The Black Keys: Dangerous Evolution

My dad would kill me if I told him that we turned down his salary for two years to synch a song to a commercial. He's been working for 40 years. He would think that we were fucking pompous idiots. So, I agree with that.

-Patrick Carney

Photo of The Black Keys by James Carney

"After the first or second day it was very obvious we were doing something neither one of us had really done before and it was great. At the end of the day, it's easier to do stuff like that when you have great songs already written, and they're great songwriters. That was the thing, what they do is already so strong that you can mess with it a little bit and do some things a little differently because the core is already so strong," says Burton. "It is different than any of their other records for sure and a couple things we did on the record I was like, 'I hope their fans don't hate me.' But, as long as they were happy with it, which I think they were, it was a really good experience. I learned a bunch from working with them, too."

Like it? Auerbach and Carney fucking love it.

Danger Mouse
"I think this record is our best record, and it's definitely my favorite record that we've ever made. I attribute a lot of it to Brian," explains Carney. "For a band that's never worked with a producer having one in the first place was a big help, but I think it was mostly having a producer like Brian. He had no agenda. He didn't give a shit if his idea got used. He would push both of us to come up with ideas. I remember coming home from the studio every single night while we were recording on Cloud 9. I don't think I've ever felt that excited about a project I've ever worked on. He definitely made the record the most memorably music experience I've ever had."

"I think having him in the room just affects what's going on musically. He doesn't hold back any punches, and he's supremely confident in what he's doing and what he's hearing," continues Auerbach. "He cuts all the bullshit and just goes right for the jugular, and that's what we needed. I don't think we could have the classic style producer. I don't think that would work for us. He comes at it from a totally different perspective, where anything is game and there are absolutely no rules."

Ah, no rules, the Danger Mouse trademark, and exactly what makes Attack & Release such an incredible piece of work. Where past efforts have essentially been Auerbach and Carney grinding out their sound as a stripped-down duo, Burton not only plays organ, piano, keyboards and bass, he and the Keys brought in guitarist Marc Ribot and Carney's multi-instrumentalist uncle Ralph Carney (flute, clarinet, jaw harp and more), both longtime members of Tom Waits' touring band. The album also features Kent, Ohio's 18-year-old bluegrass/country singer Jessica Lea Mayfield and vocalist Carla Monday. The result is the Keys' most experimental and impressive album to date. But, what truly makes it shine is that it's still distinctly The Black Keys. Burton was able to retain their classic, dirt-under-the-fingernails, blue-collar rock & roll aesthetic but beefed it up and shot the Keys into some sort of backwoods, psychedelic juke joint that is somehow both contemporary and classic, and maybe even a touch futuristic.

The Black Keys by James Carney
Take the song "Psychotic Girl." Easily one of the best tracks on the album, we find a creepy banjo rolling underneath ghostly background vocals and eerie keyboards. "Strange Times" augments the steady beat and overdriven guitars with more wraith-like vocals floating around and big breakdowns with high-pitched keys and buckets of Carney's crashing drums. "Lies" is a desperate, elastic lament of cold love with layers of sound hanging on every twist and devious turn. Then there's "Same Old Thing" with Ralph Carney's jazz flute dancing atop doubled vocals and hypnotic beats. Every song is thick with emotion and deep with thought. The more you listen, the more you hear. Danger Mouse did his job, and so did Auerbach and Carney. They've made an album that transcends their dirty blues base but retains its soul.

Eager to tour their new batch of songs, the Keys have taken this adventurous attitude to the stage. While not trying to recreate the studio magic of Attack & Release live, they have invited Ralph Carney to a number of dates and added some toys to the backline.

"What we've been doing is slowly integrating some new things into our set-up, like we're using a Fender Rhodes and I've got this crazy late '70s drum synthesizer. It's actually eight synthesizers," laughs Carney. "It's really awesome but it was kind of designed to make sounds that sound awful like the Traveling Wilburys' tom sounds or something like that. I take it and I basically run it through a bunch of fucking effects and make it sound like an 808. I'm into it."

With the Keys beefing up their sound, adding new gear, guest musicians and working with a living legend like Danger Mouse, one wonders if maybe the duo format is limiting where they could go.

"Honestly the only drawback to being a duo is the persistent references to The White Stripes. It's the only drawback, and it's fucking annoying as shit. But, we don't feel like we're missing anything and we never really have. So, that's the only drawback is having to fucking be compared to another band constantly. I think it's one of the laziest fucking things of all time," says Carney. "I think we sound fucking like The Black Keys. I don't think we sound like any other band."

The Black Keys tour dates available here...

The Black Keys: "I Got Mine" (Live on "Late Show With David Letterman")

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[Published on: 4/17/08]

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keenan41 starstarstarstarstar Thu 4/17/2008 04:56PM
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Hell yeah. May 17th. And I agree, they sound nothing like the White Stripes. If they sounded like the Stripes, they'd sound like a dog taking a dump. Since when is Danger Mouse a living legend? Anyway, great band and awesome new album.

MartinHalo starstarstarstarstar Thu 4/17/2008 04:59PM
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if you own black keys records that automatically makes you just a little cooler.

21mmer Thu 4/17/2008 05:18PM
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the black keys are righteous!!! but i had no idea they were so popular. i went to see them on tuesday night, thinking that i could easily get a ticket at the door.....SOLD OUT. good for them. no bueno for me.

Muffinman1 Thu 4/17/2008 06:14PM
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This is one of my Favorite bands ever. They are so great live. I'm seeing them May 12th 930 club. Their new cd is great, it's a lot different than the other cd's, but it's great. I also like the white stripes, but the Black keys blow them out of the water. And MARTIN, I own all the Black Keys cd's, so I must be the man!

RothburyWithCheese starstarstarstarstar Thu 4/17/2008 06:33PM
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These guys are amazing. Please get their live dvd if you dont have it already. Right on Dwight Shrout: they are better than the Stripes. Pat Carney is one of the best drummers in rock and no one ever talks about him. He makes Meg White look like well, Meg White. Saw them at SXSW for free and i am excited for rothbury and ACL...

DaMule starstarstarstarstar Fri 4/18/2008 06:07AM
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Great write up of the new album, which is totally different from anything they've done before and gets better every time I hear it. I hope that they stay a duo and dont add any bassist or keys to the mix, aside from the random guest sitting in.

Chaloupka starstarstarstarstar Fri 4/18/2008 08:04AM
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Love these guys! They kicked ass last night on Letterman!

youenjoymyself33 Fri 4/18/2008 11:55AM
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i wish i could be married to both of these men simultaneously.

that's how much i love the black keys.

if they're playing within 100 miles of you, GO. that is, if you're not afraid of being musically fucked too hard.

yearziro starstarstarstarstar Fri 4/18/2008 12:21PM
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After leaving a black keys concert you will be 2 things

1)Deaf for about an hour they crank it up and don't stop the whole show is floored

2)Amazed that these 2 guys can put out a sound most full bands couldn't even dream of

Last nights letterman show performance was awesome also

All Loving Liberal White Guy Fri 4/18/2008 12:51PM
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All Loving Liberal White Guy

While the Letterman show seems to have some good musical guests these days, their sound can be hit or miss. Dr. Dog played on there last year and whoever was in control of the sound board totally fucked it up.

Oh, and Black Keys rule. Mucho props to Kayceman

BungledMorphine Fri 4/18/2008 02:16PM
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I've seen them 4 times dating back to 2003. I even own their Demo. Yay me!!!!

Oh, and everyone needs to LOVE this band.

keenan41 starstarstarstarstar Fri 4/18/2008 03:25PM
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When I think of Black Keys, I think 6 hours of boozin' on a Friday night in front of the stereo trying not to get too giddy.

lsamuel3 Fri 4/18/2008 06:03PM
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thats how you put on a performance, super bad ass

also, the white stripes blow dong

Elemley Fri 4/18/2008 08:54PM
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the white stripes do not blow. the black keys are sweetness too. im not sure if im digging the new album as much as the oldies but it needs to be played much more.

cuttyfives Sat 4/19/2008 01:25PM
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kayceman, i love the lead into this story

HoodooVoodoo starstarstarstarstar Sat 4/19/2008 05:34PM
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Patrick Carney has a nose like Mike Gordon on the cover of Billy Breathes...

steveanderson81 starstarstarstarstar Mon 4/21/2008 01:41PM
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Saw these boys at First Ave in Minneapolis a few weeks back and I must admit it was money well spent. Been lovin' their sound for 5 years now and I finally got the chance to experience it live. Filthy, filthy blues at it's finest. Enjoy.

DesignVHL starstarstarstarstar Mon 4/21/2008 01:49PM
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Nicely written Kayceman. A good friend loves these guys and says I should see I think I will the next time they roll into chicago! :)

jimmy row Mon 4/21/2008 02:32PM
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so whats their best disc?

steveanderson81 Mon 4/21/2008 02:52PM
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Rubber Factory or Thickfreakness are personal favs. They are all top-notch records.

dtwisco Mon 4/21/2008 11:11PM
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anyone planning on seeing them in Paris.. I'll be there for ten days and 27 into the 28th happens to be my birthday.

ScIFreak star Thu 4/24/2008 02:08PM
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benlostforyears Wed 4/30/2008 12:09PM
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Newsflash dickhead - not everybody likes phish and thats ok. Its called personal taste and it makes the world go 'round. I love me some jambands, but the keys rock the fuckin house no question. Especially with dangermouse on the boards

miahmiah starstarstarstar Thu 5/1/2008 10:07AM
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when I finally took Attack and Release out, I put in Chulahoma. I've dug the keys for years and my band cover several of their songs but it's been a long time since i've really got stuck on one group (the Meters and Derek Trucks are the last ones). I love the new CD, I love the Hammond Organ. Stripped down is cool but bass and keys (event the simplest parts) have really got my ears eatin' those cookies!

ps Look for the new Indigenous record coming in Aug. That's me on the organ.