The Black Keys tell us about returning to the UK and their “epic” new album

The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney has spoken to NME about the band’s upcoming tour of the UK and Europe, their “epic” new album, working with Noel Gallagher and why they’ll never play Glastonbury.

The blues rock duo are set to kick off their European tour in Paris on June 19 before playing their first UK headline tour in over 10 years.

“We’re both excited to get over there but we don’t feel any pressure about playing,” drummer Carney told NME. “Our first show in London was at the Camden Barfly to maybe 30 people and for a decade, we played every single venue imaginable to get to Ally Pally and The O2.

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“When you’re coming up, it can often feel like competition and you’re constantly stressed. Now, we’re at the point where we can just enjoy everything.”

The band are touring in support of 2022’s ‘Dropout Boogie’ and will be joined onstage by a group of “incredible musicians.”

“The key to our sound is embracing the human element,” said Carney. “None of us are virtuosic musicians, there’s just a lot of raw rock ‘n’ roll.”

As well as those headline shows, The Black Keys are also hoping to host more DJ nights, where they exclusively play tracks via 45 vinyl. “It’s just us, partying,” explained Carney. “We don’t want to go to some crummy bar after the show and listen to shitty music. We’d stay backstage and play music but there’s no one else there, which is kind of boring. This is a way for us to control the jukebox and hang out together.”

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The last time The Black Keys fully toured the UK was in support of 2011’s ‘El Camino’. Speaking about what’s changed for the band between then and now, Carney explained: “We’ve done a lot of growing up in the last 10 years. Dan [Auerbach, frontman] and I have always been close but we’ve got a very deep friendship right now. We enjoy hanging out. Getting to go on tour with your friend, it makes the whole thing feel more exciting.”

Carney went on to call 2019’s ‘Let’s Rock’ a “transitional record” for the band, following a four-year hiatus. After touring it, they recorded an album of Hills country blues tracks called ‘Delta Kream’ before COVID forced them to take another year off.

“When we got back into the studio in 2021 to record what would become ‘Dropout Boogie’, something had changed,” said Carney. “Obviously the whole world had changed but a year of isolation was enough to change the dynamic between Dan and I. We were really, really, really excited to see each other every day.”

They worked for nine weeks on ‘Dropout Boogie’ until they had to turn it in ahead of a planned headline tour. “But we just kept working,” Carney continued. “By the end of the year, we had 17 new ideas down and we just kept going.”

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The vision for The Black Keys’ upcoming next album really came into focus after Beck visited Easy Eye Studio in Nashville last April, though. “We started writing with him and that was the beginning of what we’re finishing now, an epic album that’s our best record for sure,” said Carney. “It won’t be out until next year though.”

Carney continued: “It’s a weird, full circle thing. Our first tour was with Sleater-Kinney and they took us to a Saturday Night Live afterparty because they knew the musical guest, Beck.”

While at the party, Carney approached Beck and handed him a bootleg version of their upcoming 2003 album ‘Thickfreakness’. “Who’s going to listen to that shit? Beck did. And he invited us on tour a few weeks later, which was our first big break,” Carney recalled. “We’ve known him for 20 years now and he’s the lynch pin in the new evolution of The Black Keys.”

While “not wanting to give way too much away” about the next record, the drummer described it as “clearly a collaborative thing,”.

“We’re working with a lot of people and the vibe of the record is fun,” he said. “It’s reflective of our DJ nights in a way, it’s a big Saturday night party record. We just had people come through the studio and throw a little bit of special sauce at each song.

“There are just so many different collaborations but there’s a thread through it with Dan and I filtering everything. It just feels really fucking amazing.”

As well as Beck, The Black Keys have also worked with Dan The Automator, Greg Kurstin and the “incredible” Noel Gallagher. “He’s hilarious and super talented,” said Carney. “We were referring to him as ‘The Chord Lord’ because he’s just a perfectionist with it.”

“Dan and I are big fans of him and Liam,” he continued. “Actually, the Liam song ‘Everything’s Electric’ is why we decided to work with Kurstin [who produced the track].”

He went on to say that The Black Keys have probably reached their limit for collabs on this record, but that he “hopes that people hear the album and it gives us more opportunities to work with more people”.

Danger Mouse showed us the trick to collaborating and that’s someone we need to work with again soon,” he added. “We used to be pretty insular. We were two friends from Akron who didn’t really take part in any music scene, and we weren’t able to hang out backstage early on in our career, because we had to drive to the next show.

“Now, we’re thriving because we’re including our friends and being more inclusive. That’s what the vibe is with this record.”

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21 years after the release of their debut album ‘The Big Come Up’, The Black Keys find themselves playing arenas while still excited around what they’ll do next. “The most important thing to Dan and I has always to be relevant,” said Carney. “We want to be making music people give a shit about, and not just making music to make music.

“As long as that is happening, then you can continue on. When I see a band like Fleetwood Mac who’ve not made a record in 30 years or something, that just fucking sucks. It’s not inspirational for me. That’s like purgatory.

He continued: “I’m listening to the new record we’re making now and it’s the first time in a long time where I think we’ll need to play six or seven songs off it live. We figured out that making good music is what gets us off, and it’s easier to do it with your friends. As I get older, I’m realising you want to be making music and creating stuff that’s exciting. Otherwise, what the fuck is the point?“

The Black Keys
Credit: The Black Keys

Eagled-eyed fans may have noticed a Glastonbury-shaped hole in The Black Keys upcoming tour schedule, however we probably won’t be seeing the band at Worthy Farm this summer.

“We got an offer from Glastonbury that was so insulting, we’re never going to play the festival again,” said Carney. “We know it’s a big deal for people in the UK but the weight of what the festival is doesn’t translate to most Americans. We have no interest in playing it.”

This upcoming tour is the biggest run of dates The Black Keys have played after Carney made headlines last year following the public break-up and subsequent reconciliation of his marriage to Michelle Branch.

Back in August, Branch told police officers called to her home that she had slapped Carney in the face “one or two times”. Two weeks later, the case was dismissed at the request of the state. The pair also announced they would be getting divorced, before that was put on pause.  

“I’ve never talked about my personal life, but is it that shocking that someone in a band has a somewhat tumultuous relationship? I don’t think so,” Carney said. “You want shocking? Tomorrow I’m going golfing with Alice Cooper. He likes to golf, he’s really well-read and well-spoken and he doesn’t like to drink. That’s real shock rocker shit.”

The Black Keys
The Black Keys in their ‘Dropout Boogie’ era. CREDIT: Jim Herrington

The Black Keys’ upcoming tour comes as the ‘00s rock scene has undergone a resurgence under the ‘indie sleaze’ banner, thanks in part to the film Meet Me In The Bathroom. The Black Keys came up alongside that wave of guitar bands including The Strokes and Interpol – but according to Carney, were never really part of it.

“I saw Yeah Yeah Yeahs before ‘Fever To Tell’ came out and they were really fucking good but that scene never had an inclusive vibe. It was never a friendly vibe and everyone was kinda an asshole.”

“We never hung out in Brooklyn because we couldn’t afford to,” continued Carney. “We just did our own thing. That said, The Strokes were massive influences on Dan and I. To see a band play the Mercury Lounge and then make waves across the world was huge. Watching all those bands succeed was inspirational but we never felt particularly supported or connected to them.”

The Black Keys upcoming UK tour dates are below, with tickets available here.

JUNE
21 – The O2, London
22 – AO Arena, Manchester
24 – OVO Hydro, Glasgow

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