How much do you know about Ohio garage kingpins The Black Keys? Bet you didn’t know that guitarist Dan Auerbach’s goal in life is “not to go bankrupt or get some incurable disease,” while Pat Carney on drums is simply “excited to become a 70-year-old man with no taste buds left who only wants to eat mustard.”
No wonder Patrick Carney grew up to be a rock monolith – it seems to run in the family. His uncle, Ralph Carney, played saxophone with artists like Tom Waits, The B-52’s, Elvis Costello, and They Might Be Giants.
The duo once launched a charity t-shirt, designed by Patrick Carney’s brother Michael and sold at shows for £15, to raise money for the baseball little league they used to play in as children, the West Akron Baseball League. Carney explained: “Dan and I played little league when we were kids before we got into music; it was a really positive hobby that kept us from sitting around watching TV.”
Their name comes from an expression used by a friend of the pair, schizophrenic artist Alfred McMoore. “He would call people he doesn’t like D Flats and Black Keys,” Carney explained in 2006.
The pair are vocal supporters of Barack Obama, playing a benefit show for the President in 2008 in their hometown Akron, Ohio with fellow Akronites Devo and Chrissie Hynde.
Dan Auerbach doesn’t think rock ‘n’ roll will ever die. “Being 16 years old and getting an electric guitar is never going to get old. There’s always going to be kids making music. There’s always going to be kids in bands.”
In 2010, Pat’s personal e-mail account was hacked. The hackers sent out messages stating that he was stranded in the UK and needed money to get home.
Early in their careers, they were offered a six-digit sum to put their music in a Hellman’s mayonnaise advert, but turned it down because they didn’t want to alienate their fan base.
The pair may come from Akron, but relocated to Nashville to make music. When asked in 2011 what he missed about the Ohio town, Dan simply replied: “Nothing.”
Patrick’s brother also did the artwork for the album ‘Brother’ which leads with the line “This is an album by the Black Keys. The name of this album is Brothers.” It won a Grammy for best packaging but Dan still insists that “we’ve just never given a shit about image, and generally hate people who do.”
Their song ‘Set You Free’ is included in the soundtrack from ‘School of Rock’. The song can be heard when Jack Black takes Joan Cusack to a bar for coffee.
Don’t expect to see either of them taking out Spotify subscriptions anytime soon: both Carney and Auerbach have been outspoken about their opposition to the streaming service, and refused to let their 2011 album ‘El Camino’ to feature on the platform. “If it was fair to the artist, we’d be fine with it,” explained Dan.
Pat Carney is slightly less diplomatic about Spotify: in 2012, he called one of its board members, Napster founder Sean Parker, “an asshole.”
When they won three Grammy’s in 2010 for ‘Brother’ they stayed at the ceremony for a total of 15 minutes. Places to go, people to see…
Pat thinks that “music [that is] too perfect is boring.” “When you turn on the radio it’s all kind of perfectly sequenced, perfectly written, perfectly performed by machines,” he complained.
Pat blames the recent downturn of interest in rock ‘n’ roll solely on Nickelback, described as “watered-down, post-grunge crap, horrendous shit.”
When visiting London, the pair often stay at the capital’s Columbia hotel – made famous by Oasis who wrote the song ‘Columbia’ after being banned from the establishment for bad behaviour
The Keys have also had their fair share of wild nights at the Columbia. “Once, when the guy wouldn’t serve us any more, we took a tablecloth and wrapped it around the beer tap [to keep] the beer flowing all night,” remembers Carney.
Pat cites his main influence as Ney Jersey cult heroes Feelies, who disbanded in 1992 and reunited in 2008 for a show with Sonic Youth in NYC.
Dan’s mantra for life is “the groove is king.”
Dan is of Polish Jewish descent – he’s the son of an antique dealer father and French teacher mother. His great-uncle was a Holocaust camp survivor and his grandma got out just before the Nazis closed the borders.
Pat got into music first. Aged 12, he’d begged his father for a guitar, but despite having lessons, he admits he was one of the worst guitarists in the neighbourhood. “I really don’t have an ear for pitch,” he claims. “I can’t sing at all, I can’t hum melodies and I can’t write riffs.” Good job he met Dan.
Pat has never had a drum lesson or bought a drum magazine unless he’s in it.
The first DJ in the world to play their music was John Peel, for whom they recorded three sessions, including one at his house, where they hung out with the family. “We were on the way to the fourth when we received news that John had died,” said Pat.
By the time of their mainstream breakthrough, following 2010 album ‘Brothers’, the pair were speaking to one another. Pat had felt betrayed to discover Dan was touring a solo album, ‘Keep It Hid’, which he says was made without his knowledge. Dan claims: “I told him about it, but he likes to think I didn’t.”
In 2012 they sold out Madison Square Garden in only 15 minutes. One Direction currently hold the record at under a minute but the pair were still quicker than Jay-Z.
Before becoming famous, Pat worked in telemarketing. Dan meanwhile played music for diners during brunch at a vegetarian restaurant before the band made it.
Dan is friends with Billy Gibbons, of ZZ Top fame. They met through mutual friend. Producer Rick Rubin. The pair also recorded together with Gibbons describing the session as “hyper-pedal”. Whatever that means.
Pat claims that his vocal outbursts in the press are merely to entertain his band mate. “That’s usually why I end up saying retarded shit sometimes, it’s just to get a rise out of him.”
Their 2010 album ‘Brothers’ was a licensing bonanza. The single ‘Tighten Up’ appeared in a Subaru ad, a video game, a Gossip Girl episode and on the soundtrack to several Hollywood films.
The pair have dabbled with drugs – “We ate mushrooms in the van one time, going from Amsterdam to Paris,” Dan recalls. “We opened up the door at one point at a truck stop, fully on mushrooms, and it was like when they went into Willy Wonka’s. I haven’t done them in a long time, but mushrooms rule.”
There is a seven inch height difference between Dan and Pat which they both claim “still make hugs awkward.”
Pat’s younger brother, Michael, was friends with Dan’s younger brother, Geoff at high school with the Keys meeting during a tag American football game with them.
Dan’s numerous side projects include stints in the production chair for Dr. John, Michael Kiwanuka and Valerie June. He’s also collaborated with Lana Del Rey.
Dan plays a Fender Jerry Donahue Telecaster, originally designed for the Fairport Convention member, Jerry Donahue, and also played by the Hellecasters.
In 2005, Pat founded Audio Eagle Records. It signed acts such as Houseguest, Royal Bangs and Carney’s own side-project Drummer before closing down in 2010.
The pair are signed to Nonesuch records, which used to be a classical label. The first record they ever released was by Franco-Flemish composer of the late Renaissance Claude le Jeune.
Dan’s production on Dr. John’s ‘Locked Down’made it into Rolling Stone’s top 50 albums of 2012, described by the US mag as “a soggy wasteland where honest men have equal fear of the KKK and the CIA.”
Dan and Pat have also produced other musicians, including the self-titled album for Canadian rockers The Sheepdogs and the second studio album by Tennis, titled ‘Young & Old’.
Pat’s first wife, who he divorced in 2008, wrote an article called ‘Snapshots from a Rock n’ Roll marriage’ on the debacle. It starts by explaining that she was wearing their Tin Huey T-shirt the day he asked for the divorce.
Pat’s uncle has composed music for two spoken word poetry records: Robert Creeley’s ‘Really!’ and Ira Cohen’s ‘Stauffenberg Cycle’.
In 2009 Dan and Pat released a hip-hop collaboration under the pseudonym ‘Blackroc’. It featured contributions from Mos Def, Q-Tip and Ludacris and a limited edition Chevrolet Camaro was released to promote it.
The spiral album cover of upcoming release ‘Turn Blue’ is a disappointment to some fans who had seen a leaked ‘alternative’ album cover of a pooping elephant.
In Dan’s recent divorce settlement his ex-wife, Stephanie Gonis, is said to have received $5 million and a lock of Bob Dylan’s hair.
Dan and Jack White’s children attended the same school. In letters released during the latter’s divorce he is rumoured to have not been a fan, saying “[Dan] gets yet another free reign to follow me around and copy me and push himself into my world.” Ouch.
Pat has his own monthly radio show on SiriusXM. It’s called ‘Serious Boredom’ and is “a mix of standard indie rock leavened with Captain Beefheart.” The drummer has a theme for each show, centred around a different American city.
One of Pat’s nicknames is ‘The Salesman’, said to have come about as a result of his multi-coloured drum kit.
The creepy promo for upcoming release, ‘Turn Blue’ featured the actor Micah Fitzgerald, who’s previously starred in 13/13/13, The Tsarevich and The Sunshine Shop: The Lovaganza Convoy Proof of Concept. Nope, we’ve never heard of those films either.
Their first album, ‘The Big Come Up’, was a lo-fi affair. Dan and Patrick recorded the entire album in Pat’s basement studio on 8-track recording equipment. Follow-up ‘Thickfreakness’ was recorded in the same studio during a single 14-hour session.
Before the band could afford a driver they used to drive from gig to gig in an old Chrysler van nicknamed ‘the Grey Ghost’.