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Interview: Dan Auerbach, The Black Keys

Band to Headline 97X's Next Big Thing Dec. 3 at The Sound


When it comes to the creative process, no one can accuse The Black Keys of ever taking a complicated approach to scratching their musical itch.

Guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have perfected that approach since the duo got together at Akron’s Firestone High School in 1996. Most recently, that unspoken compositional ESP carried the twosome through the pandemic and yielded two albums in as many years—2021’s Grammy-nominated collection of hill country blues songs, “Delta Kream,” and last year’s “Dropout Boogie.”

That innate Buckeye symbiosis led to the former being cut in a day and a half, with the latter being a far more strenuous affair by taking around 10 days. For Auerbach, it was a matter of forward motion providing the fuel for this kind of efficiency.

“We had just come out of that ‘Delta Kream’ record and with us loving how well it turned out, we just kind of took that momentum and went right into this new record,” he explained in a phone interview. “It was great—we didn’t really think about it too much. There are three or four songs on the record that are first takes and we only played once and haven’t played since, but we’ll definitely play again. It’s that kind of thing. And then there are other songs like ‘Wild Child’ that we spent a little bit more time on. But I think it was a healthy mix of both—studio creations and total improvisations. I think that blend gives it a good raw sound. If you’re fortunate enough to be in a situation like I am with Pat where we don’t even have to talk, you can just go in and let whatever natural chemistry evolve. I think it’s a real blessing and you can hear it on the records.”

The 10 songs that make up “Dropout Boogie” display a free-wheeling looseness that starts with the irresistible rocking opener “Wild Child” and continues right through closing cut “Didn’t I Love You,” a hypnotic fuzz guitar-soaked blues jam that falls somewhere between Canned Heat and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Elsewhere, the duo dabble in psychedelic soul on “It Ain’t Over” and its stacked wailing harmonies, while Carney’s loose-limbed timekeeping provides a perfect counterpoint to Auerbach’s plaintive vocals on the emotive “How Long?”

And while the Black Keys have historically kept the creative process to within their small circle, save for a few times of working with respected producer Dangermouse, “Dropout Boogie” found the duo inviting in guests Greg Cartwright (Reigning Sound), Angelo Petraglia (Kings of Leon) and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.

“We try to keep it simple and not think about [the creative process],” he explained. “But we did try a couple of things on this record differently—like have outside writers like Greg Cartwright and our buddy Angelo come in and do some writing, which is something we’d never done that before. The closest we came to that was working with Dangermouse. It was like that from the beginning probably due in part to insecurity and not being confident enough in ourselves to let other people into our world, which I think probably helped and hurt us equally. We put out five records before anything got played on the radio. The only time anything got played on the radio is when we decided to go into an actual recording studio for the first time and work with somebody else and see what it’s like. We had such a good experience working with Brian [Burton, Dangermouse’s real name] and learned so much.”

Longtime supporter and friend Gibbons (“He came to see us in New Mexico one time on one of our very first tours where it was just Pat and I in a minivan. He’s been on our team for a long time.”) was another welcome guest at Auerbach’s Nashville-based Easy Eye Sound studio.

“I heard that he was in town, so I texted him and told him if he was free, to stop by because Pat and I were going to be hanging out and recording. A few hours later I got a text that said, ‘I’m headed over hombre,” Auerbach said with a laugh. “He showed up with a bottle of red wine and no guitar. We poured him a glass, handed him a guitar and he plugged it straight into an amp. We just started improvising for an hour and a half. One of those improvisations was ‘Good Love.’ We didn’t talk about what the hell we were doing because we were just having fun. It was awesome. We sent him the record and texted him and he loved it man. It was cool. He’s just a big hero of ours.”

The Black Keys have now released 11 albums since dropping the 2002 debut “The Big Come Up,” with the Dangermouse-produced 2008 album “Attack & Release” providing a commercial breakthrough that paved the way to the platinum-selling success of the next two albums, “Brothers” and “El Camino.”

Given Auerbach’s output in the Black Keys, as a solo artist (two albums) and side projects (The Arcs and Blakroc), it’s no surprise that music was a big constant for Auerbach. His childhood is full of memories ranging from his mother playing Scott Joplin rags and “The Entertainer” on piano to his dad playing records from everyone from The Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead to Robert Johnson and Son House. But it was Auerbach’s mom’s musical side of the family that inspired him to pick up a guitar.

“Whenever we had family reunions, I would see acoustic guitars, mandolins, harmonicas and upright basses and everybody would be singing harmonies, so there was a lot of music growing up,” he said. “My uncles all had Martin guitars, played bluegrass and sang. I idolized them and wanted to be able to join in and play music with those guys.”

That restless creativity continues for Auerbach, as the Black Keys play a few shows to end the year. Fans can expect the Keys to “...play some of the hits, of course. We’re also going to play a little bit from all of the catalog start to finish.” In the meantime, the band is keeping it simple while continuing to let the creative juices flow.

“We never try to reinvent the wheel,” Auerbach said. “I think a lot of modern-day bands, especially bands that have gone to college, they tend to try and reinvent themselves every single record. We’re just fortunate that we’ve had our own thing since we were 16 or 17 and we just lean into that.

“We’ve been working nonstop on new music and probably have more than half of it done with some special guests coming in and writing with us,” he added. “Not being on the road has really been helpful for Pat and I and our relationship. I just think we feel more creative than ever, I must say.”

After 21 years, 97X's Next Big Thing returns to Coachman Park with The Black Keys, Bleachers, Lovejoy, MisterWives, Little Image, and Rohna. Click here for ticket information


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