The Black Keys are back. Solo projects and hip-hop collaborations have been put on hold, their sixth studio album, ‘Brothers’, richly focuses the Akron duo’s already definitive permutation of the blues.
Traces of their sabbatical can be found in the new record, which picks up on the heavy soul vibes of Mos Def and RZA -not to mention Danger Mouse-produced track, ‘Tighten Up’. “Every time I do something, I learn,” explains Black Keys front man Dan Auerbach. “I learn techniques; tricks that I then get to bring to The Black Keys. Every time I produce or record a band I’ll take something away from the experience. I learnt a whole lot doing my solo record and Pat [Carney, the other Key] and I both learnt a lot doing the Blakroc album -it’s definitely influenced the latest record.”
A lot has happened to The Black Keys since they formed in 2001: staying true to a form of blues-rock whilst progressively forging a more independent sound has left their mark on numerous bands across the world -Auerbach alone has produced fifteen records in the last two years.
However, any notion of pressure affecting the return to Black Keys is a foreign concept to the front man, who doesn’t seem to comprehend the growing expectation the band have given rise to in their absence. “I don’t feel pressure about releasing records,” he asserts. “I don’t get stage fright -I love making music, that’s the easy part for me.” After a brief pause he chips in, “But you know something? It dawned on us after we made this record that we’ve never made a song for the radio. There are bands -I mean a lot of fucking bands -whose main goal when they’re making a record is to have a hit. That notion has never once crossed our minds. I don’t know, I just think it’s interesting; maybe we could try that one time -for fun though. It would have to be for fun.”
With this album a critical success, there has been more than one sly nod toward the band’s sound being influenced by recording at the hallowed Muscle Shoals studio, Alabama -where Aretha Franklin laid down some of her signature.
“We’ve never made a song for the radio. That notion has never once crossed our minds.”
tracks. It’s a suggestion that front man Auerbach vehemently denies: “We walked through the door and were pretty excited,” he explains. “But after a couple of days we realised that the studio wasn’t anything like it used to be -all the installations which gave the records their sound had been torn out. I think Pat and I found out that we can do this thing we do anywhere; it doesn’t matter where the fuck we are.”
Listening to ‘Brothers’, Clash is inclined to agree with them; Auerbach’s aching falsetto is honed to an emotive plea throughout the record, sending a shiver down the spine and bringing The Black Keys out from beneath a White Stripes-shaped shadow.
“Growing up in an environment where it is all bluegrass songs and gospel songs doesn’t allow you to sing in a phoney voice you know? Music is in my family; it’s something I learnt to do when I was a little kid,” Dan asserts. “I was surrounded by people who sang passionately. You have to be natural to be able to sing that kind of music in a real way. You can’t just come at it from an ‘Idol’ kind of way -that won’t cut it -you will be told to leave the building.”
Words by Samuel Ballard
Clash Magazine Issue 51