Almost every [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Black Keys[/lastfm] fan remembers the first time they heard the Black Keys; for almost every new listener, the Black Keys are crush-worthy upon first listen. For some, it is because they’ve become disillusioned with the contemporary phenomena of overproduced power rock. For others, there is something decadent and sonically primordial about the Black Keys that instantly appeals to hardcore purveyors of rock ‘n roll.
While the Black Keys said the definition of success is debatable, they have undoubtedly attracted a lot of critical acclaim and cult following in the ten years that they have created their righteous, rowdy two-piece blues-rock. Regardless of monetary gain, This decade’s worth of hard-work has paid off: the Black Keys are not only getting public recognition in the form of massive airplay, but as first-time Grammy nominees.
In town to walk the red carpet for the first time, The Black Keys sat down with Kevin & Bean this morning to discuss what it was like on their “big come up” in the music game, their love of hip-hop, and the benefits of casino carpet.
Dan Auerbach (vocalist/guitarist) and Patrick Carney (drummer/producer) are two understated Midwestern guys with wry smiles and matching dry, sardonic senses of humor. Their physical shells are dramatically different looks-wise, [pullquote quote="That's sort of what we've been honing. Our skills at not getting played on the radio. That's been our goal...We failed on this record. " credit="Dan Auerbach"]but their intercompatible energy is shockingly similar–they were even wearing the same basic outfit of leather jacket and button-up shirt.
Just like their in-person dynamic, The Black Keys are a humble duo that never expected to “get nominated for Grammys,” with Auerbach commenting “I mean, we made six records and we never had a nomination…We have no idea what’s going on, really. Ever. We have no clue.”
Following up on the Black Keys’ years of remaining under-the-radar, Kevin said:
“You’re such an unlikely success story in that your music is not the type of music that generally flies with the mass consumption because, as you know, it’s sweaty and so sexy and so raw. It’s not the type of thing you’d normally hear a lot on the radio and stations are all of a sudden playing The Black Keys. I’m sure that’s not what you expected when you made this ‘Brothers’ record.”
In their typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, Auerbach quipped ironically:
“Yeah, it’s not like we were really trying when we made the record. We did sort of everything you would do not to be played on the radio. Making the record in the middle of Alabama in a cinderblock building that wasn’t a studio. You know, that kind of stuff…That’s sort of what we’ve been honing. Our skills at not getting played on the radio. That’s been our goal…We failed on this record.”
The Black Keys “failed” so hard that they garnered huge Grammy accolades including Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or A Group With Vocals and Best Alternative Music Album, critical acclaim, and their first tux-fitting. Carney said he was nervous to be in a black-tie situation and he’s “never worn a tuxedo and I’ve never been on a red carpet and neither has Dan,” with Auerbach interjecting that “we’ve never stood on any red carpet, anywhere.”
Highlighting their caustic charm, The Black Keys began to sarcastically joke about their “side jobs” as “casino carpet installers.” Carney said acerbically, “our houses are both carpeted in casino carpet. That’s what we do on the side; We design hotel and casino carpeting.”[pullquote quote="We sent out to like thirteen different labels; We heard back from three of them. Two of them said, 'We want to see you play first.' And we had never actually played a show, so we're not going to go with them."]
Auerbach retorted, “You know how they design that to hide puke stains and stuff…Puke and tears…Your children just start disappearing into the carpet.” Shaking his head, Carney replied, “It’s not that simple. It’s designed so that you feel like you are in a place that you have no respect for whatsoever. ”
People may think that a band that had a song play during the Super Bowl are no joke, but The Black Keys come from humble beginnings and they don’t seem to take themselves as seriously as their fans do. They take everything in stride, including their first record deal. Auerbach told the story of their insouciant genesis:
“We sent out to like thirteen different labels; We heard back from three of them. Two of them said, ‘We want to see you play first.’ And we had never actually played a show, so we’re not going to go with them, but one label from Burbank called Alive Records.”
“This guy named Patrick Wazell. He sent us an e-mail and he said, ‘You send me eleven songs and I’ll put out your record.” And that’s what we did. We sent him eleven songs and he put out ‘The Big Come Up’ and that was it. It got reviewed in ‘Rolling Stone’ and we started touring the country.”
It wasn’t as easy as it all sounds. Carney elaborated:
“It was kind of grueling the first few tours. You know, just driving back and forth in a Grand Caravan.”
“We didn’t get a single dollar from the first label, so I had to get a credit card and go in debt to pay for the recording equipment and my dad had to help me buy the minivan we used to tour. “
Others would agree that this is still pretty huge for a band that came out of a town with very few musical options for young music aficionados, except for some crazy, but fun-sounding, DIY set-ups. Carney described the music he used to listen to, his first concert experience and what it was like growing up in Akron, Ohio:
“[We listened to][lastfm link_type="artist_info"] Nirvana[/lastfm]; [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Sonic Youth[/lastfm]; [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Pavement[/lastfm]. The first concert I went to was [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Dinosaur Jr[/lastfm]. It was the loudest thing I’ve ever been to. I think I have a hard time listening to Fender guitars, still, because of it. It’s just so piercing.”
“In Kent, Ohio there are a lot of bands when we were growing up. And there’s some DIY spots in Cleveland that most of the good bands would come play at. Like [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Modest Mouse[/lastfm] when theystarted touring. They would come play this little place called Speak In Tongues. I used to go up there and watch the bands play. You know, it’s like bring your beer kind of place. 18-year-old kids getting drunk, watching bands that couldn’t get booked at any other club.”
One artist they both love–that no one would suspect as a Black Keys influence–is the [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Wu-Tang Clan[/lastfm]. Auerbach explained:
“We both listen to lots of hip-hop and we love RZA and Wu-Tang. When we got together in the beginning, we recorded a four track and we sort of wanted it to have the sound quality of a Wu-Tang record because it was like the cool, old soul sample. Scratchy. Gritty. I don’t really know how to describe it. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but we loved that sound.”
Kind of like the same first, indescribable moment when we first heard the Black Keys; we just knew that despite them not sounding like anything else on the radio, we loved them.