Q&A: Patrick Carney on the Black Keys' Summer Tour, Van Halen and Dance Music

"If they replace someone who's been in the band for 30 years with a 17-year-old, they're obviously assholes, right?"

Patrick Carney of The Black Keys
Jim Dyson/Getty Images
Patrick Carney of The Black Keys performs in London.
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"We're playing better than we have since 2010," Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney tells Rolling Stone in the middle of the band's summer tour. "When you play a song 60 times a year, you fuck around with it." Carney, exhausted from months on the road and ready to return home to Nashville for a vacation, opens up about what it's like when women flash the band, why he hated seeing Van Halen live and why he won't be checking out the dance acts at Lollapalooza.

This summer, you have a lot of festival dates booked and a bunch of your own shows. Any you're particularly looking forward to?
Yeah, we're playing that new [Catalpa] festival in New York on Randall's Island. We're playing the Firefly Festival in Delaware, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. We're doing a bunch in Europe. We've done 54 shows so far and we're just halfway through our tour schedule for the year.

You've been playing the El Camino songs for a few months now. Do you feel you've eased into them a little more now?
At this point, we're well rehearsed. We're playing better than we have since 2010. Once you get a bunch under your belt, it starts becoming more of a routine. That will start happening when you play a song 60 times a year – you fuck around with it.

The weirdest thing that's happened on this tour is it's the first time we've ever experienced women flashing us – only in Canada, though. It only happens in Canada.

No flashing in the U.S.?
No. I don't know what's different up there. But it's really far. You kind of feel like that shouldn't be happening.

Do you mind women doing that?
I can't see it. I didn't even have my glasses on. But my drum tech will tell me what's going on.

How can the crowd catch your attention?
The best way to catch my attention is to throw a Twinkie near my face. I don't know. The only way to catch my attention really is if my monitor goes out or if something really fucked up happens onstage.

Since the Brothers tour, how have you seen the crowds change?
Well, they've gotten much bigger for this tour, but they're also getting younger. It feels like they're predominantly high school kids, which is new for us.

That has to be pretty cool, a full-circle kind of thing.
Yeah. I can totally identify with the younger kids. I'll never do what Jon Spencer did to me when I was 16, though. I made a tape with my friends and I put it onstage right near his mic stand by the pedal board and he pulled it out with his foot, kicked it to the center of the stage, looked me in the eye and stomped it to pieces.

Are you serious?
Yeah. I can still see his white loafers and satin pants coming down on the fucking tape.

Have you ever run into him since?
Yeah we opened for him once. I didn't bring it up, though.

He'd probably be opening for you guys now.
Yeah, and we'd listen to his tapes, maybe.

Are you taking the big mirror ball on the road with you for the summer?
I think so. I don't fucking know what we're doing, honestly. I know that we're not changing the show that much from now until [after our summer break]. But I try not to think about it. I'm not really trying to think about the second half of the tour after we've been on tour all year long. I just bought a new house.

You did?
I haven't really seen it yet. I've been to it twice for 10 minutes each time. That's all. I'm just excited to get home and see it because I don't know what the fuck it looks like.

Do you find yourself running into the country crowd much in Nashville?
I'm friends with Dierks Bentley. Aside from that, I don't really know anybody else in the country music field, really. I've met the Lady Antebellum people and I met Marty Stuart briefly once. He's really nice, but I don't know any of them really.

I think Dan [Auerbach] knows a lot of them. I always say to Dan, "If you can't sing in Nashville, no one gives a shit about you." He's like, "That's bullshit." I'm like, "It's completely true." What the fuck? If you can't play guitar and sing in Nashville, you might as well just be a construction worker.

Are you looking forward to Lollapalooza?
We love Chicago. It feels like the capital of the Midwest. Basically, it feels like home. It's cool to be able to go to the festival and jump downtown and hang and get over to Wicker Park. You're not stuck in the middle of the desert or a cornfield like most festivals. That's the bummer about a lot of festivals. As a band, you sit around and play a gig and then all you want to do is do something fun. At Coachella, there's nothing to do that's fun for the band afterwards, unless you go to some rich piece-of-shit's after-party, you know? The same thing goes for Bonnaroo. All you want to do is get the fuck back to Nashville. Lollapalooza is one of the few festivals – along with Outside Lands – where you can go and get back into town and hang out.

What bands will you be checking out at Lollapalooza?
I love Black Sabbath, but I don't know if I'd want to watch Black Sabbath without Bill Ward. The band is Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Bill Ward and Ozzy.  I have no interest in seeing bands with partial lineups. I just saw Van Halen without Michael Anthony. I'm not a very big Van Halen fan but it was such a fucking bummer. Like what the fuck is the point?

Yeah, definitely.
I mean, sure, Eddie Van Halen's son is a pretty good bass player and he's a 20-year-old kid and that's cool, but like, what the fuck is that? That's fucking retarded. If someone is able to be in a band for 30 years and then people are okay with replacing him with a 17-year-old, they're obviously motherfucking assholes, right?

Did you enjoy the show at all?
No. Not at all.

Why?
It felt flat. It didn't sound good. I don't think Dave's voice is really there. Eddie Van Halen's guitar sounded pretty good but I'm not a big fan of that music to begin with. I do like some of the classic Van Halen stuff, but not in the same way that I actually like Black Sabbath stuff. I just think some Van Halen is exceptionally awful.

A lot of festivals this summer have a lot of dance acts. Do you ever check that stuff out?
No, I don't understand it. I think when you're trying to sell a hundred thousand tickets, you have to have a diverse crowd, you know. I think you have to kind of hedge your bets and make sure there's stuff for people who listen to that music. I don't know who listens to that kind of music, instrumental versions of LMFAO or whatever.

What else are the Keys planning this year?
We're going back in the studio in July. We'll have a couple weeks to start the next album then. We have a new single coming out in Europe for "Dead and Gone." My brother did a video for it that I think we're going to put out that's really cool. We bought the rights to this random old, old cartoon and he edited it into a story that fits with the song that's really crazy, actually.

Awesome. So the next record will probably come out sometime next year?
That's what we hope for, yeah. We don't know when we'll be done but we're starting it in July. We might not finish it until March since we have to tour so much but we'll see. We don't know what's going on. After July, we'll be able to know how long it'll take.