The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach Talks ‘Turn Blue’ And Their Early Days
By Nadia Noir
The Black Keys’ are about to enter their blue period with their eclectic eighth album, Turn Blue. Released today, Turn Blue’s lead single is the funky, danceable “Fever.” Co-producer and frontman of the Akron duo, Dan Auerbach, talked to Kevin & Bean, the morning duo on KROQ-FM (a Radio.com station), about the release of their Danger Mouse co-produced new album.
Auerbach explained that the band worked on Turn Blue off-and-on for a few months last summer. Some of it was recorded in a Michigan studio, but most was done at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. Instead of coming in with a demo or an idea of what they wanted to do, The Black Keys “didn’t even talk about a direction.”
“We just went in. Clean slate. Press record,” said Auerbach. They worked through some self-admitted musical blocks, but once they got to Sunset Sound, Auerbach said they really “started to just let it all hang out and get lose…the creative juices were flowing and everybody was comfortable. That’s when it started rolling forward full steam.”
Although “Fever” is a radio-ready single and Auerbach calls Turn Blue a mix of Brothers and El Camino, The Black Keys bucked some of the radio trends with the rest of their album, especially their “seven-minute jam,” “Weight of Love.” Kevin and Bean, who received advance copies of the album, called it a “headphones album,” to which Auerbach agreed.
“For me, the more I listen to it, the more I enjoy it and the more things I pick out, each time I listen to it,” explained Auerbach. “So, it’s not the kind of album that you get instant gratification on. I mean, maybe it is, but it gives you more when you really listen.”
“Some of my favorite records of all time, I didn’t even understand the first time I listened to them,” elaborated the musician. “And then all of a sudden they clicked and I can’t live without them now, you know?”
Just like it seems The Black Keys can’t live without their buddy Danger Mouse on production. Auerbach was asked why the pair always works with Brian Burton and he said part of it is because he trusts Burton with his music, but also because they get “paid to hang out” with a good friend who likes to joke around and “have fun and experiment with sounds.”
“People ask what is it like having Danger Mouse produce an album and I really don’t know what he’s like when he works with other bands because when we’re in the studio together. He’s really just like a third member of the band.” On their crazy new tour schedule, they always have a literal “third member,” Richard Swift on bass.
Auerbach said that making music is the “easy part” for the band. We love it. It’s a treat. We know, we get to go into the studio and make music. It’s like our favorite thing in the world to do. The thing that can mess bands up and impede them from completing an album is like insecurity and over-thinking things. By now, we’re really good, you know if it’s really good we move on. We’re really good at picking things apart. Because subtracting from the song is just as important to adding to it, you know?”
What is not easy for the band is accepting their festival headliner success. They prefer to play their own small shows and never dreamed of being as huge as they are.
“The success is definitely there and we’ve been working more than we ever worked, but we still aren’t stars. Our success isn’t based around stardom. It’s still more about the music and we’re really lucky for that.”
“Our intention wasn’t to be stars. We didn’t want to be on a big stage and headline festivals,” confessed Auerbach. “I always hear the Behind The Scenes or Behind The Music and they wanted to get girls. We were nerds. We just wanted to make recordings on a four-track.”
“We are nerds. When we started, we wanted to make recordings and all of a sudden those recordings got reviewed in Rolling Stone and we were opening for Sleater-Kinney and then we were opening for Beck and Radiohead and then it didn’t stop for twelve years. “
Do The Black Keys see an end to all the chaos in sight?
“Every year, we say we’re going to scale it back and it never happens so I have no idea,” said Auerbach about the band’s busy schedule. “We put some sort of Vulcan mind trick on ourselves and we just ended up agreeing to do all this touring.”
Turn Blue is out today on Nonesuch.