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Published: Thursday, 7/31/2008

Black Keys resists star status

BY BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Don t always believe what you read about the Black Keys.

Since the Akron-based duo Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney first started jamming together in high school, they ve risen to reign over the indie rock scene with their trademark gritty blues-based recordings that play like dusty 1970s B-sides.

They ve resisted rock s ultimate sin of selling out by avoiding major record label manipulation. Until their fifth and latest album, Attack and Release which was recorded in Painesville, Ohio, and coarsely polished by producer Brian Danger Mouse Burton of Gnarls Barkley the pair defended their affinity for recording in basements and warehouses by producing their own cuts.

Maybe that s why they get a kick out of faking out the mainstream media. Prepare to be laughed at if you ask about the piles of retro jogging suits they told Maxim magazine in June they collect on tour.

We like to make up stories when we talk to the magazines. Usually when we do interviews together, we totally lie, Auerbach said in a recent solo phone interview.

They ll stop at Toledo Civic Theatre at the Erie Street Market downtown Saturday, on a tour that has them selling out clubs in New York City and Chicago and playing major summer music festivals like Lollapalooza. Tickets for their Toledo show are $25 at the door.

Their story began when Auerbach was 15 years old and the pair started playing together. Auerbach s uncle had just taught him to play guitar, and he would tote his instrument and amplifier around the corner to Carney s house. With Carney on drums, they would capture jams on a cassette four-track in his basement.

I knew I loved it, but I didn t know I could actually do it, Auerbach said of playing music. I was completely enamored and completely in love, but it wasn t until I picked up one of my uncle s guitars that I actually thought about doing that, you know?

Auerbach sent 13 demos to independent record labels before finding a taker. They put out their first digital label-backed record, The Big Come Up, in 2002.

One of the only ones that even responded to us said, We don t even need to hear you guys play, just send us your songs and we ll put out your record, he said.

The album got a mention in Rolling Stone, and the rest is history.

It s all a blur.

The 2003 follow-up, Thickfreakness, was recorded in 12 hours and earned the Black Keys a mention in Time magazine as one of the year s best bands. Rubber Factory, released in 2004, was recorded as a digital-analog hybrid in an abandoned tire factory in Akron.

After another digital album, Magic Potion in 2006, with a video of the digital track Your Touch as the album single, the duo found themselves with consistent commercial opportunities. The single later became a Lee jeans commercial. Girl is on My Mind was used in a Sony Ericsson cell phone commercial and a Victoria s Secret commercial featuring Heidi Klum.

When we came back from our tour and we weren t in the red (laughs) that s how we knew we d made it, Auerbach said of their worldwide commercial success. It s really weird, being in the airport in London and getting recognized or to be in Australia or Los Angeles and get recognized. I don t know, I guess it s OK.

He praised the work of Burton, who goes as Danger Mouse for his part in the hip-hop group Gnarls Barkley, who produced Attack and Release

He s creative, but he s a musician, really. So it was great, a musician turned tricks musically, Auerbach said. Having Brian really was great. Because certain bands need certain different levels of production, you know what I mean? I think Pat and I really have a good sense of who we are, what we like, what we need to sound like. We kind of know when we ve got to take the controls.

The disc was recorded at Suma Recording Studio on a console the studio s owner built with his dad in 1973. The studio s acoustics seem to capture Auerbach s vocals more fully than any other previously released recording and though the album still feels gritty, the duo sounds better than ever with background vocals and minimal affects.

As more of their songs showed up on movie soundtracks and video games and even as rock legends joined the growing chorus of praise the iconic Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame has told Rolling Stone he digs the band the Black Keys still encourage fans to make bootleg recordings of their live shows and are now using their popularity to bolster other indie acts as producers.

Carney has his own label, Audio Eagle, as Auerbach wrangles new talent such as the Buffalo Killers or Black Diamond Heavies into his own recording studio, Akron Analog. One of his acts, Jessica Lea Mayfield, who he describes as a sort of dark southern gothic songwriter from Kent, Ohio, sang the background vocals on the only track Auerbach wrote solo, the soulful Things Ain t Like They Used to Be. She will tour with the band in September.

But don t forget those jogging suits. Auerbach still resists rock star status with dripping sarcasm.

Revealing nothing about plans for The Black Keys next album expected to begin recording this year, he won t hint whether the act will return to self-production or continue to lay tracks in Ohio.

I m not going to give that away.

His favorite song to play live?

The Star Spangled Banner.

The Black Keys will play at the Toledo Civic Theatre at the Erie Street Market downtown Saturday. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 at the door and $20 in advance at all Ticketmaster outlets, by phone 419.474.1333, www.ticketmaster.com, and Culture Clash and Ramalama Records.

Contact Bridget Tharp at btharp@theblade.com or 419-724-6061.



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