top of the food chain.
Toledo Free Press Star: So, The Black Keys are returning to the Rock Hall City for a show at Quicken Loans Arena.
Dan Auerbach: That sounds so funny.
Toledo Free Press Star: Does that seem surreal to you? For those of us who watched your band play in small local joints a decade ago, the jump seems unreal.
DA: Yeah, it seems very surreal. It’s kind of crazy. Yeah, absolutely, being who we are and not having really changed much, just getting to be ourselves and playing these giant places, it doesn’t happen to bands. Usually you have to come up with some sort of persona and stage show and a lot of pyro and backup dancers. We don’t have to do any of that. It’s crazy.
Toledo Free Press Star: Looking back for one second, what do you remember about your first concert in 2002?
DA: We debuted at the Beachland Tavern. We went on first of like three bands and there weren’t that many people there. We played all the songs we knew, which were about 35 minutes worth of songs. We were so nervous that we played them all twice as fast so we played, like, 20 minutes.
Toledo Free Press Star: Playing fast is something you guys did a lot of on “El Camino,” which is in stark contrast to the soulful and at times mellow precursor release “Brothers.” With that in mind, was putting the upbeat and gritty “Lonely Boy” as the new CD’s lead track intentional?
DA: Yeah, it wasn’t like the immediate intention, it just sort of happened that way. We were listening to certain things and getting turned on by certain older records, and not even records from any particular time period. We listened to music from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s with all the common thread of simple rock ’n’ roll. So that’s what we were being inspired by at the moment, and that’s how our record turned out. But that’s always how our records turned out. With “Brothers,” we listened to a lot of soul and hip-hop and it has that sort of feel to it.
Toledo Free Press Star: In addition to the rocking aspect of “El Camino,” something else that stands out is the use of backup singers, which is something that was missing from previous Black Keys albums. What led to that decision?
DA: I produced a couple of records in Nashville and used these girls as backup singers. I thought they were great, had a great attitude and were sort of fearless to try whatever I asked of them. So we were talking about it one day to Brian [Burton, aka Danger Mouse, who co-produced “El Camino”]. I said, “I know these girls, they’re really awesome; I could probably call them and they’d be here in a half-hour.” and that’s what happened. That’s it. There was nothing else to it. You have to understand, all the records we make we don’t rehearse them or plan too much out ahead of time. It just kind of happens. That’s it.
Toledo Free Press Star: You mentioned earlier that you’ve been fortunate throughout your career in that you haven’t had to change much, you could just be yourself. Does that mean one day you’ll go through your ironic phase and tour with a big sign that says “The Black Keys” and all of the above?
DA: We do have a big light sign that says “Black Keys” but me and my lighting guy made it by hand out of the shit we bought from Home Depot. That’s pretty awesome, but pyro, I don’t think so. No rotating stages. If we do anything, it’ll be just very classic and something that’s fun but doesn’t detract from the music.
Toledo Free Press Star: The last time you played in Cleveland it was at the Agora. Now you’re playing Quicken Loans Arena. Any chance Cleveland Browns Stadium is next?
DA: Who knows, man, anything is possible at this point.