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The Black Keys: Blues Brothers

February 14, 2011

The Black Keys survived the ultimate rock jinx. Very few rock bands rediscover the chemistry that defined them when members of the group start to make solo albums. But after Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney went off to record with their own groups, they went on to make the best record of their career, Brothers. The album – with its memorable hit single, the Danger Mouse-produced “Tighten Up” – is also their best selling disc to date, debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart behind the soundtrack to the hit television show Glee and the reissue of The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street.

Auerbach doesn’t buy the solo jinx, perhaps in part because he never felt like he really went off on his own. “I know what you’re talking about, but we’re not like that,” he says as the band prepares for a five-month tour of the United States and Europe. “We had a big chunk of time off, so I just decided to do something with it. I’m always writing or recording something. [My solo record] Keep It Hid was fun because I was making it in my home studio. My studio was new, so there was a great feeling of being at home while I was making it. There’s no difference between writing songs for The Black Keys or a solo record – it can be either. A lot of songs on both records were written around the same time.”

Keep It Hid was released in February 2009 with Auerbach playing a tour in support of it with his own band. Carney formed his own group, Drummer, which put out its album, Feel Good Together, in September. If the side projects did not push the group apart, then they represented a turning point for The Black Keys. The group that had never left its Ohio base to make a record took on two extremely demanding projects in unfamiliar territory: during a whirlwind stretch over the summer, the duo went to Brooklyn to collaborate on a record with hip-hop MCs, called BlakRoc, then traveled to Muscle Shoals, Ala., to cut most of the tracks for Brothers.

“It was a heavy point,” says Carney. “[Dan and I] had been apart. We did a couple of shows last year but we really didn’t see each other much until we started working on the BlakRoc record.” The project came at a time when Carney was in the midst of an emotional divorce and planning his move from his hometown of Akron, Ohio to New York. “I probably should have been more cautious with my friends [in Drummer],” says Carney. “They knew going into it that I was in a band already and The Black Keys would obviously be a priority. We were supposed to do a West Coast tour and I had to put that on hold because the BlakRoc record happened. I had a kind of falling out with the lead singer and the band basically just broke up. We’re all on pretty good terms now, though.”