The Black Keys sit down with Rolling Stone senior editor Patrick Doyle in Nashville to discuss their three-year break, hatred of mainstream pop and “misunderstanding” with Jack White. They also confirm a 2020 tour in our “The Rolling Stone Interview” video series, presented by Dodge.
After Doyle arrives at Keys guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach’s studio Easy Eye Sound, drummer Patrick Carney jokes that their recent positive feedback from fans can be traced to a street team they’ve organized on YouTube. He also mentions a nasty comment from a user who said he was relieved he missed the Keys’ performing their new song “Lo/Hi” in Toronto.
“They said, ‘You’re really not doing justice to all the nuances,'” Auerbach says. “This is exactly what’s wrong with the world today,” Carney adds, comparing the fan to Ricky Gervais’ character David Brent on the U.K.-version of The Office. “This fucking idiot has a voice.”
The duo details the three-year break they took in 2015, in which after headlining Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco, Auerbach went on to release an album with his side project the Arcs (Yours, Dreamily,) and a solo record two years later (Waiting on a Song). “We took a break for the first time,” Carney says. “You gotta remember: between 2014 and 2002, we made eight albums. That’s more than most bands get to make.”
“There was a lot of stuff I learned on this break, too,” Carney adds. “One of them was just how fucked up the music industry is.” The Keys recall how much they struggled to make it in their early days, even citing a time where they drove from their hometown of Akron, Ohio to New York to open for a ska band for just $50. They’d often sleep in their van — a 1994 Plymouth Voyager — the same model featured on the cover of 2011’s El Camino.
When Doyle asks if the band likes where the music business is going, Auberbach shakes his head. “I don’t know where it’s going, to be honest,” he says. Carney claims that in a world with fewer zines and blogs, it’s increasingly more difficult to find information on underground music. “Even a website like Pitchfork, there were all these snarky motherfuckers,” he says. “But at least they would be covering some stuff I might be interested in. Now I go there and they’re literally covering pop music.”
Auerbach admits that he always felt alone in his music taste growing up. “There was nobody I could really hang out with and listen to blues music with when I was 14,” he says. The duo, who grew up across the street from each other in Akron, found they shared musical chemistry instantly. “The thing about Pat and I, a lot of the things that people love, is just the natural connection that we have,” Auerbach explains. “And I think the older we get, the more I realize it. Every time we get together, we’re just instantly on the same wavelength.”
Carney discusses a lifelong hatred of pop radio, stemming from his childhood. “I would hear Lionel Richie and get fucking depressed,” he says. “I’m not an asshole for saying that. When you ask me about music, I have an answer like Jim Jarmusch would probably have about film,” he states, noting it would be ridiculous for the renowned director to say his favorite movie is Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. “When you ask me about film, literally my favorite movie is The Goonies.”
Elsewhere in the clip, the Keys recall their weirdest celebrity encounters, including Hulk Hogan at the Spike Video Game Awards and Shane MacGowan of the Pogues in England, the latter Auerbach describes as looking like a melted candle and simultaneously downing three drinks at once. They also discuss their partnership, citing Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan as an example as to why you should always share publishing between band members. “Of course he had no one to talk to,” Carney says. “He’s a fucking greedy prick.”
The Keys conclude the interview by confirming a 2020 North American tour and discussing the pros and cons of streaming — that while it’s convenient, it’s brutally unfair to artists financially. “Whenever I talk about that or acknowledge the Spotify bullshit, it’s not because I don’t think I’m being treated fairly,” Carney says. “I’m beyond wealthy for what I could ever imagine.”
Finally, what’s the situation with Jack White, a.k.a. their fellow Midwestern garage rocker they’ve had legendary beef with for years? “I’ve hung out with him a few times this year, gotten to know him,” Carney says. “I think there’s just a lot of misunderstanding early on. Obviously we have a lot in common with him. We’re basically from the same part of the world, grew up listening to the same stuff, into the same esoteric weird shit. And I think he’s a good dude.”