Questions For: Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys
If there’s a better band in America than the Black Keys, we’d like to hear them. Dan Auerbach (left) and Pat Carney have always been a self-contained unit, but for their latest record, Attack and Release, they enlisted the artist known as Danger Mouse (nee Brian Burton) to produce, and the result is a swirling psychedelic masterpiece.
The Akron boys play the Orpheum on Saturday. We talked to Dan about the album, his aversion to scenes, labels and other pretensions, and Robert Plant.
Boston Daily: You guys have always recorded yourselves and kept others out of the process, so I was wondering: why work with Danger Mouse?
Dan Auerbach: It was great. Brian was really cool and really helpful. He wasn’t overbearing at all. He didn’t try to dominate the sessions. He wasn’t a Phil Specter type of producer. He was there to be another musician. He contributed in the ways Pat and I do, chiming in when he thought he had something interesting to add. It was great. It was really lots of fun.
BD: Did you feel the collaborative part of having another voice in the studio was beneficial?
DA: We could have done it on our own or we could have done it with Brian. It was an artistic test to see if we could do it and we gave it a shot and it was really a lot of fun. We were really happy with the results. We love the record, we loved the process. It was a great experience for all of us.
BD: What has the reaction been?
DA: The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve gotten some of the best reviews we’ve ever gotten, on any of our records. That’s really cool, but it doesn’t really matter at all. It doesn’t affect how we think about our music or our record.
BD: How about in terms of your fans?
DA: Well, some of the fans, you know change is hard (laughs). But there’s nothing worse than a musician or an artist trying to do the same thing over and over again just because it pays.
BD: Was there a certain vibe that you were going for?
DA: I think the reason we worked with Brian is because we all love psychedelic music. We love the kind of darkness and simplicity, and we tried to bring that to the record. The place we recorded was kind of back in the middle of the woods, and it lent itself to making the kind of record that we wanted to make; that was pastoral and I don’t know, moody. But we wanted to have lots of layers, and also be really simple. We might have added a lot of parts, but those parts are really sparse.
That’s why there’s not really any guitar solos, really. There’s a couple, but we didn’t want any solos. I wanted it to be more about the groove, because that’s what Pat and I are all about anyway.
BD: You guys have known each other for how long?
DA: I don’t know. 20 years. Longer.
BD: I’ve always wondered about the dynamics of a two-man group. Most bands struggle to stay together for a couple of years, how do you guys keep that together? Is it friendship? Is it trust? Is it respect?
DA: It’s a little bit of all that. We really care about each other. We weren’t really friends at first, we were just two people with really similar interests. And then we put out a record and started touring and we became buds. Being on the road together brings people together in a really strong way.
It’s sort of cheesy, but when you fall asleep in a car and a car is going 70 miles an hour, you sort of have your life in that person’s hands, and you do that day in and day out for a couple of years.
BD: You guys have stayed in Akron, and you’ve never gone Hollywood, for lack of a better phrase. What’s the benefit to staying close to your roots and not going off and doing that kind of thing?
DA: We like Akron, and we like to make music. We don’t like to go where the scene is, that’s always a bad idea. It’s time-tested (laughs). Shit that goes on in Los Angeles is generally going to sound dated in about five years. We just tried to avoid that. We really made a conscious effort to stand our ground and not cave into that. Labels have wanted us to do that since Fat Possum. They wanted us to record in studios because we need to sell more records, and we did it our own way, and we’ve benefited so much from it.
There’s always bands that pop up out of nowhere. They’ve got videos and they’re all over television, and that almost guarantees a short career for them because it’s such an unnatural rise. We let it happen gradually. The shows keep getting bigger and bigger and the album sales rises gradually. It’s such a better idea.
BD: Was that hard at all?
DA: Yeah. When you’re a kid you think that the people who own record labels know everything. They’re professionals and you’re just a musician. The older you get the more you realize that you’re in charge. The musician is in charge. Anybody who’s ever been a success has taken charge of there own career at a certain point, and didn’t let anyone else tell them what to do.
BD: You guys have always resisted labels, and being lumped in with say, the blues. Going so far as to not wanting to define what it is you do. How important is that for you?
DA: Catch phrases are pretty lame and nobody wants to be put into a box. We certainly don’t think that we’re doing blues music. Pat doesn’t even like blues music. He never has. It’s just silly. We could make a record with us just throwing rocks into a pond and it would be, ‘Oh man, bluesy.’
There’s a certain amount of people who are just really lazy. There are people who don’t listen to more than the first three tracks for reviews and they don’t listen to the whole songs. It sucks because a lot of these people who review records, it’s just a job and they don’t really think about it. Someone has put their entire self into it, and it’s their baby. It’s a really strange thing. It’s why I don’t listen to reviews, ever, even if they’re good reviews. I only listen to a few people that I respect. Everybody else is sort of suspect (laughs).
BD: When I was doing research for this interview, I originally thought I was going to be talking to Pat. Then when it switched, I started looking at interviews that you did, and it struck me that you guys seem really different.
DA: Were not similar at all, honestly. We like totally different things. Pat hates a lot of the music I listen to, and I hate a lot of the music he listens to. Pat’s into like, MySpace and Pitchfork and shit like that (laughs). I don’t even care about any of that. Its weird, but I think that’s what makes us special is that we not kissing each other’s asses. Its two completely different minds getting together and we’ve always had this connection, this way of not speaking, but just locking into the song.
BD: So, my impression of Pat is that if you guys got stiffed by a bar owner he’d be the guy breaking down the door and demanding the money.
DA: I have never seen Pat get aggressive like that. Now, Pat gets on rants. He’s a total (wussy), as am I. If a bar owner stiffed us, we’d leave and then talk shit about him (laughs).
BD: I always wanted to ask you this. When that famous Robert Plant quote about you guys came out in Rolling Stone: Did that affect you guys?
DA: Yeah, that was amazing shit, huh? It’s hard to explain that stuff because it’s so surreal but at a certain point you have to stop idolizing people and look at them as human. There’s not many people that I’d go gaga over if I met, because I’ve met a lot of people and a lot of times, it’s sort a bummer. I was never really a Led Zeppelin fan until Pat started playing them on tour, but damn. It’s awesome.
BD: You’ve had a chance to tour with some amazing artists: Beck, Sleater-Kinney, and Radiohead. How have those experiences shaped you?
DA: More than anything it’s helped us with our career. We got so much press from touring with Sleater-Kinney, and that’s how Beck found about us. A lot of journalists who were kind of snooty and pretentious said, ‘Oh, the Black Keys are touring with Radiohead. I guess we can write about them now.’ Sleater-Kinney really taught us the ropes. They taught how to tour and how to be a band. They would tip us if there was a sold-out show. Giving us like 200 bucks was like whoa, amazing. We make sure that we do that on the road and bring out bands that work really hard.
BD: Who’s going to be opening for you guys in Boston?
DA: We’ve got a band from Cincinnati called the Buffalo Killers and they’re amazing.
BD: How long have you been coming to town?
DA: Since our first tour.
BD: Do you have any local favorites?
DA: We’ve never hung out in Boston, honestly. I love the Avalon, though. The Avalon feels like an old club from the 60’s, and it still feels that way. When we play the Fillmore it doesn’t feel like that. There’s something old school about that place.