BY LARA MICKLE After a five year hiatus, the Black Keys are back with a new album called, simply enough, Let’s Rock, and a tour that stops at Wells Fargo Center on October 14th. Re-connecting their basement-rocking roots, Let’s Rock channels a distinctly bell-bottomed 70’s rock vibe by keeping it stone-cold simple and using no instruments made after 1978. Last week we got bespectacled Keys sticksman Patrick Carney on the horn. DISCUSSED: What the hell they’ve been up to for the last five years (a lot, it turns out); making babies; producing other people’s albums; seeing Wu-Tang Clan at the home of the Grand Ole Opry; why there’s an electric chair on the cover of the new album; how the Keys buried the hatchet with Jack White over a baseball game; and the demise of politics in the U.S.A.
PHAWKER: What have you been doing with your time in the five years since Turn Blue came out?
PATRICK CARNEY: Well I produced a record for Michelle Branch, and then I ended up dating her, and then I ended up having a baby with her, and then I ended up marrying her so that’s what I ended up doing mostly with my five years. I produced records for quite a few bands actually, I probably worked on about six or seven albums and Dan worked on probably ten or twelve albums, including a solo record and a record with another group he had briefly called The Arcs. So we both were really busy although we weren’t on the road. I think the reason why we took time away from the band was because we started thinking that every time we made a record we thought that we’d have to go on the road and play a hundred shows in a year, you know? It’s just a lot to process,and we did that. We did 125 shows in 2010 and 2012, and in 2011 and 2013 we did about 50 shows, and then 2014, we did 80 shows, so we just had nothing but touring for basically four and a half years. So after our last show was booked for Turn Blue we just took some time off. After three years of the time off we were back in the studio working. It seems like a longer break because our last record came out and there was a five-year gap between records, but there was only a three-year gap between [us] working together.
PHAWKER: Was there a specific reason for the hiatus or did it just work out that way?
PATRICK CARNEY: It just was that we took a break, and just kept growing, and we kept doing other projects that required more and more time; for instance, that first year 2016, I was working on Michelle Branch’s record, and then 2017 I was touring it, and then 2018 we had already started making plans to get back together to make another record. So it wasn’t that big of a break really, it was just enough to do a couple of big projects.
PHAWKER: What made you and Dan decide it was time for a new album?
PATRICK CARNEY: I mean we’d been in touch the whole time that we were not playing together. I think once we figured out a plan that would work for touring, and that Dan was comfortable with, then that’s kind of when we set the date to go back to the studio. It wasn’t a big meeting or anything, we were just playing it by ear.
PHAWKER: Jack White’s record label, Third Man Records applauded your release of Let’s Rock, does this mean there is no longer beef between you guys and White?
PATRICK CARNEY: There’s no beef, there’s no more beef. We’re like Wendy’s, looking for the beef. That just proves my age, that’s a reference to a commercial from 1986. No actually, Jack and I watched the Cleveland Indians play the Detroit Tigers in the season opener this year. I watched some of the game with him at his house.
PHAWKER: What did you make of Jack’s most recent album Boarding House Reach?
PATRICK CARNEY: I mean obviously the guy is one of the most talented rock musicians out there. I think everything that he does is really interesting.
PHAWKER: The new album has a distinctly ‘70s vibe, what prompted that? What were you guys listening to in the run-up to writing and recording Let’s Rock? Were there particular albums you guys discussed for reference points for the new album?
PATRICK CARNEY: I honestly think the reason that it has that… I mean it has that vibe accidentally kind of, but we didn’t use really any instruments that were made after 1978. Everything from the drums, to the symbols, to the microphones; the only thing we were using that was more modern was a computer, but even that, we weren’t really using the computer to make anything sound differently. And we didn’t use any synthesizers, or anything that has evolved over the years. We used the highest form of rock and roll equipment from [around] 1974 so I think it was just accidental really.
PHAWKER: So there weren’t any albums you guys were listening to that you used as reference points for this?
PATRICK CARNEY: Not really, we’re always listening to our favorite records. I have a firm belief that my favorite period of high-fidelity recording is throughout 1973 or ‘74. There’s a 10cc record, I don’t even really like the record that much, but I love the way It sounds from back then. Things like that, where we’re just able to listen to records sometimes for the songs, sometimes for the sounds. But we weren’t really referencing anything unusual that we wouldn’t normally reference. Usually, when we went to go listen to music we’d end up just watching ridiculous videos on YouTube.
PHAWKER: The day you guys recorded this album a Tennessee man was executed, his last words were “Let’s rock!”. Who was this guy? What was he executed for?
PATRICK CARNEY: Well, I don’t even know. I know that Dan was just struck by the fact that this guy was asked what his last words were before he was put into the electric chair, and he just said Let’s Rock. I think he [Dan] just felt like that is maybe the most profound statement, and the most moronic statement. But it basically sums up rock and roll, so it became the record title, and then we put the electric chair on there and it kind of just became full Spinal Tap.
PHAWKER: What was the last album or song you heard that blew your mind?
PATRICK CARNEY: The last album or song I heard that blew me away… Oh okay, shit… I heard this really obscure piece of music from the same period, the mid-70s… but fuck, I can’t remember. I’m going to text my friend and I’ll have the answer for you in a minute. My friend played it for me.
PHAWKER: Well then I will ask you in the meantime, what was the last concert you saw that blew you away?
PATRICK CARNEY: The last concert I saw that blew me away, Wu-Tang Clan at the Ryman Auditorium in June.
PHAWKER: What new bands are you impressed by?
PATRICK CARNEY: There’s a lot of little bands that I’m kind of into. There is this band called Crumb, that I like. There’s a band from Nashville, called Faux Ferocious that I did a record with that I like. I really like the new Andrew Bird record. There is a singer from America named Kate Bollinger who has a record that I think she made just for a small indie, the record is called Untitled it’s really good.
PHAWKER: Presumably it goes without saying that you’re not a fan of President Trump, but you tell me if you feel otherwise.
PATRICK CARNEY: I think he has the most inflammatory way of communicating with people, you know? I think it’s really unsettling watching someone in a position of authority just communicate the way he does. [reading text] And that song that blew my mind is called “Play It Again” by Roderick Falconer.
PHAWKER: What are your thoughts about the news that the Democrats in the House of Representatives have opened a formal impeachment inquiry?
PATRICK CARNEY: I think that this whole thing is very… I think it’s crazy to be the president and not think that the CIA is listening to your calls, and then to have conversations like he did. I also think it’s really fucking crazy that Joe Biden’s fucking son is on the board of a Ukrainian fucking oil company, you know? I think that that just speaks to the problem, that all politics are fucked! I think there are very few pure politicians. Sherrod Brown is one, I think Barack Obama is one — pure, good, well-intentioned. But people exploiting their power is a tale as old as time itself. To think that just because someone is affiliated with the Democratic Party they’re above it, is just fucking crazy. That’s what concerns me, making sure that the Democrats — and I am a registered Democrat — find a candidate that really embodies whatever they are trying to fucking do, and I think Hillary Clinton was definitely not the candidate that they signed up for. I also think that what your children do speaks highly of you as a parent, and I know that these Biden kids have been through a fuckton of shit. But still, do I want a president whose son is okay exploiting his position as the son of vice president to get a position making 50k a month on the board of an oil company that he knows nothing about? No. Do I want a president who tells foreign nations he’s going to withhold aid until they give him the dirt? Fuck no, I don’t want any of that.