The Black Keys' Patrick Carney: The Cream Interview

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You guys enjoying the official Black Keys Media Takeover Week? As everyone should know by now, their El Camino is out today via Nonesuch, and tonight they'll be appearing on Colbert (and Letterman tomorrow). Back in early November — before just about anyone had been granted a listen to the album — I spoke by phone with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney. We talked a bit about recording El Camino here in Nashville at frontman Dan Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound — which I toured with Auerbach when writing the Scene's cover story on the Keys' move to Nashville. We also chatted about doing press, giving out promo copies, why the album is named El Camino but features a picture of a minivan on the cover, and what it feels like to be confused with the Black Eyed Peas. Give it a read after the jump.

Nashville Cream: Are you on the West Coast right now?

Patrick Carney: Yeah, we have a show in San Jose.

NC: Well I actually ran into Dan [Auerbach] at 308 — that place on the East Side — the other night. He mentioned that you guys recently spent a week or two over in Europe, but you guys weren't playing any shows. It was just like interviews and press, and a lot of French guys asking the same questions and not getting the American sarcasm. Has there kind of been a lot of that sort of thing since the success of Brothers? Just constant press and so forth?

PC: Well, we've done press trips for every record but The Big Come Up and Brothers, we canceled our press trip for that. We knew what was going to happen and we just didn't want to do it. Because we switched labels or whatever we decided to go with them. It sort of helped put it out by going and doing the trip. But yeah, that was our longest press trip we've done, two weeks. Kind of grueling, but yeah, we've done a lot of press. But it's kind of good, we're getting a lot of the stuff out of the way. I guess the benefit is, because of the success of Brothers, people want to talk to us earlier, so we're doing all the press before the record even comes out for the most part. Which makes it easier to tour when you don't have to do interviews and stuff every day before a show.

NC: Sure, get it out of the way earlier on. So I got to listen to the record one time. They actually had me come into Q Prime and sit in the office and they played it for me. So I've only gotten to hear it the once, but as I can recall, El Camino's sort of more up tempo and kind of urgent than most of the other stuff you guys have done. Was it tough to kind of maintain that kind of energy given that you guys, at least from what I've read, kind of recorded this one in like spread out several months?

PC: No, not really, because we were touring in the process of finishing up a couple different touring obligations. So because we were kind of in that mentality when we went into the studio, we were kind of focusing on what was going to work live the best. And we learned through touring Brothers that there's certain songs that work on albums that are harder to pull off live. We have a tendency to speed everything up a little bit when we play live, you know. A song like "I'm Not the One" is a little bit harder to play live versus "Tighten Up." So it's kind of like trying to get the tempo to a spot where the songs work in a lot of settings. That's kind of where all that was coming from.

NC: So you're sort of thinking about the live show maybe more than usual when you're actually writing the tracks?

PC: Yeah, for sure.

NC: So was it a lot of squeezing in the writing and fleshing out parts like in chunks and was like Danger Mouse coming and going? Or did you guys have any part where you kind of chill out and take some time with it?

PC: Well, the way that we work is we started the record, like, March 3 or something like that. We finished it, like, May 26 — I think it wasright before Memorial Day weekend when we finished the album. And in the process we took four weeks off while we were touring, doing Coachella and the European run — stuff like that. But the way we were is we go in the studio and just start coming up with ideas for a song. We wouldn't really move on to the next song until we got the one we were working on like 90 percent done. So because of that, even though we were working in chunks and kind of coming and going, we rarely would leave a song unfinished before we split the studio.

NC: Is that different for you guys? Would you normally bounce around from song to song when you were recording?

PC: We have a little bit, but the thing is, normally we spend like a day at the most on a song. So there's never really any need to go back to it, you know. But because we're taking usually like three days a song, it was a little bit more ... balancing and figuring it out. Even figuring out when a song was done.

NC: So I have to ask. What's the motivation behind naming the record El Camino but putting a picture of a car that isn't an El Camino on the cover?

PC: Well Dan and I were on tour in Canada this summer, trying to name the album — had a bunch of ideas. And then we're driving like across the Canadian Rockies, and we drove past an El Camino [laughs]. And we discussed that we should name the record El Camino as a joke. And I told my brother the idea and my brother was like, "You know, if you name the record El Camino, everybody's going to think of the car the El Camino." And I was like, "Yeah exactly. That's the fucking point!" And he was like, "OK, but why don't we just put a car on the cover that's not an El Camino?" And I said, "OK, what kind of car?" He says, "Just put the first car you guys ever toured in on the cover." So that's basically what it is. It was just retarded.

NC: Right, Grammy-winning Michael Carney with the minivan cover, that's pretty awesome. Did you guys — when Bob Odenkirk did the preview, the trailer for the record — did you guys actually get to hang out with him?

PC: Oh, we got to hang out with him. We were huge fans of Mr. Show back in high school. In fact, we had David Cross direct one of our videos. When it came down to do some stuff for this record we — actually Warner Brothers' promo department said they'd been talking to Bob Odenkirk, and so we made, you know, convinced Bob to do it. So we could just to say we worked with all of Mr. Show. The day that we shot that little weird commercial thing, we actually — he was in our music video — shot like a whole big music video with him in it, but we scrapped the entire video.

NC: Oh, for the "Lonely Boy" video?

PC: Yeah, we scrapped it. We thought that guy Derrick's dancing was the only good part of the whole video. But Bob Odenkirk actually did a bunch of really funny stuff in the video, but it was all like ... it didn't really work in the concept.

NC: So was that shot in LA?

PC: Yeah, that was shot in the Valley.

...

NC: So maybe [your publicist] will be able to get me a promo [copy of El Camino] the week of or something, because I really like the record.

PC: I don't think we're doing any promos. I think that they actually made like 50 watermarks just for labels to have and for our manager to have, but they gave me one of them. I gave it back to them within an hour, because the first hour I had it someone wanted to take it and make copies. And I'm really bad at saying no to friends, so I figured I would rather just not have the option.

NC: Right, yeah, keep it under wraps. Yeah, they were very official. They took my phone and everything so I couldn't record it.

PC: Well yeah, you know, I think it's a weird thing. It's not like we don't trust you or anything. It's like, if you have a copy of it, and somebody knows you have a copy of it, and maybe they'll want a copy, and then it's out of your hands. But the thing is, it's not the idea of stealing music. It's the idea of, like, when we put out the "Lonely Boy" single like two-and-a-half weeks ago, it was the first time since Thickfreakness that we released a song and were able to have it premiere around the world at the exact same time. It was actually kind of nice for us, and you just lose that excitement, you know?

NC: Yeah, if everybody already knows every song before it's even out.

PC: Yeah.

NC: So earlier this year when you guys let me come in and check out Easy Eye, it seemed like you were starting to really get comfortable and settling in, and Dan was working on a lot more projects and stuff. What was it like tracking here in Nashville rather than, you know, Akron or Muscle Shoals or wherever else?

PC: You know, I mean, for us making a record is always the same. For the most part as far as — it's like, you know, just spending all the time in the studio, usually we don't really socialize outside of the studio with other people and stuff. So normally it doesn't really matter where we record. But since we were living in Nashville, it was the first time we made a record in the place where we lived since 2006. But it was nice to be able to come home every day and, you know, be in Nashville, especially in the spring when it was getting nice a couple months earlier than we're used to. But I do think I like the process of making records outside of home. I like leaving town to do it.

NC: Right, because it's like an actual job? You're actually on the clock, because you have to leave?

PC: Yeah, there's no comfort really associated with it, and I like that about a record — about making an album. I think that's why it took us a little longer to make this record, actually, because a large part of that was being at home rather than being in a town that we couldn't wait to get out of.

NC: So have you guys had a chance to play any of the new ones live yet?

PC: No, we've played a few of them at sound check, but we don't want to play any live until the record is out. We have a couple CD things that we're gonna do next, and that will be the first time we play new material.

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NC: Oh, did you guys ever get the name changed from Black Eyed Peas to Black Keys on that VMA you got?

PC: Yeah, we did, but they made us send back the errored one.

NC: Aw man, that's like the best part of the whole thing [laughs].

PC: I know, they said we could either keep that or get a real one.

NC: That's a tough call [laughs].

PC: Yeah, I just wouldn't want the Black Eyed Peas sitting anywhere in my house.

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