AKRON — The Black Keys — drummer Pat Carney and singer / guitarist Dan Auerbach — have seemingly been everywhere these past few weeks, promoting their new album, Turn Blue.
They were all over European television and radio, and then came back stateside where they hit many of the New York-based shows that are beamed out everywhere, including the music slot on Saturday Night Live, a farewell trip to Late Night With David Letterman, a typically awkward and humorous appearance on The Colbert Report, Carney’s expansive “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit; and a very awkward cover photo of the band with interviewer Danny McBride on Entertainment Weekly.
Turn Blue, the Akron natives’ eighth studio album, was released May 9 and debuted at No. 1 on iTunes. Lead single Fever has already made some appearances as part of the soundtrack for televised sporting events.
Carney took a few minutes out of his whirlwind schedule to answer a few questions about the album and the upcoming tour.
Q: That was a lot of Black Keys on TV in a short time. You really covered the NYC-based shows well.
A: Yeah, it was the same in Europe. We flew into Milan, did press all day, did this live TV show, playing Fever for the first time in front of anybody. Then more press the next day, flew to London, same deal, live TV, live radio. Paris, the same deal, and then Berlin, and then straight to New York.
Q: Is this your least favorite part of the record-prerelease-promote-post-release-promote-tour cycle?
A: I don’t mind it. We at least got to play. Last time we did a promo trip, the first two weeks were just me and Dan giving interviews, which is hard because there’s no playing involved. We’re about to cross the threshold of time spent recording equaling time promoting, which is ridiculous.
Q: So are you guys chomping at the bit to get out on the road?
A: At this point I’m ready to go home for a couple of weeks. But yeah, I’m ready to get out on tour and get the shows happening.
Q: Album No. 8, and you’re arena-rock stars. Are you ready for the backlash that comes when a famous band opens up its sound a bit?
A: Right. The backlash, it was that Pitchfork review (5.8 out of 10), but it’s to be expected. I love music more than anything, and of course they’re going to give The Swans, a band I’ve been trying to listen to since I was 14, a better review than our record. And they probably need it, you know what I mean? I’m just glad we got a better review than the Michael Jackson record because Michael Jackson didn’t even make it (chuckles).
Q: It’s Up To You Now and Gotta Get Away were the first songs recorded for this album and those were just you and Dan, right?
A: It was those two plus Fever, and then we did like 12 songs in Michigan, and then went to L.A. with Danger Mouse ... We had a lot of [stuff] to go through. But the record ended up being mostly the L.A. sessions.
Q: At what point did you guys decide to say “screw expectations, screw a single, we’re going to do what we want?”
A: We went to Michigan to knock everything out that was on the top of our heads, just every idea that came we put it down. Then we took some time off, and then we went to L.A. and started recording, and everything we did we felt really good about. But we knew it wasn’t a single, necessarily, and we never went into that mode where we were trying to write a single. We just kept writing [stuff] we thought was cool.
That’s why I guess when it comes down to choice of singles, they all come from the Michigan session, and I think it’s because we were just coming off the El Camino tour and used to playing those real concise kind of songs ...
I’m glad we went to L.A. and did what we did, and didn’t focus on singles. We wanted to make a record that felt like Brothers but with more accents of El Camino. Because if you listen to Brothers there’s 15 songs on it, and when we first played Tighten Up to Warner Bros., they played it for radio and they said this will never get played, and Howlin’ For You will definitely never get played, and somehow they both got on the air. ...
We wanted to do something that felt similar, keeping the openness there, but really focus on the melody and the songwriting rather than the groove.
Q: You were going through a divorce during the making of Brothers and Dan was going through a divorce during part of the recording Turn Blue. You have mentioned that making Brothers during that tumultuous time brought you two closer. Does the same apply for recording this album?
A: Yeah, to a certain degree. Dan and I have a relationship like brothers do. Dan’s the quiet older brother and he’s not a loudmouth like me. He has harder time expressing his feelings one-on-one, but I think it was important for him to make this record, because he got a lot of the stuff that he was going through off of his chest.
Q: I’m guessing that once you guys hit the road, the smoothness of these new songs will be taking on a rougher rock edge?
A: By the time we come around to Cleveland [Sept. 6], we’ll be able to play the whole record. ... We want to do a way more diverse selection of songs from all the records. We have a tendency to settle into a setlist and play the same 25 songs over the course of a tour, and I think this time we want to be picking from about 40 songs.
Q: Is it getting harder to write a setlist?
A: It’s getting harder to remember songs that we recorded over a decade ago. Rubber Factory, we finished that album over 10 years ago, now. In fact I think, the 10-year anniversary is around the show in Cleveland Sept. 6 (Rubber Factory was released on Sept. 7, 2004), so maybe we’ll play some [stuff] off that.
Q: That will get a lot of people excited.
A: I’m excited that our second stop on this [U.S.] tour is Cleveland, because I’ll be able to fill up the tour bus with Swensons. Last time we came to Cleveland I bought 30 Swensons cheeseburgers and I was basically force-feeding them to people for four days so they wouldn’t go bad.