THE TWO OF US

IAIN SHED­DEN MEETS THE BLACK KEYS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page - Iain Shed­den

THE name Der­rick T. Tug­gle is not an in­stantly recog­nis­able one in the an­nals of rock ‘n’ roll his­tory, but it’s an im­por­tant one in the life and ca­reer of the Black Keys. It was Tug­gle, a se­cu­rity guard and part-time ac­tor, who starred by de­fault in the video for the Ohio duo’s 2011 smash hit Lonely Boy, a song that be­came their big­gest suc­cess in a ca­reer span­ning 13 years.

Tug­gle was an ex­tra on the video shoot, but when the Black Keys’ singer-gui­tarist Dan Auerbach and drum­mer Patrick Car­ney re­jected the ini­tial en­sem­ble cast pro­duc­tions for the clip, Tug­gle’s melange of Michael Jack­son and John Tra­volta dance moves in front of a door­way was pro­moted to sole billing. As Auerbach de­scribed it, the clip was “the most ex­pen­sive sin­gle shot ever recorded”. Luck­ily for them, the video went vi­ral 24 hours af­ter its re­lease. Thus the Black Keys, child­hood friends from Akron who had been work­ing their tails off for 10 years, stepped into an­other realm of pop­u­lar­ity.

Two and half years later there’s great an­tic­i­pa­tion about the fol­low-up to El Camino, the al­bum that spawned Lonely Boy and sub­se­quent sin­gles Gold on the Ceil­ing and Lit­tle Black Sub

marines. The new al­bum, Turn Blue, is re­leased next week. Lots of bands con­tem­plate their “dif­fi­cult” sec­ond al­bum. For the Black Keys, Turn

Blue is their eighth and dif­fi­cult for a cou­ple of rea­sons, in­clud­ing the weight of ex­pec­ta­tion around its re­lease fol­low­ing the Grammy-win­ning achieve­ments of El Camino and its pre­de­ces­sor Broth­ers (2010).

There were chal­lenges around Turn Blue’s cre­ation also, not least that while the Black Keys were rid­ing the El Camino wave in are­nas around the globe Auerbach was go­ing through a messy di­vorce from his wife, Stephanie Go­nis. The di­vorce was fi­nalised last year, with Auerbach gain­ing cus­tody of the cou­ple’s now sixyear-old daugh­ter Sadie. “It was the band’s most suc­cess­ful year to date,” says Auerbach, “but it was also our most stress­ful. And hav­ing a lit­tle kid and tour­ing for 200 days of the year … it was a strained year.” Auerbach’s lyrics for some of the songs on

Turn Blue were in­flu­enced by his mar­riage breakup. Ti­tles such as The Weight of Love and

Year in Re­view tell their own story, al­though mu­si­cally the al­bum is as cel­e­bra­tory as any­thing on El Camino, an in­fec­tious mix of Car­ney’s pri­mal per­cus­sion, Auerbach’s bluesy gui­tar chops and their shared love of psy­che­delic pop struc­tures.

“Mu­si­cally it was sim­i­lar to what we’ve done be­fore,” Auerbach says. “We just get in there and start mak­ing stuff that sounds like mu­sic. That has never been a prob­lem for us when we get into the stu­dio. We just wanted to make a good record. We didn’t think about try­ing to match any suc­cess. Of course we al­ways want to make records that people like. It would be great to write a catchy song, a hit song, but we’re not go­ing to force it. It was dif­fi­cult, lyri­cally, be­cause it was so per­sonal.

“That was a new chal­lenge for me.” AUERBACH, like Car­ney, is a per­son­able char­ac­ter. He talks pas­sion­ately about his mu­sic, in­clud­ing the Black Keys and his re­cent stu­dio en­deav­ours as a pro­ducer for Dr John, Ray La­Mon­tagne and Lana Del Rey. He talks with hu­mour and warmth about his child­hood and his friend­ship with Car­ney, who he has known since they were eight years old, al­though they didn’t be­come friends un­til high school.

Just short of his 35th birth­day, Auerbach has spent a great deal of his adult life on stage with his part­ner. Through­out that time they have main­tained a healthy dis­re­gard for the trap­pings of suc­cess, per­haps be­cause when they were re­hears­ing and knock­ing out in­de­pen­dent al­bums such as The Big Come Up and Thick

freak­ness in Car­ney’s base­ment dur­ing the early noughties there were no great ex­pec­ta­tions about what they could achieve. Even their ar­rival as a duo came by de­fault, when all at­tempts to re­cruit other Akron mu­si­cians to the fold proved fruit­less.

“We didn’t have any friends,” Auerbach says. “Re­ally. We knew a lot of bands that we played with and they had a lot of friends, but we were never that band. When we got pop­u­lar there was the whole garage rock scene and there were all these f..king bands that we were get­ting locked in with, and we didn’t know those bands and we didn’t know their friends, but we did shows with them. We’d do the gig and then we’d load up the van and get out of town be­cause ho­tels are cheaper when you get out of town. That was our life.”

Be­fore that the two mates jammed fu­ri­ously un­til a ba­sic modus operandi of gui­tar, drums and vo­cals took shape. Auerbach was wellschooled in the blues, in par­tic­u­lar the mu­sic of Robert John­son, Hound Dog Tay­lor and Ju­nior Kim­brough. He had al­ready recorded with a band, the Back­burn­ers. The Black Keys, how­ever, was an op­por­tu­nity to ex­per­i­ment, to de­vise a form of garage rock (al­though he baulks at the term) that would set them apart, or at least get them a few gigs.

“I know we’d see bands that we played with and they’d be on the cover of NME or they’d be head­lin­ing fes­ti­vals, and we didn’t quite un­der­stand,” Auerbach says. “We were lumped in with those bands but we weren’t quite flavour of the month. We were on the pe­riph­ery. We knew we weren’t a garage rock band. We were do­ing our own thing and the more time we spent in the stu­dio we knew what we wanted to do.”

It helped that they had the chem­istry of a close friend­ship as well as a mu­si­cal bond.

“We grew up right around the cor­ner from each other,” Auerbach says. “Our broth­ers were best friends so that kind of got us to­gether. That was it. From there we never stopped af­ter that. For some rea­son we just kept tour­ing. It was the per­fect storm in a way. Liv­ing in Akron it was so cheap that we could go out and play the shit­ti­est shows and make a lit­tle bit of money and it felt to us like we were suc­ceed­ing.

“Had we lived in Brook­lyn or Los Angeles we would have been broke and quit. Be­cause we lived in Ohio it was ac­cept­able.”

It wasn’t long un­til the duo’s reach went be­yond Ohio and be­yond the US. The crit­i­cal re­cep­tion for Thick­f­reak­ness (2003) in­ter­na­tion­ally prompted their first world tour, in­clud­ing ap­pear­ances in Aus­tralia. They have been reg­u­lar vis­i­tors here since then and are plan­ning a re­turn early next year. Con­stant tour­ing has come at a cost, how­ever. The pair had a tem­por-

Patrick Car­ney, left, and Dan Auerbach of

the Black Keys

Lana Del Ray

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