Room for more
Blues-rock greats the Black Keys alter their duo dynamic
Published: December 2, 2010
Throughout much of the duo’s career, that statement might have seemed hard to believe – if not for Auerbach and Carney, then certainly for those who followed their music.
The band’s first three albums – 2002’s The Big Come Up, 2003’s Thickfreakness and the next year’s Rubber Factory – were similar in their sound and approach. Recorded by the duo themselves, and using almost exclusively electric guitar and drums, the Black Keys indeed created a raw and primal sound that was clearly rooted in rough-and-tumble blues and the no-frills crash and bang of catchy, riff-heavy garage rock.
They managed to keep the sound fresh despite what seemed like a limited range of stylistic and instrumental options right through to their 2006 CD, Magic Potion.
Then on Attack & Release, a collaboration with producer Danger Mouse, came signs that Auerbach and Carney were starting to think in broader terms, musically.
On tracks like “Strange Times” and “Lies,” the duo’s familiar guitar-drum attack was intact, but other instruments, like the keyboard lines on those two songs, began to work their way into the sound. The group showed a wider range of influences with the hill-country tones of “Psychotic Girl,” the acoustic country blues of “All You Ever Wanted” and the ambient tones of “Remember When.”
Carney feels the musical evolution of Brothers is partly an outgrowth of outside projects he and Auerbach undertook in 2009.
Auerbach was the first to surface, releasing a solo album, Keep It Hid, in February 2009. Later in the year, Carney released the debut by his side band, Drummer – a project that took a notably poppier turn away from the Black Keys.
The two then came together for a project called Blakroc, in which Auerbach and Carney collaborated with a variety of hip-hop artists (Mos Def, RZA and Raekwon, to name a few) that brought together the worlds of rock, hip-hop and R&B. That project in particular, Carney says, had an impact on Brothers.
“When we made Blakroc we were really kind of forced to not think in terms of sounding like the Black Keys,” he says. “We were starting every song with bass and drums. That’s how we started every song on Brothers. Also, when we were working on the Blakroc stuff, watching the MCs pick the tracks they wanted to rap on, it always seemed like they would gravitate more toward the more mellow kind of backing tracks. I think that maybe there’s something to that. Maybe there’s more of a universal appeal to, like, a steadier groove than something more frantic.”
The fact that the Black Keys recorded Brothers at the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama may have also contributed to its soulful vibe.
“There are no windows there. It’s really dark, a very homey kind of studio,” says Carney. “Being there in August, it kind of feels like what summer should feel like: thick, close. Yeah, I don’t think we would have made the same record if we had recorded it in Brooklyn. I know we wouldn’t have.”
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