Two Against Nature

The Black Keys fight like brothers, party with the Wu-Tang Clan and have created a masterpiece of noise and heartbreak

May 27, 2010
Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys
Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys
FilmMagic Inc

'Ican't believe 'jism' counts." The Black Keys' tour bus is speeding down Interstate 10, somewhere in the armpit of north-central Florida. Drummer Patrick Carney, six feet four and scarecrow lanky, adjusts his thick black glasses and examines the game of online Scrabble on his phone. "Hey, Dan," he says. "I just played 'jism' on your brother." By his side is breakfast: a carton of Camel Blues, eight sugar-free Red Bulls and a 24-ounce can of a malt-beverage energy drink called Dragon Joose. It's 11 a.m.

Singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach grunts his approval. He's trying to rest up. The Keys – a punky, bluesy duo from Akron, Ohio – are on their way to a jam-band festival called Wanee. "I haven't played you in a while, Dan," says Carney, popping open a Red Bull. "What's up with that?"

"I got bored of winning," Auerbach says.

"You beat me once. I beat you twice."

"That's how you remember it."

They're always like this: On the hour-long trip from the airport to the venue, they'll bicker about everything from whether salt is a powder or a crystal, to Diet Coke's flavor relative to Mountain Dew's, to how famous Oprah is in Africa. Auerbach, 31, is quick with a sarcastic aside; Carney, 11 months younger, is king of the schoolyard burn. (To wit, this recent text exchange, from 10 p.m. on a random Thursday: Carney: "You going out tonight?" Auerbach: "Nah, going straight to bed." Carney: "Yeah, with a man.")

The Keys grew up around the corner from each other in Akron. But aside from the occasional acorn fight or baseball-card trade, they didn't hang out. Auerbach was a soccer jock; Carney was a "superindie nerd dude." "If it hadn't been for music," Carney says, "we probably wouldn't be friends." They started playing together in high school, mostly out of convenience – Carney had a drum kit, Auerbach had a guitar – and cemented their bond through years of touring in Carney's minivan, which they'd take turns driving while the other slept.

The duo pay tribute to their complicated partnership with the title of their sixth album, Brothers. "Pat and I have spent more time together than with anybody in our families," explains Auerbach. "We understand each other better than anybody on Earth. We love each other, we get on each other's nerves, we piss each other off. But like brothers, we know it's all OK."

Auerbach wants to talk to Carney about the video they're shooting next week for their new single, "Tighten Up."

"I haven't read the treatment yet," Carney says.

"Yeah, you have."

"No, I haven't."

"Well, you should. You're acting in it."

"I'm acting in it?"

Auerbach rolls his eyes. "It's like a Laurel and Hardy skit, basically. Both of us are at the park with our kids. They start trying to show off for some girls and start fighting, and we have to break it up. But then one of the kids' hot moms comes over, and we start competing over her. It ends with us fighting in the sandbox and the kids standing over us, shaking their heads."

Carney laughs. "Oh, I gotta read it, that sounds good. Who plays the hot mom?"

Auerbach doesn't miss a beat. "Your mom, actually." A pause. "And I fuck her."

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