If someone asked you to list all of the hallmarks that make a Black Keys songs, it wouldn’t be much of a struggle. You’d mention words like “raw” and “bluesy”, there’d be a focus on the band’s rustic guitar-and-drums setup. But ask drummer Patrick Carney and he’ll tell you, “a Black Keys song is really whatever Dan [Auerbach] and I want it to be.”
Speaking from his home in the iconic Stateside musical hub of Nashville, Tennessee, Carney says that the band’s latest album, Turn Blue, their follow-up to the watershed moment that was 2011’s El Camino, was the process of two “college dropouts” understanding that despite what narrow notions some may have, The Black Keys are whatever they decide to be.
With the band set to embark on their latest Australian tour early next year to headline Byron Bay Bluesfest 2015, Rolling Green, and a series of solo performances, we also touch on the band’s history with Australia, their evolution, and the unwavering democracy that governs them.
Watch: The Black Keys – Just Got to Be
Music Feeds: You guys worked with Danger Mouse once again on the new album and you mentioned that it just made sense to. Why is that? Was it the way the songs were taking shape?
Patrick Carney: The only person that we’ve ever really collaborated with on Black Keys stuff is Danger Mouse. So when we went to make this record, we want to Michigan in January of 2013, just Dan and I, to this small studio in Benton Harbour. We spent like two weeks up there and recorded like 12 songs. We’d just come directly off the road, finishing up most of the El Camino world tour.
We went up there and we made an album, but it was rooted really heavily in where El Camino was rooted as well. We were still in that mindset and I think we both decided that it would be smart to just finish up our touring obligations, take a little break, and then reconvene and make another record – [do] another session in LA – and that time we decided that we would call Danger Mouse and work with him again.
We both enjoy working with him and it just seemed like it would be a fun experience. We always enjoy being in the studio with him. So we went to LA like six or seven months later and made a whole ‘nother record and basically, Turn Blue, it’s like 70 percent from LA and 30 percent from Michigan.
It’s the first time where we recorded way more material than we actually released. Usually, we’ll make like 15 or 16 songs and release 11 or 12, and this time we recorded 30 songs. And we just decided that the 11 we put on the record were just the ones that went together best. We have no idea what we’re gonna do with the other songs, but we have like 19 songs left over.
MF: Have you guys discussed any potential avenues of release for those leftover songs? As B-sides or possibly putting them on the next album?
PC: We haven’t. I think that generally speaking, we don’t like going backwards. I think when we make the next record, we probably won’t even think of listening to those songs. We’ll probably just start over. Start from scratch. Maybe one day we’ll put some of them out. But I think it’s a good thing to be in the position where you’re able to do some self-editing.
MF: With both of you guys producing for other artists, Dan with Lana Del Rey and Dr John, and yourself with Black Lips and Tennis, how do you prioritise and is there anything you’ve taken away from those sessions and incorporated into Turn Blue?
PC: You know, I think every time that you go in the studio, whether you’re producing or playing or whatever, you end up learning something. Whether it’s like what not to do or a studio trick or just a writing trick. So yeah, for sure.
The Black Lips record I recorded in between the two sessions we did for Turn Blue and… I learned some stuff from those guys for sure, but I don’t know how much it would’ve affected our record. The Tennis record I did after we finished Turn Blue and I think at that point I learnt a lot of stuff making Turn Blue and that session was me just kind of applying it, some of those ideas, to their music.
We both really enjoy producing, but I only work on a few things a year. I tend to just work with bands that I kind of have a relationship with, because it’s a really personal thing. If you’re gonna do a good job producing, you’re gonna get into some disagreements. And because of that, even if you’re working with close friends it can always be a little bit stressful and slightly frustrating.
MF: How satisfied have you been with the reaction to the album?
PC: I’m always just shocked that anyone ever wants to listen to anything we make. We knew that this record would be polarising to a certain degree, just because it’s a lot different than our last album. But when I think back to El Camino a few years ago, I mean, we really didn’t know what people were gonna make of that album. It was so much different than Brothers and it was a lot different than anything else we’ve ever made.
I remember we both were just shocked the whole year that it had such a big impact and we knew when this record was coming out that it didn’t have the same kind of pop, upbeat thing that El Camino kind of had going, the real directness of that album. This is more open, sparser… there’s a lot more space in the arrangements. It’s not the kind of album that hits you over the head in a super direct way, like maybe a song like Lonely Boy or Gold on the Ceiling would do. There really isn’t any of that.
MF: You’ve said the success of the Lonely Boy video helped you guys realise that “no one fucking knows they’re talking about”. Is that really the moment when you realised label people might not know as much as they claim?
PC: Well, you know, our label’s really passionate about letting us do our thing. They’re really hands-off with most things. There’s a few people… and there’s also a revolving cast with the people who work on that side of things, with the exception of the people that own… the people that work for Nonesuch directly in the United States and England and there’s a guy at Warner named Tony Harlow in Australia and we’ve known those guys in varying degrees but all of them for like six, seven years. They know what they’re talking about, they let us do our thing.
When you get into the nuance of dealing with a marketing manager who really deals with the pop thing, that’s really more what I was talking about. Dan and I, to a certain degree, on El Camino, based on the success of Brothers, there were some things going through the main office of our label with people who we didn’t really know that well and we sort of had to stick to our guts.
Sometimes we were being told that we were being idiots, but really we probably we were being idiots, ’cause we didn’t know what we were talking about either, but we always like to do what feels right.