The Black Keys Grew Together by Being Apart

The Black Keys in the studio.
The Black Keys in the studio. Alysse Gafkjen
By the time Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney step on stage at Talking Stick Resort Arena this Saturday, it will have been 1,833 days since The Black Keys rocked Phoenix.

A lot has changed in the four years since the duo from Akron, Ohio, were last here. Auerbach released his second solo album, as well as another with his side project The Arcs. Carney has produced numerous albums, including one for his now-wife and native Arizonan Michelle Branch.

How has time changed The Black Keys? Their latest album, “Let’s Rock,” is a return to their guitar-and-drum roots, eschewing keyboards and other production tricks that they incorporated into their previous albums.

“The break we took was a little scary for us because we never took a break longer than six months, but it was necessary for us to slow things down and figure out our own spaces,” Patrick Carney tells Phoenix New Times. “We both got to experience life off the road, and both got to appreciate what we have together.”

During the hiatus, Carney focused a lot on things other than music to avoid getting burned out. He viewed his collaborations with other artists as learning experiences.

“I worked with a lot of different people and learned to work in different ways to get a record done. I also learned that all of the different ways to make a record will work for me as long as I am making something that feels raw and organic still.”

The time away from the band also gave Auerbach a new writing sensibility.

“Dan’s always growing as a writer,” Carney says of his bandmate. “We both changed in the sense that we work differently. Dan’s attitude was more relaxed.”

When it was time to get back into the studio, the band knew they wanted to make the album sound fresh for both them and their fans.

“We both had been playing a lot of electric guitar leading up to the session,” Carney says about the time before they recorded this album, which lasted from September 2018 to January 2019. “Which sounds like a dumb thing to say about a band that is just an electric guitar and drums. But prior to that, Dan was writing a lot with other people [for their projects] that he was more focused on writing than playing guitar. I have been spending a lot of time over the past year in my studio playing electric guitar, which I had not done in years. I hadn’t done that since the early 2000s, before we started the band. That informed where we were going with this record.”

As much as the two love being in the studio, it’s always the show that energizes them. The extended hiatus made getting back on stage a little nerve-wracking for Carney.

“I think we were both pretty nervous,” the drummer reveales. “We hadn’t played a show in four years. We did a week of rehearsals and learned half the set. Then I went on vacation and had anxiety dreams about being on stage with Dan and not knowing our songs. Then we got together and did one more week of rehearsal with the band. It was finally on the second to last day of rehearsals that things clicked.”

Once things came together, it opened up the duo’s ability to let loose on stage. The tour’s setlist, which Arizona Coyotes fans will be pleased to know features their adopted anthem “Howlin’ for You,” covers songs from across their career and heavily features selections from “Let’s Rock." Carney is seeing how the newer songs are taking on a new life.

“[Our lead single] 'Lo/Hi' is one of the highlights for me in the set," says Carney. "It’s really all about the nuanced dynamics in simplistic parts. When we play in front of an audience, it comes more alive than it ever was in the studio. It’s a visceral feeling. It’s becoming a heavier song.”

Since starting the tour, other songs have taken a different shape, according to Carney. He cites “Walk Across the Water” as opening up in ways he didn’t imagine. The duo may have been nervous being back on the road after four years, but they have hit their stride.

“We played our first show in L.A. in September, and I think we’ve been playing better than we’ve ever had," says Carney. "We’re also having more fun on the road than we ever had.”

The Black Keys are scheduled to perform on Saturday, November 16, at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster.
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