Photo: Jim Herrington
The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach & Patrick Carney On Why Recording Freewheeling Blues Covers Led To Inspired New Album 'Dropout Boogie'
If you've been in a rock band as long as Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have, you know the experience is cyclical — hot and cold. So what made the Black Keys tap back into their original spirit for their new album, 'Dropout Boogie'?
After a five-year break partly precipitated by a wave slamming Patrick Carney against the ocean floor, the Black Keys reconvened for their first record in that many years: 'Let's Rock.' The result was solid, lively, and well-received. But despite drummer Carney's description of their first self-produced album in years as "an homage to electric guitar," 'Let's Rock' felt uncharacteristically restrained. At least compared to early albums like Thickfreakness.
"I don't think 'Let's Rock' is going to go down as our best record or our worst record," Carney tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom. "It was a new thing, because we hadn't made a record without a producer in a decade." This sheds some light on the part of the Black Keys' catalog that made them world-famous: Danger Mouse produced or co-produced everything from 2008's Attack & Release to 2014's Turn Blue, and they won four GRAMMYs in the process.
Without Danger Mouse, Carney and his lifelong creative partner, singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach, found themselves much as they started as teenagers: two nonbiological brothers, writing and performing blues-based rock. But despite its merits, 'Let's Rock' acted as a throat-clearing for the Black Keys' third chapter.
Afterward, they recorded 2021's Delta Kream, a shot-from-the-hip album of hill-country blues covers. That album begat Dropout Boogie, the Black Keys' rewarding new album, out May 13.
Eleven albums in, the four-time GRAMMY winners and 11-time nominees seem to have nailed exactly what Black Keys music in 2022 should sound like: raw, electrified, leaping from the speakers. Dropout Boogie also bears evidence of Auerbach's increasingly prodigious stature as a producer for outside artists — as well as both men's development as musicians.
Yet the top-down-cruising vibe of "Wild Child," "Your Team is Looking Good" and "Baby I'm Coming Home" shows they haven't forgotten the appeal of the albums that truly put them on the map, like 2010's Brothers and 2011's El Camino. And their bond seems more ironclad than ever, to hear the pair tell it, which says a lot with years of spats, disappointments and breaking their bodies on the road — as well as the pressures of joint global fame — in their rearview.
"We're probably better than we've been in years — in a really great, great place," Auerbach tells GRAMMY.com, also over Zoom. Carney concurs, remembering meeting Auerbach in the early days while hungering to play in a band. "I always thought I could help this guy make better music than he could on his own," he says. "And I think that is mutually true for me."
To understand Dropout Boogie, you have to frame it within the context of Delta Kream. That album consisted of covers of interpretive artists associated with the Mississippi hill country subgenre of blues, including John Lee Hooker ("Crawling King Snake"), Mississippi Fred McDowell ("Louise"), R.L. Burnside ("Poor Boy a Long Way From Home," "Going Down South") and, on half the album, Junior Kimbrough.
"This is basically folk music on a certain level, and a lot of this music is like hand-me-downs from generation to generation," Auerbach told Rolling Stone in 2021. "I'm singing lyrics that are like third-generation wrong lyrics. I'm singing a certain version that Junior recorded where maybe he messed up a line, but that's the only one I know. So we were really just kind of flying by the seat of our pants."
The GRAMMY-nominated Delta Kream was just supposed to be a jam between Auerbach, Carney, R.L. Burnside's electric guitarist Kenny Brown and Junior Kimbrough's bassist Eric Deaton. "There are absolutely no overdubs on the entire record, and we just sang everything once," Auerbach reports. "We made this thing, and it was so simple." The quartet recorded the album in a day and a half, then didn't listen back for months.
When they finally revisited the Delta Kream sessions, the Black Keys had a lightbulb moment. That embrace of looseness, that surrender to the seaswell of tradition, hadn't just an interesting diversion: it had completely revitalized the band and renewed their purpose. "When I finally went back to check it out, I was like, 'Oh, shit. That's the energy there. That's it. That's the feeling I want to come through the speakers when someone listens to our band.'"
Wanting to make that feeling last, the Black Keys dove straight into Dropoff Boogie, an album of originals with writing contributions from ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Greg Cartwright of the Memphis rock band Reigning Sound, and GRAMMY-winning Nashville producer Angelo Petraglia, who's worked with everyone from Trisha Yearwood to Kings of Leon to Taylor Swift. Gibbons co-wrote and played on "Good Love"; Cartwright and Petraglia helped tighten up "Wild Child."
"Your Team is Looking Good" contains an indirect — and obscure — writing credit, one that the Black Keys' attorney had to hunt down. "I was like… there's this obscure field recording of a cheerleading squad from the middle of nowhere, Mississippi. I need you to find the writing credit so that we don't get sued,' " Carney told ABC News."It turned out to be "The Girl Can't Help It," which Bobby Troup wrote and Little Richard performed; Troup got the credit.
The inclusion of outside writing voices alone makes Dropout Boogie stand apart from past Black Keys albums. "Dan and I tend to… work on co-writes or work on stuff that's been co-written, but we, ourselves, never do it," Auerbach told The Star in 2022. "And it was really refreshing, honestly."
Another way Auerbach and Carney leveraged the freewheeling spirit of Delta Kream for Dropout Boogie was by killing their darlings when necessary. "Any song that felt a little bit forced, we just dropped it off the record. We left four or five on the table and moved on," Carney says. "They were good songs — they would have made it on 'Let's Rock' — but they just didn't vibe for what we were doing."
At its best, Dropout Boogie sounds like yesterday's dirty soul, R&B and blues refreshed for 2022. "It Ain't Over" digs into a deep, winding groove to underline its theme of circularity and ruts; the darker-hued "Good Love," brambled with layers of fuzz, makes the search for devotion sound suitably treacherous; "Burn the Damn Thing Down" gorgeously juxtaposes Auerbach's buttermilk singing with a growling, droning, one-guitar-lesson riff.
Plus, here's a treat for fans of simple, swinging drumming: Carney is arguably playing the best he's ever played. When considering his drumming on Dropout Boogie, Carney plugs it into the classic rock tradition, noting that even AC/DC, a band largely beholden to 4/4 and not exactly tethered to jazz influences like the Rolling Stones or Black Sabbath, still had an underdiscussed sense of swing.
"When I hear it just come down the pipe, like straight aligned to the grid, it feels very weird to me," Carney says, surveying a landscape of nominally "rock" music that misses that crucial element. "It can work as a pop song or something, but it never translates as a rock thing to me."
"I'm in awe of a guy who can control his swing," he continues. "Even the worst jazz drummer is better than me when it comes to that, but I swing, push and pull off the beat, moving around the one." Says Auerbach: "Pat's just an amazing drummer, and he keeps getting better — and more and more open-minded when he's in the studio with me. Hopefully I'm the same."
Lyrically, the Black Keys still rely on somewhat stock idioms from "streets of gold" to "ashes to ashes, dust to dust," but maybe that can be chalked up to some of their bluesy forebears' MO: keep it simple. Overall, the strength of the melodies, singing, vibe, and production — the latter an intriguing mix of thin and buzzy, and dense and wooly — makes Dropout Boogie a winner.
"I'm pretty critical of the music we make, and I think this record is one of our better records. It's in the top couple," Carney says. He zooms out, considering the Black Keys' early-2000s peers who are now hitting the two-decade mark, like Interpol and the Strokes: "I'll always be glad to know that after 20 years, we made a record that I would be f<em></em><em>ing stoked to have put out, like, right after El Camino*."
Despite the Black Keys being on an upswing, Carney is aware that Auerbach holds his production work to equal importance — and that the band could be put on ice again. "It's very cyclical, a band. There's hot and cold moments. And when there's a hot moment, you've got to keep going," he says. "I realize that a couple of years from now, Dan might not be as interested in doing the Black Keys as much, so we might go through another break."
But, as he says, the Black Keys are seizing on this period of momentum. Not only do they have a North American tour with Band of Horses kicking off in July and stretching into mid-October; on the day of the interview with Carney, he had been in the studio with Auerbach.
"We have not stopped working, and we're having a blast," Carney says. In that regard, Dropout Boogie isn't just a return to their roots in sound and approach, but in spirit. If the ultimate point of playing rock music is to have one hell of a time, Auerbach and Carney fulfill it here.
They may be castigated in a public school in the "Wild Child" video, but on Dropout Boogie, the Black Keys — as the kids say — understood the assignment.
The Black Keys At Quicken Loans Arena
Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.
By Julian Ring
Who is the average Black Keys fan? I thought I knew. To say the blues-rock duo's audience consists primarily of white males in their 20s and 30s wouldn't be inaccurate, and prior to the band's Sept. 6 concert in Cleveland, I would have expected as much; White Stripes holdovers, sincere blues aficionados and garage-rock enthusiasts could have easily filled Quicken Loans Arena to capacity. Yet this stop on the band's latest tour — behind their eighth studio album, the ambitious Turn Blue — signaled the dawn of a new era for the Keys' appeal.
Now nearly 14 years into their career, the Black Keys have grown from a raw two-man act into a Danger Mouse-produced institution, adding lush instrumentation and increasingly catchy melodies to their Ohio-borne, grit-earth rock. And as the size of their headlining tours grows along with their repertoire, so has the diversity of their fanbase. At their 2012 performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, fans likely didn't see a 7-year-old girl playing air guitar along with Dan Auerbach's piercing solos. On this night, a young fan was loud and proud, cheering and pumping her fist as if to say, "These are my rock and roll heroes" — while her father, the good sport that he was, tapped his foot along with Patrick Carney's spastic, plodding rhythms.
Their set list was short yet backed with classics and rarities. While the Black Keys largely skirted around Turn Blue's deeper cuts, pulling out fan favorites such as "Your Touch" and a surprising "Leavin' Trunk." Equally unexpected was a cover of Edwyn Collins' "A Girl Like You," performed under hot-pink rotating psychedelic lights and sounding bluesy enough to be a selection from their own catalog. Newer cuts, including "Gold On The Ceiling," as well as 2010's Brothers highlights "She's Long Gone" and "Howlin' For You" provoked the crowd into a frenzy of shouted choruses as the band's elaborate lighting rig pumped the dark arena full of white heat.
Somber guitar and soulful vocals converged during "Little Black Submarines," the night's dramatic centerpiece and the best display of Auerbach's unvarnished musicality. As he sang the lyrics "Everybody knows/That a broken heart is blind," Auerbach (who is reportedly happy married with kids) sounded as if he was delivering this revelation in the midst of retreat, having returned from some deeply wounding romantic encounter.
"We'd like to thank [the Cleveland Cavaliers'] LeBron [James] for letting us use his house for the evening," Auerbach joked early in the night. Such a titanic comparison wasn't the least bit unwarranted as basketball's biggest star likely didn't mind a stopover from one of rock's biggest bands. And judging by the eager screams and camera flashes when the Black Keys concluded their first set, neither did the rest of Cleveland.
"Dead And Gone"
"Run Right Back"
"Same Old Thing"
"Gold On The Ceiling"
"It's Up To You Now"
"Too Afraid To Love You"
"A Girl Like You" (Edwyn Collins cover)
"Howlin' For You"
"Gotta Get Away"
"She's Long Gone"
"Little Black Submarines"
"I Got Mine"
(A music journalist from the San Francisco Bay Area, Julian Ring is an alumnus of the Medill Northwestern Journalism Institute and currently studies English and rhetoric and composition at Ohio's Oberlin College. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal and The Oakland Tribune, as well as on GRAMMY.com. Ring currently serves as a staff writer at Consequence of Sound and is the managing editor of his college newspaper, The Oberlin Review.)
Dan Auerbach, Fun., Jay-Z, Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean, Kanye West Lead 55th GRAMMY Nominations
The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Fun., Jay-Z, Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean, and Kanye West lead diverse field with six GRAMMY nominations each; the Black Keys, Chick Corea and Miguel earn five nominations each
Nominations for the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards were announced tonight by The Recording Academy and reflected an eclectic mix of the best and brightest in music over the past year, as determined by the voting members of The Academy. For the fifth year, nominations for the annual GRAMMY Awards were announced on primetime television as part of "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night," a one-hour CBS entertainment special broadcast live for the first time ever from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Fun., Jay-Z, Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean, and Kanye West top the nominations with six each; the Black Keys, Chick Corea and Miguel each garner five nods; and producer Jeff Bhasker, mastering engineer Bob Ludwig and Nas are each up for four awards.
"The GRAMMY Awards process once again has produced a diverse and impressive list of nominations across multiple genres," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "This year's nominees truly represent an exceptional and vibrant creative community that exemplifies some of the highest levels of artistry and excellence in their respective fields. Combined with the fifth year of our primetime nominations special, we're off to an exciting start on the road to Music's Biggest Night, the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards, on February 10."
Following are the nominations in the General Field categories:
Record Of The Year:
"Lonely Boy" — The Black Keys
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" — Kelly Clarkson
"We Are Young" — Fun. featuring Janelle Monáe
"Somebody That I Used To Know" — Gotye featuring Kimbra
"Thinkin Bout You" — Frank Ocean
"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" — Taylor Swift
Album Of The Year:
El Camino — The Black Keys
Some Nights — Fun.
Babel — Mumford & Sons
Channel Orange — Frank Ocean
Blunderbuss — Jack White
Song Of The Year:
"The A Team" — Ed Sheeran, songwriter (Ed Sheeran)
"Adorn" — Miguel Pimentel, songwriter (Miguel)
"Call Me Maybe" — Tavish Crowe, Carly Rae Jepsen & Josh Ramsay, songwriters (Carly Rae Jepsen)
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" — Jörgen Elofsson, David Gamson, Greg Kurstin & Ali Tamposi, songwriters (Kelly Clarkson)
"We Are Young" — Jack Antonoff, Jeff Bhasker, Andrew Dost & Nate Ruess, songwriters (Fun. featuring Janelle Monáe)
Best New Artist:
Following is a sampling of nominations in the GRAMMY Awards' other 29 Fields:
For Best Pop Solo Performance, the nominees are "Set Fire To The Rain (Live)" by Adele; "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" by Kelly Clarkson; "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen; "Wide Awake" by Katy Perry; and "Where Have You Been" by Rihanna.
The nominees for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance are "Shake It Out" by Florence & The Machine; "We Are Young" by Fun. featuring Janelle Monáe; "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye featuring Kimbra; "Sexy And I Know It" by LMFAO; and "Payphone" by Maroon 5 & Wiz Khalifa.
For Best Dance/Electronica Album, the nominees are Wonderland by Steve Aoki; Don't Think by the Chemical Brothers; > Album Title Goes Here < by Deadmau5; Fire & Ice by Kaskade; and Bangarang by Skrillex.
The nominees for Best Rock Performance are "Hold On" by Alabama Shakes; "Lonely Boy" by the Black Keys; "Charlie Brown" by Coldplay; "I Will Wait" by Mumford & Sons; and "We Take Care Of Our Own" by Bruce Springsteen.
For Best Alternative Music Album, the nominees are The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do by Fiona Apple; Biophilia by Björk; Making Mirrors by Gotye; Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. by M83; and Bad As Me by Tom Waits.
The nominees for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration are "Wild Ones" by Flo Rida featuring Sia; "No Church In The Wild" by Jay-Z & Kanye West featuring Frank Ocean & The-Dream; "Tonight (Best You Ever Had)" by John Legend featuring Ludacris; "Cherry Wine" by Nas featuring Amy Winehouse; and "Talk That Talk" by Rihanna featuring Jay-Z.
For Best Country Album, the nominees are Uncaged by Zac Brown Band; Hunter Hayes by Hunter Hayes; Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran by Jamey Johnson; Four The Record by Miranda Lambert; and The Time Jumpers by the Time Jumpers.
The nominees for Best Americana Album are The Carpenter by the Avett Brothers; From The Ground Up by John Fullbright; The Lumineers by the Lumineers; Babel by Mumford & Sons; and Slipstream by Bonnie Raitt.
This year's Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical nominations go to Dan Auerbach, Jeff Bhasker, Diplo, Markus Dravs, and Salaam Remi.
This year's GRAMMY Awards process registered more than 17,000 submissions over a 12-month eligibility period (Oct. 1, 2011 – Sept. 30, 2012). GRAMMY ballots for the final round of voting will be mailed on Dec. 19 to the voting members of The Recording Academy. They are due back to the accounting firm of Deloitte by Jan. 16, 2013, when they will be tabulated and the results kept secret until the 55th GRAMMY telecast.
The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards will be held on GRAMMY Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and once again will be broadcast live in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards are produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures for The Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer and Louis J. Horvitz is director.
Photo: Alysse Gafkjen
You're invited: Dan Auerbach GRAMMY Museum live stream
Tune in for a special conversation and performance with the eight-time GRAMMY winner via live stream on June 13
The GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live will welcome Auerbach to the Clive Davis Theater on June 13 for an intimate conversation about his incredible career and new album, plus a stripped-down performance. Although tickets for the evening are now sold out, the Museum will live stream The Drop: With Dan Auerbach on June 13 via Facebook Live at 8 p.m. PT.
Auerbach's follow-up to 2009's Keep It Hid, Waiting On A Song is a love letter to Nashville. As such, he recruited some of the city's most respected musicians to write and record with, including John Prine, Duane Eddy, Jerry Douglas, and Pat McLaughlin, along with Bobby Wood and Gene Chrisman of the Memphis Boys. Waiting On A Song also marks the debut release for Easy Eye Sound, Auerbach's new record label.
Lady Gaga to Jay Z: 9 GRAMMY winners from New York
Christina Aguilera, Marc Anthony, Tony Bennett, and Barbra Streisand also make our list of multiple GRAMMY winners with roots in the host city of the 60th GRAMMY Awards
New York is home to Wall Street, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and Broadway. And on Jan. 28, 2018, the city will serve as the home for the 60th GRAMMY Awards. New York has also been called home by some of the biggest stars in entertainment. It's no wonder everyone from Liza Minnelli and Frank Sinatra to Jay Z say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Here's a list of nine GRAMMY-winning New Yorkers who did it their way.
Staten Island-born Christina Aguilera was a mainstay in New York City in the late '90s and early '00s as a frequent guest on MTV"s "Total Request Live," which listed her "Dirrty" as the show's fifth greatest video on its final countdown. A week after winning the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance GRAMMY with A Great Big World for "Say Something," the five-time GRAMMY winner returned to her home state for a New York-themed halftime performance at the 2015 NBA All-Star Game.
Marc Anthony's East Harlem neighborhood has definitely impacted his career. "Being from New York, there was Latin music in the house and salsa coming out of my brother's room," Anthony told The Latin Recording Academy when he was named their 2016 Person of the Year. "I'd go out in the street and it was Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight and Aretha [Franklin]. I think I ended up being a melting pop of musical sensibilities." That melting pot has helped Anthony earn two GRAMMYs and five Latin GRAMMYs.
Though he may have left his heart in San Francisco, Tony Bennett performed for the first time in 1946 at Shangri-La nightclub in Astoria, Queens, the city in which he was born. It was all uphill from there, with Bennett earning 18 GRAMMYs to date. Several of his career achievements have featured nods to his hometown, including GRAMMY nominations for 1990's Astoria: Portrait Of The Artist and 2001's "New York State Of Mind" (with Billy Joel), and 1994's Album Of The Year GRAMMY winner MTV Unplugged, which was recorded at New York's Sony Studios.
Despite telling Complex she was "dropped here" as a "fairyland experience," Mariah Carey was born in Long Island. She began singing and writing songs at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, N.Y., and her resulting career has been anything but fantasy, including a 1990 Best New Artist GRAMMY, a GRAMMY nomination for 1992's MTV Unplugged EP, which was recorded in Astoria Studios in Queens, and, most recently, an infamous New Year's Eve performance in Times Square, to which the five-time GRAMMY-winning diva jokingly responded: "S* happens."
Producer/engineer/mixer Danger Mouse told The New York Times he was influenced by fellow New Yorker and GRAMMY winner Woody Allen, whose films taught him to take a "director's role within music." So far that approach has worked for Danger Mouse, who was born in White Plains. He's earned six GRAMMYs, including wins for solo projects, as one-half of Gnarls Barkley and his production for Adele, the Black Keys and his Broken Bells project.
With 21 GRAMMY wins, Jay Z is one of the top GRAMMY winners of all time and the top hip-hop artist from New York. (He's just two wins behind the top GRAMMY-winning New Yorker, John Williams). The Brooklyn rapper's GRAMMY-winning catalog is peppered with references to his hometown. From "Numb/Encore" to "Empire State Of Mind," his chart-topping collaboration with fellow New Yorker Alicia Keys, Hova has good reason to claim he's the King of New York.
Lady Gaga once tweeted she'd "bleed for [her] hometown." Thus it's no surprise the six-time GRAMMY winner, born in Manhattan as Stefani Germanotta, made the city of New York the subject of her 2011 hit "Marry The Night," which is featured on her Album Of The Year -nominated chart-topper, Born This Way. "New York is not just a tan that you'll never lose," Gaga sings. The 13-minute-plus video was shot throughout the city and was described as a "nod to New York downtown refinement."
From his stint on "Saturday Night Live" and his Brooklyn-based sitcom "Everybody Hates Chris" to his role as Pookie in 1991's New Jack City, Chris Rock is a New Yorker through and through. The South Carolina-born/Brooklyn-raised comedian can even be found sitting in the front row at Knicks games despite the team's inability to make the NBA Finals since 1999. Coincidentally, that was the same year Rock released his Best Spoken Comedy Album-winning Bigger And Blacker, which was recorded at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater.
New York has been good to Brooklyn native Barbra Streisand, beginning with her turn in the Broadway musicals "I Can Get It For You Wholesale" (1962) and "Funny Girl" (1964), the latter leading to her first Oscar win for her performance in the 1968 film adaptation. In 1963 she recorded her debut album, The Barbra Streisand Album, at Columbia's Studio A in New York City. It earned Babs an Album Of The Year GRAMMY, the first of eight GRAMMY wins, and launched a musical legacy that has resulted in GRAMMY Legend and Lifetime Achievement Awards.
Another bite out of the Big Apple
In addition to the artists above, these 12 multiple-GRAMMY winners also hail from New York:
Mary J. Blige
Sean "Diddy" Combs
Simon & Garfunkel