The Black Keys— Anything Goes

As far as used car salesmen go, Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney aren’t exactly what you’d expect… There is nothing slick or smooth about either of them. For a start, their hair is too scruffy, they don’t wear polyester suits and they have a distinct lack of gold teeth. They’re also too honest when you’re in the market for a 1994 El Camino van with wooden panels and a black vinyl interior, you don’t want to hear about ring wear, pops and ticks. Call the US on + 1 330 510 1206 and you’ll hear Auerbach and Carney go on about the El Camino in a spoof advertisement to promote The Black Keys’ new album of the same name. As well as the rust and three-speed turbo automatic shift, the advertised El Camino has an AM/FM radio, which would have been useless to The Black Keys’ fans until recently. The duo from Akron, Ohio the rubber capital of the world have never tried to make songs for the radio.

For the past 10 years their musical adventures, influenced by blues, rock and hip-hop, have sat a little too left of field for the mainstream. But this year the Grammy Awards caught up to the fan adoration and critical acclaim, and handed Auerbach and Carney three statues. “I just think we got lucky, that’s all it is,” Auerbach says. “Our songs don’t sound like other songs on the radio, they’re different. I think we’ve tried to write songs that are catchier but we certainly don’t expect that they’re going to get played on the radio. If we wanted to get a song on the radio we’d go about it way differently. We’re just trying to make music we like.”

That simple aim has driven the pair through seven studio albums, a couple of EPs and a collaboration album with hip-hop luminaries including Raekwon, RZA and Q-Tip. Making film clips they like has brought millions of YouTube viewers playground love stories, dinosaur puppets inciting bikini babe mayhem, a sexy assassin with a troubled past, bad costume-shop mustaches and a guitar with a chainsaw neck. Anything goes with The Black Keys, especially on El Camino.

They hit Auerbach’s custom-built new Nashville studio with no plans for the recording. “We’ve never really done it like this,” he says. “Usually we’ll have some idea, I’ll have lyrics, verses, something to go by in my head, but this time we really started with nothing. We didn’t rehearse, we didn’t demo and I didn’t use any lyrics that I had created, it was all done in the studio, it was a totally different experience for us. Every song on this record started as just drums and guitar live in the studio, the sound bleeding into each other’s microphones, it was pretty raw. That’s how we wanted to make the album to start with, guitar and drums, keep it simple. The single Lonely Boy started with guitar, we added the drums and by the end of the day we had a song.”

In another first for The Black Keys, producer Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse and one half of Gnarls Barkley, wrote the lyrics with Auerbach. “I’d never written with anyone else,” he says. “We were more focusing on the melodies with this record, so a lot of the lyrics are just a bit more abstract, there’s less story songs like there was on Brothers. “It’s a different record, it stems from the method we went about making music. It’s all new for us.” That old El Camino might be rusty, beat up and ugly… but it still has plenty of miles to go.

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~ by upbeatmag on December 10, 2011.

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