From small fry to big pota­toes: The Black Keys talk to Kevin Court­ney,

Their cookin’ mix of Mo­town, Delta blues and glam rock has pro­pelled The Black Keys to huge suc­cess, but what they re­ally want, Dan Auer­bach tells Kevin Court­ney, is lots of spuds

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Frontpage -

‘HOW YE BE doin’?” chirps Dan Auer­bach down the phone from Gothen­burg, in an ac­cent that, frankly, sounds more Swedish Chef than Ir­ish leprechaun. Luck­ily, he stops there, and doesn’t continue with “top o’ the morn­ing” or “let’s wear green, drink a lot and have fights”. You see, we’re still a bit sen­si­tive about cul­tural stereo­typ­ing af­ter the flood of Oirish cliches that fol­lowed Katie Tay­lor’s Olympic win. The last thing we need is some blues-break­ing scuzzball from Ohio get­ting all Darby O’Gill on our asses.

Oh, what the hell, let’s go for it. These days, ev­ery­one has some far-fetched claim to Ir­ish an­ces­try, so tell me, Dan, in what way are The Black Keys Ir­ish?

“We like pota­toes,” of­fers Auer­bach. “What way do we like pota­toes? I dunno, man, any way you can make ’em. Mashed is good. Gotta have plenty of but­ter on ’em. Is that Ir­ish enough?” Your pass­port’s in the post, Dan. We’ll be wel­com­ing Na hEochracha Dubha home on Wed­nes­day when they play the O2, their big­gest Ir­ish gig to date. Be­fore they hit the big-time with their 2010 al­bum Broth­ers, then hit the even big­ger time with last year’s El Camino, Auer­bach and his band­mate, Pat Car­ney, swore they’d never get them­selves locked in an end­less tour/tour/record/tour again cy­cle. Now that their al­bums are big pota­toes, their concert cal­en­dar is stretch­ing fur­ther into the fu­ture, and the venues are just get­ting big­ger and big­ger. Looks like the pair won’t be step­ping off the tread­mill any­time soon.

“The tour is never-end­ing. It does not end. We’ve been tour­ing for like 10 years! I mean, we fin­ish this, and we go to the west coast of Amer­ica, South Amer­ica, then Aus­tralia, New Zealand, then we come home and we’re gonna be in the stu­dio, and then we go out again . . . it just doesn’t end. That’s just sorta how it is for right now. Some­day it’ll change, but not right now.”

When Auer­bach does man­age to get time off from tour­ing, he heads straight into his Easy Eye Sound Stu­dio in the band’s adopted home town of Nashville, usu­ally in the com­pany of a bona fide mu­si­cal leg­end or se­ri­ous up-and-com­ing tal­ent. Re­cent vis­i­tors to the stu­dio have in­cluded Dr John, LA band The Growlers, Tuareg gui­tar prodigy Bom­bino and garage rock­ers Jeff the Brother­hood and Hanni El Khatib.

“My favourite place to be is in the stu­dio, so when I’m home, I try to get into the stu­dio when­ever I can and work with dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Try to get to­gether with mu­si­cians that I like and I ad­mire. I’m very for­tu­nate cos I get to work with bands that I like.”

He’s also found time in be­tween col­lab­o­ra­tions and pro­duc­tion work to de­vote some time to the day job. Just last month, he and Car­ney got back into the stu­dio to start work on their eighth al­bum, the fol­low-up to El Camino.

“We started work­ing on it just be­fore this tour. We had no plan, just went into the stu­dio and started mess­ing around. We came up with some cool ideas. But there’s no ap­par­ent di­rec­tion as yet. Al­though I know it’s just go­ing to be Pat and me. It’ll sound like us, no mat­ter what ends up hap­pen­ing or what influence it has. But noth­ing has taken shape yet.”

El Camino was clearly in­flu­enced by the stomp­ing glam rock of The Sweet and T Rex, along with the band’s usual dol­lop of Mo­town, Mus­cle Shoals and Mis­sis­sippi delta. Can Dan give us some in­sight into what in­flu­ences will drive the new record? Like, what’s on your vinyl iPod?

“Man, there’s just so much stuff, too much stuff. And it’s a lit­tle schizophrenic what I’ve been lis­ten­ing to, so I think that might be part of the rea­son why there’s no di­rec­tion. There’s, like, acous­tic, south Amer­i­can

clas­si­cal gui­tar mu­sic, and then there’s hiphop, and then there’s punk rock. I don’t know what’s go­ing on in my brain some­times.”

If some­one had told you two years ago that a dirty, lo-fi rock and blues duo from Akron, Ohio, would be­come one of Amer­ica’s big­gest bands, you prob­a­bly would have replied, “sure, why not?” The mu­sic world is so crazy and un­pre­dictable these days, any­thing is pos­si­ble.

So it was no sur­prise that a beardy, bale­fuleyed gui­tarist and a gan­gly, be­spec­ta­cled drum­mer, both in thrall to old blues, soul, punk and hip-hop man­aged to steal into the party and nab all the the rock-star ku­dos. Broth­ers scooped three Gram­mys, while El Camino has fea­tured promi­nently on most rock mags’ end-of-year lists. The sin­gles

Lonely Boy and Gold On the Ceil­ing are so ubiq­ui­tous on the air­waves, they al­ready feel like clas­sic hits – a 20th Cen­tury Boy and Jean

Ge­nie for our times. “It seems like ev­ery other day, some­thing crazy hap­pens to us,” says Auer­bach. “In­ter

view mag­a­zine just called me and asked me to in­ter­view an ac­tor. We just played a show with Johnny Depp play­ing gui­tar. We’re gonna do a show with Neil Young in Cen­tral Park. Ev­ery week some­thing kind of weird gets thrown on the ta­ble.”

The dan­ger now, though, is that, hav­ing tasted main­stream suc­cess, the duo will be­come the very thing they set out to de­stroy: a fake, show­biz ver­sion of rock’n’roll that has lost all con­nec­tion with its roots. In a re­cent in­ter­view, Car­ney blamed the pop­u­lar­ity of faux-grunge band Nick­el­back for has­ten­ing the death of rock’n’roll. Do they ever get para­noid about be­com­ing the Chad Kroeger and Fred Durst of their gen­er­a­tion?

“No, not re­ally. Pat and I are such nerds, we feel un­com­fort­able wear­ing sun­glasses in­doors. I feel like a prick when I have sun­glasses on inside. I’ve started to, but it’s not cos I’m cool, that’s for sure.”

Cer­tainly, you don’t hear much about drugs or wild sex in sto­ries re­lat­ing to The Black Keys. In a world where rock star mem­oirs com­pete to tell the most sala­cious sex and drug sto­ries, are The Black Keys the clean­est dirty blues-rock­ers on the block?

“Well, you know, we just don’t re­ally like talk­ing about it. Most peo­ple who talk about all the drugs and stuff, they’re just talk­ing about it. They’re poseurs, and it’s part of their per­sona. That’s not what we’re about. We al­ways love mu­sic first. If we’re gonna be do­ing drugs, we’re not gonna be telling ev­ery­one about it. That’s like a gang­ster telling ev­ery­body that he’s a gang­ster.”

Al­though Auer­bach prom­ises mind­blow­ing tales of drugs and de­bauch­ery when­ever they get around to writ­ing their au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, you get the im­pres­sion that the duo are driven not by in­ner demons but by that de­mon rock’n’roll.

“I think that cer­tain peo­ple are prone to self-de­sc­truc­tion, and some peo­ple are not. It’s in the genes. It’s not re­ally about what pro­fes­sion you choose. I think Sid Vi­cious was gonna die at the same age, whether he was a rock’n’roll star or a trash­man. He was des­tined for that path.”

The Black Keys play the O2 in Dublin next Wed­nes­day

Win­ning recipe: Pat Car­ney and Dan Auer­bach of The Black Keys. Be­low, the band jam with Johnny

Depp at the 2012 MTV Movie Awards

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