Rollo & Grady Interview with Patrick Carney

Pat Carney - Guy Eppel
Image by Guy Eppel

Right now, the Black Keys are arguably the biggest band in world. Since the spring of 2010, they’ve played Letterman, Leno, Conan, the Colbert Report, Saturday Night Live, and many of the world’s largest music festivals. Their album, Brothers, debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts and their hit single “Tighten Up” reached #1 on the alternative radio charts. To top it off the band was nominated for 6 Grammys, airing at the 53rd Award Ceremony, this weekend.

They’ve earned this success, touring non-stop around the world in 2010 – a year in which Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney also moved from his hometown of Akron, Ohio, to New York, and then to Nashville. In speaking with him, I could tell that the move from Akron was an extremely tough decision, but one that he needed to make. I got the feeling in conversation with Carney that Nashville will be his new hometown for the foreseeable future.

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R&G: Are you ready for the Grammys? Do you have a special outfit picked out?

Patrick: [Laughs] Yes. I’m dressing like the band Train, with bedazzled jeans.

R&G: I think you should dress up as Justin Bieber and flash the peace sign in every one of your photos.

Patrick: [Laughs] I did some research a couple days ago and I didn’t realize that Usher signed him and that’s why he’s always plugging Usher and talking about how much he loves Usher.

R&G: I think he found him on YouTube.

Patrick: I guess. It’s kind of creepy thinking about Usher looking at videos of 14 year old boys on YouTube, but…

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R&G: …and thinking that his music is good. It’s fascinating. I wonder what Justin Bieber will be like in five or ten years.

Patrick: I don’t know. Hopefully it doesn’t fuck him all up. It must be really weird to be super famous like that before your voice has changed completely.

R&G: You know the history of boy bands… Justin Timberlake’s the only one who’s kind of survived from being in a boy band.

Patrick: Right. And Michael Jackson.

R&G: [Laughs] How do you like living in Nashville?

Patrick: I really like it. It reminds me of home, when I was in Akron. I’ve met a lot of cool people in the short time I’ve been down here. There are so many people doing interesting things just in my neighborhood and there are so many studios and shit like that. It’s kind of cool. New York was similar: every day, I would meet somebody who was doing something really interesting. The difference between here and New York is that there’s the space to actually do it in your house. It’s not a big production when you want to just go jam or something.

R&G: Are you thinking about starting up another label?

Patrick: No, I’m not. I think I did a shitty job. I don’t know what to do running a label. I was basically pressing out records and trying to find distributors. It was a fucking pain in the ass, but I did meet a lot of cool bands doing it. I’d be interested in doing some really lightweight A&R for a label or something, but otherwise, aside from the Black Keys, I just want to use my time off to focus on getting better at playing drums. I don’t really have the drive that makes me want to do all that crazy shit anymore. I was just spreading myself so thin that nothing was ever getting done well.

R&G: When you say “the drive,” give me an example of what you mean?

Patrick: I mean the drive to help out your friends. I have a lot of friends in Akron who are really talented musicians. Dan and I were lucky enough to break through before them and I felt a lot of responsibility to help them out as much as possible. That’s where starting that label came from. Now I realize that you start really fucking with shit when you start trying to help your friends’ careers out. If you offer and at least try to do it and it doesn’t work out, then you can be held responsible for that, which is a really fucked up feeling.

R&G: That’s terrible. Did things get better when you removed yourself from the label? Were you able to repair your relationships with your friends?

Patrick: Some of them. There are a few that are strained still, I’d say – mostly from the Drummer band. We made that record in a certain amount of time, working quickly, and I didn’t really have the time to fully commit to it when we finished it. We did like one tour. At that same time, the Blakroc record came out and I didn’t have the time to fully finish the commitment I made to those guys. I tried to get a fill-in person to play bass, and all the promoters who booked the band pulled out their offers. It was a fucking nightmare.

R&G: You wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal about Lebron James leaving Cleveland. Did you hear from him or any of his people?

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Patrick: Oh, fuck no. He wouldn’t give a shit about that.

R&G: It was a great letter.

Patrick: I see where he’s coming from. I really understand somebody wanting to do something like that – maybe change. It’s just that if he were to have stayed in Cleveland, he would have had a pretty much legendary status no matter how he performed, forever. Bernie Kosar is still like a legend in Cleveland, Ohio, and he sprung his ankle every important game… LeBron could have stayed. I just don’t know why you give up that kind of fan loyalty. That’s the only mistake I think he made, but at the same time, if I were him, I would have done the same fucking shit. $45 million a year?

R&G: It was something ridiculous like that. The only thing I had an issue with was the ESPN show, “The Decision.” It was an hour of “Fuck You Cleveland,” I’m taking my talents to South Beach. Disgraceful.

Patrick: I think also… I’m probably speaking out of total ignorance here, but sports seem to be built on fake drama type shit: hyping the games in certain ways, this mystique type shit. I think the whole “Decision” thing was one of the most hip-hop things in his mind probably that you could do. To him it was probably a cool thing. I really think he was coming from a place where he had no idea how arrogant it was. You can’t hold that against a guy, especially somebody who since he was 16 has been really famous and on the cover of magazines. He probably has a kind of skewed thing going on, but it all comes from a good place.

R&G: In your interview with Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, you mentioned that you feel that hip-hop is “an art form that is totally at risk of dying.” Did you receive any feedback from the Blakroc guys, or Mos Def?

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Patrick: No. Not at all. I saw a hip-hop show the other day, honestly, that kind of changed my opinion a little bit. I don’t know why. I saw this guy, YelaWolf, who Eminem just signed. He was playing a basement in Nashville with 200 people and it was one of the fucking craziest, most entertaining shows I’ve ever seen – rock or rap or whatever. It was fucking insane and I think that guy is going to be fucking huge. He was one of the fastest rappers I’ve ever heard. Whether or not hip-hop is at risk of actually dying, it’s a whole different ball game from other genres and I don’t fully understand it. It’s like: put in a verse here, put in a verse in this song, put in a verse on someone else’s song. Very rarely does someone have verses and do the whole song himself. I wonder if that’s the answer to the problem of live hip-hop: a rapper makes a record and there are no guests on it. It’s just that rapper; then you’re able to take that whole show on the road.

R&G: You guys recently canceled tours in New Zealand and Australia. At what point did you say, “Fuck it. It’s time to shut it down. We’re exhausted.”

Patrick: Our song ["Tighten Up"] got a ton of traction on radio here in the US: in October it went to number one in Alternative Radio. We got asked by all these radio stations to play their Christmas shows: KROQ and about six or seven other ones, which all came up last minute after the Australia thing was booked. Our management company really wanted us to do the American shows, and we really wanted to do them because these were the only stations playing us in the US. It was the first time we had had a song on the radio, which is probably the reason why the record’s done so well in terms of sales. The radio thing led into getting on SNL and we got another Letterman booking and the Colbert thing and we had already booked New Year’s Eve. We did a US tour in September, and in mid-October, I moved from New York to Nashville. My grandfather passed away and really heavy shit was going down. Then we went to the UK until mid November and came back for the US shows in December. We were supposed to fly home from New York for two days to Nashville, but got snowed in, so the two day window at home got turned into one day. Both of us were losing our fucking minds. The Australia tour would have been six weeks and we would have come home for five days. We were getting ready to make another record, and we basically realized that if we were to do the Australia tour, we would probably be so drained and uninspired that we wouldn’t want to make a record, which is what we really need to do.

Rollo & Grady Interview with Patrick Carney

R&G: Have you written any new songs? When do you plan to go into the studio to record?

Patrick: We’ve been getting together and working on some demos and stuff. We’re still figuring out how we want to do the record and when we want to put it out and stuff, but we’re going to go in the studio and just see what happens. Our main goal is to try to make a record as soon as possible. That’s basically all I’m going to say, so I don’t say anything out of turn. We still have some pretty big touring commitments left, and we’re trying to figure out when we can squeeze in time to write an album. Hopefully we will do something sooner rather than later.

R&G: There was something else that I thought was interesting in the Chicago Tribune article: when you guys were finished recording Brothers, you mentioned that you were looking to record a song that could hit commercial radio, which ended up being “Tighten Up”, produced by Danger Mouse. Is that the first time you consciously tried to make a radio friendly song?

Rollo & Grady Interview with Patrick Carney

Patrick: We’ve never really done it and I think that Dan and I knew that we wanted to have a song that could probably get to radio. We had a few songs and wanted to make sure that we had something that could work.

R&G: As a fan, I thought you guys were already heading for this type of success. Did you envision that you would have a breakout year at some point in your career?

Patrick: No. I don’t think we did. I think we had seen bands get really big and then fall off. We had seen some bands become big and stay there. We had a whole different approach; part of that was living in Ohio. I started a band when I was 21 and I’ll be 31 in three months. All I really know is this band. When you get so used to certain thresholds of success you kind of just expect never to cross over to the other side. It took us a long time to be able to go to Los Angeles and play to 3000 people. It took us about 8 ½ years of touring. We’ve never taken a really long hiatus. We took nine months off in ’09, but we’ve been touring consistently since early 2002. I don’t really have any expectations because I don’t know where it’s going to go. I guess I’ve seen a lot of shit happen to other bands, watching that shit…

R&G: …kind of fade away?

Patrick: Yeah, which is pretty much a natural thing. All bands will eventually fade away, but it’s a matter of when and it’s a matter of if it’s just the natural progression of the band or if it’s because everyone decides that you fucking suck. It’s only scary if you worry about that. At the same time, when we first started out, everyone thought we sucked anyway, so I guess we’d just revert to the beginning.

R&G: [Laughs] Do you feel like there’s added pressure to create another hit single on the next record?

Patrick: No. There’s a big difference between a hit single and an alternative rock song. Then again, I like the idea of our music getting played on the radio, especially if we can honestly say that it’s us, that we’re happy with it, and that it represents who we are, which everything we’ve ever put out does. At that point, I’d rather hear us on there than a lot of the new mentally weird rock shit that gets played on the radio. That’s our mentality. We always thought that we’d never get played on the radio, and then when you get played on the radio, you think, “Well, I guess I’d rather have the band I’m in get played on the radio than someone else’s band.”

Rollo & Grady Interview with Patrick Carney
Image By – Ash Tanasiychuk

Download:
Black Keys – Brothers (iTunes)

The Black Keys – Thickfreakness [Live]