Black Keys Drummer Calls U2 iTunes Stunt a "Disservice" to Artists

Black Keys' drummer Patrick Carney only really wants you to hear the first track from the band's new album.
Black Keys' drummer Patrick Carney only really wants you to hear the first track from the band's new album.
Danny Clinch

Due to space limitations, we couldn't include every part our conversation with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, who's coming to US Airways Center on Monday, November 10, in our print feature this week.

Our story focused mostly on Carney's outspoken stance on the need for streaming music services to pay artists more, and how his position parallels and contrasts the anti-Napster stance that got Lars Ulrich in so much trouble at the turn of the century.

That said, the conversation touched on many topics, including how the only song he really is excited to show people from the band's new album, Turn Blue, is the opening track, how producer Danger Mouse is like a third member of the band, and how file-sharing probably helped the Black Keys get popular.

See also: Is Black Keys Drummer Patrick Carney the New Lars Ulrich?

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Up on the Sun: When you guys were doing the duo thing, it's miles away from what you are doing these days. How has your drumming approach changed now that you play with a full band? Do you have to pull back a bit?

Patrick Carney: Well, we're still a duo, but when we go into a studio, since [2008 album] Attack & Release, we basically aren't writing songs for just drums, guitar and voice. We go into the studio focusing on bass lines and keyboard parts. Those things take way more of a prominent role, you know. And we're way more into using them than we were prior to, say, 2007.

But yeah, when we were writing songs that were basically just songs that were designed for just Dan and I to play, the drums, yeah. They play a different role. There's a lot more space. I can write more riffs. Drums, I've never really viewed the drums as a timing accompaniment, It's more the feel of the song. Things get a little bit more complicated when you start, you know, if you get excited about a bass line, then you realize that is going to take the front seat to the song, then the drums kind of have to work with that, you know? Then you have to do something more simplified. But that can be just as fun. Like the song off our new record, "Turn Blue," it's basically all about the bass line. That's the most simplistic drum parts I've ever played, but it's also, I think, one of the cooler drum parts.

Do you see it as a different challenge [now] to figure out where to lay back and where to take the lead as the drummer?

Yeah. On the [2011] album El Camino, that's the first time I've played drums the way that drums are supposed to be played.

My skills as a drummer have gotten much more diverse over the last couple albums, but I still think my best drumming is on the album Brothers.

It's interesting that you bring up Brothers, because really, Brothers was one of the albums that you guys changed the most stylistically compared to the previous album. And I feel the same way about the new album. Do you think there was a bigger change between Attack & Release and Brothers or between El Camino and Turn Blue?

I think the biggest, the biggest style change was the difference between brothers and El Camino, personally. But I think if you go back and listen to them, I think the difference between Rubber Factory to Magic Potion. At the time, that felt like a huge change to us. It's a darker, heavier album. It's a weird album. You go from that to Attack & Release, and it looks different from anything we've ever done. We used organs for the first time, synthesizers. And then you go to Brothers, and that's ... almost like something we would have made in 2004 or 2003, but it all hung together by bass and drums. It is something that we've never done before.

This record kind of caps off the last three records, in a way. I hear elements of Brothers, I hear elements of El Camino, I hear a lot of elements of Brothers. I hear a lot of elements from Attack & Release. The only song I really wanted people to hear first was the first song on the record.  

Are you talking about "Fever" or "Weight of Love?"

"Weight of Love." The way that records get released, you put a single out, then maybe you put a teaser out, then you put the whole record out. But we were kind of working at a disadvantage by the fact that Turn Blue is an album. You can pull the singles off them, but El Camino ,,, you get a feel for what the whole album is, but if you pull the singles off this record, you're losing a lot. It's one of those record that is designed to be listened to top to bottom. But when you pull the singles out of it, you start losing the things that were special about [the album].

I've always thought that your guys collaboration was sort of interesting in that you guys have this throwback, organic blues rock sound, and Danger Mouse [Brian Burton] represents very modern, electronic music. So what does that collaboration bring to the table, so much so that you've done three albums with him now?

As soon as we started making records with Danger Mouse, people assume, especially if you look at comment section bullshit and stuff like that, that anything that they don't like about the record comes from Brian. He becomes a scapegoat. He's like a foil. [The fans] pin everything they don't like on him, like synthesizers. A lot of the things that people think Brian does, he doesn't. And a lot of things that people think that Dan or I do, Brian does. When he comes into work when we work together, it becomes a three-piece band. I

You made some comments about the whole U2 iTunes-gate thing...

[Interrupts] You gotta understand, I didn't even read that article because I saw the headline. I was trying to make thins sincere point, and you look at the internet and someone says "Black Keys Drummer Slams U2" -- that's not what i was doing. The point I was trying to make is that basically, without realizing it, they did a disservice for most independent artists. People, and it's not their fault, but people perceive music to be a free commodity. You have a band needs to sell their 5,000, 10,000 albums, and it's a big fucking deal so they can pay their bills and make another album, and you see that the biggest band in the world is giving it away for free ... basically showing thy consumer that music shouldn't even be fucking paid for. When you have some of the richest guys in music doing that, it's super selfish. ... It's like price-fixing. It's the way that people get in trouble for monopoly laws by going in there and making a price cut.

Yes, it absolutely does devalue music to give it away like that, but at the same time, you guys have managed to build a thriving career in the heyday of devalued music...

People confuse my comments with them being about our band. ... It has nothing to do with me or Dan worrying about people buying our music. It's about the common goodwill towards other bands, that's all it is. It's probably hard for a band like U2 to remember what it's like to be fucking broke, but it's not hard for Dan and I to remember. It wasn't that long ago that we were fucking broke.

So how has file-sharing affected your guys' band? Do you think that your success has anything to do with people sharing your albums with friends?

Yeah, I'm sure -- probably. File-sharing is older than our band. I used Napster a couple times when I was 19 and felt guilty as hell. But I was pulling stuff that basically impossible to find. I was pulling the [This Is Just a Modern Rock Song] CD by Belle & Sebastian, which was really hard to find in Akron, Ohio. ... There's an Ike and Tina [Turner] record that's really fucking good that's all out of print called Feel Good that is the only fucking record on my computer that I've ripped from Youtube. But yeah. Of course file-sharing helped, but I think there is less and less of it now. ... Basically, now it's sanctioned streaming. What people don't understand is that if that shit's available, then of course people are going to use it, and of course they should use it. and why not? The only problem is that the labels haven't figured out how to fucking compensate artists yet. That's the main problem. The other problem is the artist is always the last to get fucking dealt with properly. That's the way it always is.

And that's why your last two albums aren't on Spotify, right? Is that about compensation?

Well, our singles are there. But no it's also that people assume that it all comes down to greed. But as an artist you gotta look out for other artists. The only bargaining an artist has is collective bargaining. There's no union. There's no one arguing for artists really.

People like to go in on anybody who says anything negative about Spotify, but it's not really Spotify's fault. These songs, these tracks, are sanctioned by the labels, they're allowed to be there. Labels are the ones that are agreeing to these deals, and anytime an artist speaks up and says, "hey, that's not really fair," they're looked at as an artist being greedy. And then it instantly goes into whatever artist says that's personal net worth. It has nothing to do with that. It's like, we're thinking more long-term about every single artist out here, everybody who wrote a song in 1975 and doesn't get paid for it.

Do you feel like you have a responsibility as a successful artist to stand up for people who may be not as successful as you are?

Yeah. I would hope U2 would have done the same. I think that U2 had a really strong position right there that they could have done a lot of cool things. Instead they did the most confusing thing I've ever seen.

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