Rockin’ on: After a five-year respite, the vintage duo that is the Black Keys make a fresh start

Some bands just get better with age.Making a recent stop at the Wells Fargo Center, one of the first on a worldwide tour, the Black Keys brought the same bravado and panache they had before their five-year hiatus. The new…

Some bands just get better with age.

Making a recent stop at the Wells Fargo Center, one of the first on a worldwide tour, the Black Keys brought the same bravado and panache they had before their five-year hiatus. The new tour is to promote their newest album, the highly anticipated, “Let’s Rock.”

Lead vocalist and guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney stayed busy during the supposed time off and were working with other bands and musicians while perfecting their own sounds. Despite the time apart from each other, they didn’t skip a beat at the show, proving their spots as resilient rock icons of our time.

Carney caught up with PW before the start of the tour in September. He was hanging out at his home in Nashville, rehearsing for the tour and soaking in the time with his one-year-old son and 14-year-old teenage stepdaughter. 

In the five years between the releases of “Turn Blue” and “Let’s Rock,” what were you and Dan up to?

Well, a lot, kind of. I broke my shoulder in the middle of the Turn Blue tour, so it kind of put that tour on the skids and it stopped. When I finally got better, we finished what we were obligated to do. In 2015, we didn’t schedule anything else tour-wise or band-wise, and we decided to hit the brakes. We were both kind of fried. 

At that time, I made a record with Michelle Branch, who I ended up getting married to and having a kid with. She moved from L.A. to Nashville with me and her daughter, and then I went on tour with her. I made about seven or eight albums for other people. I spent a lot of time just starting a family, you know. That’s what I did.

I did a record with Chris Thomson, the drummer from Vampire Weekend. I did a record for Calvin Johnson from K. Records. I did an album with this band Repeat, Repeat, who is coming to do some shows with us. I can’t even think of all of the stuff I did, but I stayed pretty busy.

Well, you seem like a very busy man.

Dan is busier, trust me. I’m a homebody at least half a year.

What’s your creative process when creating new music? Do you take any risks?

Dan and I have this way of working where we just get into a room together, sit down with our instruments and just start jamming. When we come across something that sparks our interest, we start trying to develop it quickly. It usually takes an hour or two for the music itself to develop into the structure of a song. If it doesn’t happen within an hour, we are moving on, so we work pretty quickly.

Once we get an idea together, Dan will start trying to work out lyrics and find a melody and stuff like that. That’s the way we work together, and when we work with other artists it’s always different. That’s why it’s fun to produce other bands because producing basically is problem solving. When you do it enough, you get forced not to make the same decisions over and over again, so you can work from a formula and it helps things kind of fly by. 

I think this record’s a good example of that — we just kind of wanted to have fun together. That was like the main goal of this album — not trying to get a song that gets played on the radio.

Do you and Dan have any unique traditions you do in your downtime while touring? What do you do when you’re on tour in Philly?

We would go to South Street or something and do some record shopping, that would typically be what we would do on a day off. If I have a day off on a Sunday, I will watch football all day. Having a baby, I’m looking forward to seeing him and sleeping in on those days, which is incredible.

How do the atmosphere and crowds in Philly compare to other places you’ve played?

Well, we’ve played in Philly a bunch. I think our very first show in Philly was at the Electric Factory opening for Beck in 2003. We were late for the show, we were speeding on the expressway and were going like 90. A cop pulled up next to us and just looked at us like we were complete fucking idiots, and was screaming at us to slow down. He had something else to handle so he let us walk, and we showed up to the venue ten minutes after our set time. We threw our stuff on stage and we still got to play like 30 minutes.

The crowds in Philly are great. In Japan, it could be really unnerving. The crowd is very polite and does not make noise until the very end. During the whole set, you’re just like, ‘holy shit, what the fuck is happening?’ It’s actually like that in parts of Holland, too. It’s weird how the little minor cultural differences can make the show different. That said, we haven’t toured the U.S. in our headlining tour since 2014, and I have a feeling the cell phone addiction is going to be way more pronounced.

In another five years, what do you see The Black Keys doing?

Ideally, I hope that we are still having fun and [playing] music. That’s ultimately what the goal is. I think if we’re both still enjoying it, that we’ll still be doing it. That’s what I hope for. 

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    Alex is a reporter most passionate about arts and entertainment writing. She has been working for PW since March 2019, where she has been lucky enough to learn more about Philadelphia’s vibrant culture and interview some of her favorite artists, such as The Black Keys.