In their nine years together, the Black Keys have performed to heads of states (Barack Obama), had a track covered by Kelly Clarkson (“Lies”), and provided the theme song to a show about a dude with a huge schlong (Hung). In just the past week, the bluesy indie-rock duo from Akron opened for Pearl Jam at Madison Square Garden, and their sixth full-length, Brothers — which has received a collective critical high five — debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard albums chart, a career high. How does a band celebrate this hard-earned success? By getting hammered, of course. We caught up with groggy drummer Patrick Carney the morning after. (The other Key, singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, was already at 30 Rock prepping for their Late Night With Jimmy Fallon taping.)
So, last night …
When we found out that our record went to No. 3, that led to us going to a bar and me staying up later than I should have. [Big yawn.] I’ll really celebrate it tonight, when I go to bed early.
How did you meet Dan?
We met when I was about 8 or 9. My parents got divorced, and my dad moved to Dan’s neighborhood [in Akron]. All I remember is that I sometimes played tag football with him and his friends, who were kind of assholes. We really didn’t hang out too much until high school. I was real into Devo, Pavement, Captain Beefheart, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Dan was into R.L. Burnisde and the Fat Possum stuff. That’s kind of where we bonded. A lot of my [other] friends growing up would make fun of me because I liked Led Zeppelin. But all those motherfuckers who made fun of me discovered Led Zeppelin at age 25 — and that’s the most depressing thing ever, to watch a 25-year-old discover classic rock.
In your new video for “Tighten Up,” you and Dan beat each other up. And “Next Girl,” the one before that, shows women throwing down. What’s with all the fighting?
Come to think of it, every video we’ve ever made except for one is about fighting. It’s more interesting to watch? [Laughs.] I have no idea. Like, in our video for “Strange Times” for the last record, Dan and I played a laser-tag game blowing each other up. I think Dan and I — we’re both very passive — are secretly supercompetitive with each other. But we had nothing to do with the first two videos for this record, to be honest. Warner Bros. was like, “We’re gonna make these videos. If you like them, we’ll use them; if you don’t, we don’t have to. And we were like, “We don’t like them.” They were like, “We’re going to use them anyway.”
So the captions disclaiming all the swimsuit-clad ladies the in “Next Girl” clip weren’t intended to be funny?
We told them you have to put this down across the bottom. We were disowning the video. Dan wrote all that shit.
Speaking of Dan, have you ever given him crap about his beard, which frequently reaches Rick Rubin–esque lengths?
I don’t know. His dad has a beard. His brother has a beard. I do like it better when it’s trimmed. The thing about his beard — I will say this — when we first started playing together, no one had a motherfucking beard. Actually, it was completely uncool to have a beard — to the point where I thought about bringing it up with him, like, “Maybe you shouldn’t have a beard.” Or something. Then it got the point, you go to Brooklyn and every motherfucker has a beard. Now, I can’t grow a beard, and I’m like the fucking odd man out.
Was the Pearl Jam show the other day the largest you’ve ever played?
It’s the biggest indoor show we’ve ever played. For that show, I prepared by making sure that my dad and stepmom had a hot dog to eat. And then Dan made fun of me. [Giggles.] That’s how we prepared.
Tell me about your album cover. It’s a really different aesthetic for the Black Keys — no images, just words.
That was all my brother Michael. He’s a graphic designer. We all agreed the record cover should be text-based because we couldn’t think of any image that fit. Michael’s done every one of our record covers and every one of our T-shirts. He used to work for Abercrombie & Fitch until they laid him off like a bunch of fucking idiots. He’s probably gonna get nominated for a Grammy for all this shit! He got a job that was twice as good at American Eagle within a week. I actually really like stories like that — when a company fucks up.
Maybe your next release can be a revenge record — about Abercrombie and about those guys in school who made fun of you for liking Zeppelin.
[Laughs.] Actually it’d be more of a “thank you” record, because it’s all worked out. It’s the way things are supposed to be. I don’t really have resentments about anything.
Oh, I was just being facetious.
Wait. Facetious. Is that the name of the neighbor from Family Matters? I’m trying to write a TV show. Ideally it would be just a reality-TV show, getting the guy who played Eddie Winslow and Kirk Cameron to live in a house. The Jehovah’s Witnesses would come to the house a lot or something like that. I kind of like the idea of Scientologists and Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to convert Kirk Cameron.
Back to music — do you drive one of those limited-edition Blakroc Camaros that was a brand extension of Blakroc, your blues-rap collaboration with Damon Dash?
No. But that is true, and it’s embarrassing. And I had nothing to do with it.
Was this his doing?
I don’t really know … I mean … yeah. After that happened, we had to rope some shit in. Figure some shit out.
What’s a night out with the Black Keys and Damon Dash like?
I don’t know. I actually don’t hang out with Damon that much. He likes to go to Norwood or whatever fucking, like, social clubs for single rich people. I’d literally rather hang out at the T.G.I. Friday’s in New Jersey than tool around at a place that sells $40 cheeseburgers.
There have been reports that you’re making a second Blakroc album. Is that true?
We started working on one. But I don’t know. I don’t wanna do it. I think it would just get old.
Brothers is self-produced. Why would you go back to DIY after working with a high-profile producer like Brian Burton (a.k.a. Danger Mouse) on your last album?
Brian, Dan, and I wanted to work together again. We did one song [“Tighten Up”], but I don’t think Brian really had time to work around our schedule. We also felt confident enough to do our own thing. We did it on our first four records. And I think we’ve learned a lot in the past four years, too.
Can you tell me the best thing about recording at Muscle Shoals, the Alabama studio where legends like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett have worked?
There’s a really good Cracker Barrel down there. Really fresh fried catfish and okra. There’s an amazing Circle K. [Laughs.] Uh, there really isn’t much stuff, but it’s beautiful there. The actual studio, they tore down most of it. The only thing in that studio that was there when those people were there is the glass in the control room and the toilet seat. [Pause.]
I’m waiting for you to say you stole that …
And, yes, we stole that.