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Pitchfork Interview with the Black Keys' drummer


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(I've bolded things I find more interesting)

Patrick Carney's 2006 included a tour with Radiohead, a new label, and a new record. And that was just on the Black Keys side of things. Between all of that and the Keys' other touring, Carney still found time to work on his own label, Audio Eagle Records.

On May 15, Audio Eagle will put out its second and third releases: Houseguest's High Strangeness and Beaten Awake's Let's Get Simplified. The former band is from the Black Keys' hometown of Akron, Ohio, and the latter is from Kent.

We caught up with the drumming half of the Black Keys recently to talk about the scene in northern Ohio, his own musical history, his love-hate relationship with Norah Jones, his hate-hate relationship with the National League, and what this year holds for his label and the Black Keys, including a collaboration with Ike Turner and Danger Mouse.

Pitchfork: What is with the slogans under the Audio Eagle Records logo on the Houseguest and Beaten Awake CDs? There are two different slogans. One is "True Catsup" and the other is "Seriously Folks."

Patrick Carney: When me and my brother laid out the records, we decided that we would put a different slogan on each of the records. Those were the only two that we could think of, and they are really fucking stupid.

Pitchfork: Where did they come from?

PC: I don't know. It was pretty much the stupidest things we could think of. I think the one on the next record is going to say "We Live to Kill." There's an exterminator in Akron [and] I think that's their motto, so I think we'll steal that one.

Pitchfork: Does that record have a release or even a band attached to it?

PC: [it's] a band called the Royal Bangs from Knoxville, Tennessee.

Pitchfork: So you're not planning on keeping Audio Eagle strictly local to Ohio?

PC: No, the first three bands are from Ohio. And that's mainly because they're the first three bands that I thought of when I thought about putting out records. The ones I see the most. I think all labels should focus on their base. Every city has a bunch of bands that are really good, but nobody will put out their records for whatever reason. I know from experience it's hard to convince a label to put out a record when you're in a band that no one has ever heard of.

Pitchfork: Is that what got you into running a label? Are you friends with these guys?

PC: Yeah, I'm friends with all the guys in the bands, but also, I was a fan of all of the previous bands that these guys have been in since they were like 14.

Pitchfork: Any high-profile bands?

PC: Some of the guys were in Party Helicopters. A couple of the guys were in a band called Harriet the Spy. They were a pretty popular hardcore band. And then some of those guys were in a band called The Man I Fell in Love With, which is like the Steely Dan of Kent from 1995. And it's probably one of the coolest records that has ever been made in Ohio, but no one's ever heard it.

Pitchfork: What's it called?

PC: The record was called the Dis Yourself EP. It's really pop, kind of like an indie rock, unpretentious My Bloody Valentine kind of thing... is how I would describe it.

Pitchfork: You think My Bloody Valentine are kind of pretentious?

PC: Yeah, yeah I do.

Pitchfork: Do you still like them?

PC: Yeah, I do. I like it when bands are pretentious, as long as I don't know them. It's more believable if it was a band that existed before, or in a different country.

Pitchfork: As long as you don't have to deal with all the egos, then it's okay?

PC: Exactly.

Pitchfork: So Houseguest and Beaten Awake are not pretentious?

PC: No. They also don't have cool haircuts.

Pitchfork: Is that a trade off? Do you have to be pretentious to have a cool haircut?

PC: Well, I don't know. That band the Horrors, for instance-- I think that's embarrassing. Their music is pretty good, I guess. But you know when you're 20 years old and you move out of your parents' house and you get a weird haircut? And when you go back and look at those pictures when you're 26, you feel a little bit embarrassed. Kind of like when you wake up in the morning after you've been drinking, and you realize that you sounded like an asshole all night long.

Pitchfork: Yeah, everyone goes through that, but these guys are doing it more in public.

PC: Yeah, exactly.

Pitchfork: After Houseguest and Beaten Awake, who is the third band from Ohio on Audio Eagle?

PC: We put out a record last year by a band called Gil Mantera's Party Dream. Fat Possum handled distribution of that record. They were these two guys from Youngstown that are out of their minds, and they just played at Madison Square Garden a couple days ago. They were opening up for Scissor Sisters or something. Their contract is up.

Pitchfork: Are Audio Eagle contracts only for one record?

PC: For them it was. I'm trying to start a label that is pretty much based on handshake deals and putting out music that I like. Focusing mostly on the kind of music that I feel most comfortable with, which is rock 'n roll and indie rock.

Pitchfork: Are there any labels that you are trying to model Audio Eagle after?

PC: Well, I want to embrace the fact that I have a very small label that puts out really good records. There are a lot of labels that do that. I have no crazy aspirations. I grew up listening to K Records releases by bands that probably ended up selling like 300 records, but to me it was the biggest deal. Like Love as Laughter's first record. I got that record when I was 14 years old, and to me, they are super famous.

Pitchfork: It's interesting how people happen upon stuff like that when they aren't in a huge urban area. How did you first get into that stuff?

PC: I got into that band the same way I got into any music at that age, which would be like friends' older brothers. Or record store clerks who were nice, who would see us go into record stores trying to look for new music and would burn us copies of records. That and reading Magnet. When I was 14, I thought that if you had something in Magnet it was like being on the cover of The New York Times.

Pitchfork: How did you feel when the Black Keys first had something in Magnet?

PC: To this day, when something like that happens it just blows my mind. But I'm stuck in 1995. I've had the chance to meet people that I grew up kind of worshipping.

Pitchfork: Was that the deal when you guys were on tour with Radiohead last summer?

PC: Not so much them. Like, Dean Wareham from Galaxie 500. I met him a couple weeks ago. And Calvin Johnson stayed at my house last year.

Pitchfork: Does that experience puncture the dream at all, or do they live up to the hype?

PC: Meeting people like that is just interesting. Like, Calvin Johnson is a genuine weirdo. So that met all my expectations.

Pitchfork: Weird in a good way?

PC: Yeah.

Pitchfork: What was it like opening for Radiohead?

PC: To be honest, it was really flattering and awesome to do that, but at the same time, I get really nervous when we are asked to do something like that, because I'm worried that the fans won't be receptive to the Black Keys because we are so much different than Radiohead.

Pitchfork: Were people receptive?

PC: Yeah, they were. The shows went over really well, but the first night I was anticipating the worst for some reason. But that's just because I'm insecure.

Pitchfork: Did you get any sense of Radiohead's thoughts about why they wanted you guys to open for them?

PC: The way I explained it to myself was that they liked us because we were so much different than what they were doing at the time. We were kind of the opposite, a little more stripped down but going for the same thing. I really don't know. I know that Jonny Greenwood really likes guitars. So maybe that's it: there are guitars in our band. Those guys were super nice, though.

Pitchfork: Did you spend any time with them on tour, like going out to eat or anything?

PC: We went to an after-party in New York with them, and it was the only A-list soiree that I have ever been to. It was really awkward, and I just hung out with a friend of mine in the hallway smoking cigarettes. Jay-Z and Beyonce were there.

Pitchfork: Really?

PC: Yeah, and Michael Stipe too. Natalie Portman bumped into my arm, and at that point I just left the room because I was grossed out for some reason.

Pitchfork: Wait, what were Natalie Portman, Michael Stipe, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Radiohead all doing at the same party?

PC: I don't know. I think it was some sort of Warner Brothers Illuminati meeting.

Pitchfork: Is there a goal you have for the Black Keys that you haven't met yet?

PC: Yeah. I mean, our ultimate goal is just to keep making records that we feel we need to be making. There isn't one goal though. As soon as we decide that we're going to make a record, it's pretty much done within the next month. Our goal is to not play any games and just have fun making the music that we want to make.

Pitchfork: You've been producing since at least the first Black Keys album. What made you interested in that side of things?

PC: As soon as I got my first guitar, my friend's dad had a four track, and I think I was like 13. For some reason, the guitar was just as interesting to me as the four-track. Making music is just as fun as recording music. Maybe it was because I wasn't any good at playing guitar. I'm not really sure. Eventually I got a drum set to have at my house just so I could record people playing drums at my house. I've always been fascinated with recordings that are, I guess, sub-par. Not in an intentional crappy way, but just in a humble way.

Pitchfork: Any examples?

PC: Interstate 8 by Modest Mouse. I still think that is one of the coolest records ever made. And Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted. There is something about the sound of bands recording a record with no money. That's the sound that I like.

Pitchfork: Do you ever feel a friction, being on a major label imprint and knowing that you could make something pristine but instead recording it your way?

PC: There aren't that many bands that make records that are pristine-sounding. The main thing that we've intentionally avoided was having an outside producer come in and work with us. With just Dan [Auerbach, Black Keys guitarist] and I, it's easy for us to compromise with each other and maintain the integrity of what we want to do. But when a third person is added to the mix-- arguing with someone that isn't in the band about how something should sound doesn't work.

Pitchfork: Are you ever tempted to make something sound shittier than it's supposed to?

PC: It's not about sounding shitty. We recorded some demos at a studio once about three years ago. It's the studio that one of the guys from Man or Astro-man? owned. It was a really nice studio. They had some super nice vintage recording [equipment], and the engineer, this guy named Jim, literally smacked my hands when I went to touch a knob because I wanted to make it sound less, I don't know, like a Norah Jones record.

Pitchfork: Is that the secret, that all Black Keys demos sound like Norah Jones recordings?

PC: Secretly, everyone's records could possibly sound like Norah Jones.

Pitchfork: What is the scene in northern Ohio like? Does it just get swept in with Cleveland or is it separate?

PC: I think Cleveland is a separate thing. I mean, there's a lot of show-trading that goes on between Cleveland and Akron. Kent and Akron are both really small cities, as far as places you'd want to live in that aren't trailer parks. There is only about a quarter mile of Akron where everybody lives, and for some reason, Akron has always been pretty connected to Kent. There are tons of bands out here. Six Parts Seven are from Kent. There used to be a Kent sound, but it seems lately there is a pretty diverse scene. Every band sounds different from each other, but they all trade shows with each other, so it's pretty interesting.

Pitchfork: What was the Kent sound?

PC: It was more dissonant and fast and loud with unintelligible lyrics that were about nonsense. There were a lot of bands pressing 7"s that sounded sort of like guitars but more like tape hiss. Akron-- and Cleveland too-- has always been a pretty good place for bands. The bands there now aren't just trying to latch onto any sort of legacy from the previous bands. There aren't any bands that are dying to sound like Pere Ubu around here. And there aren't any bands that want to sound like Devo. In Detroit, there seems to be a bunch of bands that kind of sound alike, which is cool; that's what a normal scene is: bands that sound like each other. But here, everyone just wants to play music and there's no set notion of what that music should be.

Pitchfork: That's interesting, because I'm from Cincinnati, and it seemed like there wasn't much camaraderie there.

PC: I'm friends with a bunch of bands from Cincinnati, and none of them really know each other or hang out with each other. The Heartless Bastards don't really hang out with Thee Shams or Buffalo Killers or the Greenhornes or whatever.

Pitchfork: Have you noticed any other differences between northern and southern Ohio?

PC: The reason that there are so many bands in Kent and Akron is because everyone is friends with each other, so everybody starts bands with one another. So in each band, there's like four different bands. The guys all play in each other's bands.

Pitchfork: You guys also have a slightly better baseball team than we do in Cincinnati.

PC: Yeah. I hate the National League, though.

Pitchfork: Why?

PC: It's just propaganda I think. Just from growing up in an American League city, I guess. I automatically hate the National League. They used to not play games with each other. So I just grew up not giving a shit about the National League. And once, I went to a Pittsburgh Pirates game, and they had AstroTurf, so I instantly hated them.

Pitchfork: I've only heard people say they hate the American League because of the DH [designated hitter].

PC: Yeah, people just can't accept change.

Pitchfork: Do you think the National League will ever adopt the DH? Do you care?

PC: I pretend that the National League doesn't even exist. And the Expos. I hate all expansion teams, too. I like basketball more because the Cavs are doing well, and LeBron James is from Akron. He lives about five miles from my house. He went to school right around the corner from where I used to live, and I saw him driving the Hummer that he obtained illegally in high school. He is so awesome.

Dan actually got me floor seats to the Cavs game the other day, and it was pretty awesome. They shot flames out of the scoreboard, and you could feel the heat from it.

Pitchfork: So the Black Keys have a bunch of festival dates this summer.

PC: Yeah, that's pretty much what we're doing. We're going to Australia and then playing a bunch of festivals.

Pitchfork: Do you ever go to see festivals when you're not on the bill?

PC: Actually, the only festival that I've ever been to as a fan was the Pitchfork Festival last year. We saw Os Mutantes and Silver Jews. That was really fun, being in such a small area and not terribly crowded.

Pitchfork: Were there any other bands that you saw at the Pitchfork Music Festival that you hadn't heard before or sort of discovered there?

PC: CSS is a band that my girlfriend really likes, and I actually really like that band.

Pitchfork: It seams like that record got a weird reception, and then, based on their live show, people started really warming up to them.

PC: They are doing really well. They just got back from Europe, and they're playing pretty big places. And the Gossip too, I really like that new record. I guess it's not new anymore, it's actually a year old. I think they're in the top 10 in the UK right now, and it's crazy having played with that band a couple of times. Actually, a band I was in before the Black Keys played with them. They have been around for a long time, and I think it's really fucking awesome to see a band like that get some crazy commercial success. It seems like that will never happen here, to see a band like that get to #1.

Pitchfork: Do you think that's beyond most bands' control?

PC: There is just so much bullshit with radio that it's basically impossible. The only reason that they are big in England is because of the BBC. The BBC has about the coolest radio programming ever. They have a history of recording amazing bands, like [with] the Peel Sessions. And the DJs actually play things that they like, not just because they are getting paid money.

Pitchfork: Yeah, I've heard some shows on satellite radio that are really great. It seems like that's a medium that could lead American audiences towards those kinds of shows.

PC: But even SIRIUS Radio, there's only one station that plays indie rock. We get played a lot in Australia and in England, and the difference that radio play makes for how your record does is just ridiculous. Our record debuted at #18 on the Australian pop charts, which is ridiculous because here I think we debuted at like #180. And then we instantly went to #6000 or something.

Pitchfork: Other than the tour and your own stuff with Audio Eagle, is there any other Black Keys news to report?

PC: We are working on a project right now with Danger Mouse and Ike Turner.

Pitchfork: Are you serious?

PC: Yeah, I'm dead serious.

Pitchfork: What is the project?

PC: Dan and I are in the process of writing and recording an album that Ike Turner will sing and play on with us. Danger Mouse put this thing together and asked us to be part of it, and we agreed. He's going to produce the record, and he wants it to be a return to form for Ike Turner.

Pitchfork: So it won't be billed under your name?

PC: It will be Ike Turner and the Black Keys.

Pitchfork: How did you hook up with Danger Mouse?

PC: He contacted us in the fall. It was probably around October. We are going to start putting it together next week. We've been working on it for a couple of months, and we asked Danger Mouse if it was cool if we mentioned it a couple months ago. But we haven't really done any interviews.

Pitchfork: Are you guys writing the songs, or is Ike?

PC: We're writing the songs. Dan is going to write lyrics, and then Ike and Danger Mouse and Dan will go through lyrics together. We will bring a structured song to them, and then Danger Mouse is going to produce it and Ike is going to sing on it and also play guitar and organ and piano.

Pitchfork: Were you guys fans of Ike's before this?

PC: Yeah, definitely. The stuff that we have been recording is pretty fucking fucked up. We're recording it at Dan's house with a pretty simple set-up of just like two mics on the drums and guitar, and it's going to sound pretty fucked up.

Pitchfork: Are you trying to approximate the sound of any of his old records in any way?

PC: No, but we are trying to make sure that it doesn't sound like Norah Jones.

Pitchfork: Does it sound like the Black Keys?

PC: Yeah, definitely. I don't know when this is supposed to come out, but I heard sometime this year. It's still in the early stages, so it's hard to tell.

Pitchfork: Danger Mouse seems like he is getting around everywhere. Have you met with him or Ike face-to-face?

PC: No, not yet.

Pitchfork: So you aren't working on any new stuff purely for yourselves?

PC: Yeah, this is the project that we are working on. I think we're going to put out another single from Magic Potion, and then in the fall, I think we'll start writing another record.

Pitchfork: Do you know what the new Magic Potion single is going to be?

PC: I'm not really sure. Dan and I were talking about what we're going to do, maybe getting someone to remix a song. But not like a fucking dance remix, just an actual remix of a song. We're not sure what we want to do. When we're on tour, we pretty much just sit backstage and come up with more things to keep us busy. So that's one of them.

Pitchfork: Are there any other surprises up your sleeve?

PC: Audio Eagle has its own distributor now. We were going through Fat Possum for a while, but we're not doing that anymore. From now on, Audio Eagle is going to be distributed by Nail Distribution. They do Park the Van and Dr. Dog's record. They are a pretty solid up-and-coming distributor based in Portland, Oregon. Fat Possum just goes through Sony/RED, and putting stuff out on that scale is kind of ridiculous. I just want to get it out to indie record stores and focus on people who are fans of independent music. It's more important for me to have a Houseguest and Beaten Awake record get into an indie store than it is to get into Best Buy.

Pitchfork: Because Best Buy is where the Norah Jones records are.

PC: Right. I don't mean to shit-talk her. I'm sure she's cool.

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