Step into the world of the Black Keys

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The Black Keys and Jim McGuinn at Easy Eye Sound Studios
The Current's Jim McGuinn (center) with The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney at Easy Eye Sound Studios in Nashville, Tenn., on Friday, May 31, 2019. (courtesy Jim McGuinn)

I spent Friday, May 31, in Nashville at Easy Eye Sound Studios with The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. I went to Nashville to talk to them about their new album, Let's Rock, for a national radio special, but we talked about so much more: Akron, punk rock, families, fandom, sounds, guitars, songs, drums, life. It was fun getting to know them better, and they were gracious and generous, welcoming me to their workspace — Dan's Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville — which is filled with more unique and vintage gear and stuff than I've ever seen in a one space.

The studio is in a nondescript building, unrecognizable from the street, located close to downtown Nashville. But once inside, you enter Dan Auerbach's universe, and every object in the place — the guitars, artwork, lampshades, record collection, furniture, floor tiles, ice bucket, you name it — mixes funky trashy with super cool, mostly retro pieces (it's no wonder Dan is pals with Mike Wolfe from the History Channel's American Pickers and has even been featured on the show). It all fits together with a style and touch that makes it easy to just hang out there, which I was privileged to do for several hours after our interview ended, watching Dan and Patrick do more press and promo. Their shared Black Keys aesthetic gives new meaning to their single "Lo/Hi," as the melding of low and high — fidelity, complexity and vibe — kind of explains and defines The Black Keys, from their beginning right up to this day.

In the studio, there are guitars everywhere, but few what you might call "standard" ones; instead, Dan's got Hound Dog Taylor's 1960s Japanese guitar (on which Hound Dog used one of those old label makers to affix his name to the headstock), Supros, Harmonys, vintage Gibsons and Telecasters, plus a few that belonged to master guitar innovator Vincent Bell, including the sitar-guitar which Dan uses on a track on Let's Rock.

Dan Auerbach holds the sitar guitar
Dan Auerbach with the sitar guitar at his Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville. (Jim McGuinn | MPR)

After I took this photo, Dan handed the instrument to me, then he picked up an acoustic guitar, and soon I was playing sitar-guitar leads over his softly strummed chords. Later on, Dan explained some of the vintage analogue magic in his mixing boards; he played me some new songs by a new artist he has been producing; we talked about Keith Richards' favorite Telecasters and about our mutual love of Willie's Guitars in Saint Paul. Pat, meanwhile, has an incredible memory for details of gigs and sessions going back to the start, and we talked baseball (Minnesota Twins v Cleveland Indians!), the state of alternative rock, and how some drums and guitars just make you play them a certain way. It was one of those rare days when you begin the morning as acquaintances but end the afternoon like friends.

I'm psyched for everyone to hear the entire Black Keys' album Let's Rock, and to see these guys bring it on tour. You can sense how they are brothers and how they complete each other, as goofy as that might sound. They remember that they spent a lot of years schlepping themselves around America in their van, and they appreciate music that emerges from the nation's nooks and crannies — like Akron, Ohio, of which they are proud to be part of an artistic lineage that goes back to Devo, Pere Ubu, and early pioneers like Glenn Schwartz, Dan's inspiration. Fame wasn't handed to them; it was earned in small clubs night after night, and as fans themselves, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney appreciate where they're at now, even if it seems a bit absurd to them that they are playing arenas.

Big thanks to Trina, Erica Collins, Drew, Warren, Amanda, and Cliff at QPrime, Mike Parrish (who is editing and distributing the radio special), Jason and the Easy Eye staff, and especially to Dan and Patrick for letting me into and sharing their world. Let's Rock!

Listen to The Black Keys, "Let's Rock" album preview special, hosted by Jim McGuinn Thursday, June 27, at 9 p.m. Central.

External Link

The Black Keys - official site

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  • Album of the Week: The Black Keys, "Let's Rock" You hear all the trademarks of The Black Keys on "Let's Rock" - the fuzzed out guitar tones, crushing drums, and the melodic rock songs that take in bits of influence from 70s AM radio choruses, and scuzzy garage rock.

7 Photos

  • Jim McGuinn visits the Black Keys in Nashville
    The Current's Jim McGuinn (center) with Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of the Black Keys at Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville. (courtesy Jim McGuinn)
  • Jim McGuinn visits the Black Keys in Nashville
    The Current's Jim McGuinn spots the Grammy Awards on the top shelf in the studio lounge at Dan Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville. (Jim McGuinn | MPR)
  • Jim McGuinn visits the Black Keys in Nashville
    More guitars and a stereo and record collection in the studio lounge at Dan Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville. (Jim McGuinn | MPR)
  • Jim McGuinn visits the Black Keys in Nashville
    The analogue console at Dan Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville. (Jim McGuinn | MPR)
  • Jim McGuinn visits the Black Keys in Nashville
    The Current's Jim McGuinn (center) with Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of the Black Keys at Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville. (courtesy Jim McGuinn)
  • Jim McGuinn visits the Black Keys in Nashville
    Old-school analogue mixing console at Dan Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville. (Jim McGuinn | MPR)
  • The Black Keys,
    The Black Keys, "Let's Rock" (Courtesy of Nonesuch)