Bonnaroo Bound: The Black Keys
Our Bonnaroo Bound series continues with a feature on the Black Keys, which originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of Relix
For a look back at our “This is Blakroc” cover story from this past December click here.
Caught in a regretful moment, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are sitting on the latter’s front porch on a sunny summer afternoon in Akron, Ohio, shaking their heads. momentarily, they’re both lost in thought, remembering one of the watershed moments that have occurred in their collective life as the Black Keys.
Auerbach’s eyes glaze, as they recall finding themselves faced with the immortal dilemma that seemingly every notable rock band in recent memory has had to at some point go nose to nose with:Whether or not to sell out—or, rather, cash in on its newfound popularity.
Message board dorks and music snobs would universally agree that when the Keys refused a mayonnaise maker’s request to use one of their songs in a U.K. television commercial, they made the right (and noble) decision. But with the luxury of a little distance, the reality is crystal clear to Auerbach and Carney: They were idiots.
“They offered us £100,000 [$189,000 at the current exchange rate], and we were like, ‘No, we can’t do that,’” says Auerbach.“We were so stupid, trying to be all indie, because all we ever hear is, ‘Tom Waits would never sell his music,’ blah, blah, blah.”
“If they ever ask us again, I will fuckin’ cover myself in mayonnaise,” says Carney, noting that around the same time, he and vocalist/guitarist Auerbach also refused the Hummer Corporation on the grounds that it produces gas-guzzling, Earth-killing SUVs. “But, now, if something that didn’t even get like eight gallons to the mile— even if I didn’t like it—I don’t care. Fuck it, I don’t give a shit.”
“Yeah, we will be in the commercial jumping out of the jar,” adds a cackling Auerbach. But Carney, the group’s drummer and incessant comedian, is only half-joking—maybe not at all, actually. The band’s track “The Desperate Man” has since been heard in ads hawking Victoria’s Secret lingerie, netting a good chunk of pocket change, and,more importantly, massive exposure for the two, whose last video was aired on MTV only twice, despite oodles of hipster cred.
The reality, says Auerbach, is that as young musicians (he is 27,Carney is 26), they have to make the most of their financial opportunities:“This is all we do. And when you’re playing music for a living, the odds are against you big-time.”
The Keys and their building—albeit still relatively modest— success, are proof that no matter how goliath those odds, they can indeed be toppled.With only two members, these white kids from the heartland have taken a largely unknown black man’s groove (the droney,buzz-saw riffing that pulses through the hypnotic, raunchy records of such North Mississippi electric bluesmen as Junior Kimbrough) and married it with suburban garage rock. Over four albums and a handful of EPs, they’ve done so with increasing acclaim from both critics and rock heroes (Robert Plant, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons,Trent Reznor and Danger Mouse all count themselves as fans). And all of it comes from an unlikely source: Akron. Sure, Cleveland’s quiet sister to the southeast is home to the likes of Devo and Chrissie Hynde, but both have produced records that—while good, even great—were decidedly white. They come from a place where the primal scream and boozy, lusty grooves of such Keys discs as Rubber Factory, Thickfreakness and the new Magic Potion would most certainly be considered foreign.
Here, in this rubber town, in the shadow of the rotting buckle of the steel belt, there are the neighborhoods where the echoes of the economic depression from which the North Mississippi hill country blues sprung can be spied. It’s from these places, one might guess, that Auerbach, the Keys’ lyricist, siphons his howl and sorrowful stories.
“All shitholes look the same,”he says, dismissively. “There is definitely a slower pace to the way of life here, but that’s probably where the similarities would start and end. Mississippi is totally foreign. I think if you were to spend a long time in one of those smaller cities in Mississippi, it would be insane. It’s so poor, and so ridiculous.” Auerbach would know. As a teenager weaned on the likes of Fat Possum bluesmen T-Model Ford and R.L. Burnside and a slew of other electric and acoustic bluesmen and folk singers, he and his musician/folk-art dealer father made a fateful road trip to Mississippi, intent on stepping inside such influential dives as the late Kimbrough’s fabled juke joint, Junior’s.
“Every place we wanted to go was completely a maybe: They might be open, they might not. We drove 14 hours to a place that might not have been open.When we got there, it was open, but Junior wasn’t there.” In fact, Kimbrough would die a few months later. A few months after that, his bar joined him in the afterlife, after a controversial fire.
“I was just completely hooked by that music, everything about it,” says Auerbach. “In those first two Junior Kimbrough records, you could hear everything:You can hear the room that it’s recorded in; you can kind of visualize everything; you can hear sticks getting hit together when he’s not playing right; the creaking of the kick-drum pedal. I loved it.”
Beth Hart shares the opening track from her latest album, Bang Bang Boom Boom, live at Relix.
Jamie Lidell sets up in the Relix boiler room and delivers a tune from his 2005 album Multiply
Duane Trucks is happy to announce his new project, King Lincoln. Watch them perform “Coffee” live and acoustic at Relix’s Online-Video Coordinator’s loft in Williamsburg.
Here’s another song from Crystal Bowersox’s new record All That For This, live at Relix.
WYATT share a song in the famed Relix boiler room.
Goodnight, Texas share a song from their latest studio album, A Long Life of Living, live at Relix.
Warren Haynes performs a solo, acoustic version of “Railroad Boy” and explains how he adapted the traditional Celtic song for Gov’t Mule, backstage at the Hangout Music Festival.
Australia’s Alpine recently made their NYC debut at the Relix office with this song from their new album A is for Alpine.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
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