The Black Keys’ Notes On Success: ‘Never Feel Like You’re Entitled To It’

"We’ve definitely worked hard, but a lot of bands have worked just as hard," Pat Carney says of the Black Keys' rise.
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(Photo: Danny Clinch)

(Photo: Danny Clinch)

Despite not releasing an album in 2012, the Black Keys dominated the year in a lot of ways. The most surprising thing, however, is the feasibility of the rock duo doing the same thing in 2013.

They started work on their eighth album this month, which they hope to have out by the end of 2013, and will hit the road again later this year. But first they’ve gotta get through the GRAMMYs, which have been very kind to them this year. The Keys are nominated for five GRAMMYs – two of them in major categories, Record of the Year and Album of the Year – and guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach is up for Producer of the Year.

All that said, Auerbach and his bandmate, drummer Pat Carney, are not taking any of their successes for granted. Radio.com caught up with Carney amidst the band’s jam-packed touring schedule last year, which included selling out arenas (including NYC’s Madison Square Garden) and headlining festivals (Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo). He still doesn’t seem to understand why or how his band became America’s biggest rock band (hint: it might have something to do with the hit-power of songs like “Tighten Up” and “Lonely Boy”).

“It’s been constant since the beginning for the both of us – the first time you play to 100 people, the first time you play to 500, first time you play a festival, first time you get to go overseas,” Carney says. “It just so happens that in the last two or so years, a lot of things that we were never even on our radar happened, like getting gold and platinum records, winning GRAMMYs, selling out MSG [Madison Square Garden], headlining festivals. All that stuff, we never even thought was possible. When it happens, it’s really kind of surreal. We’re really grateful that it’s happened, but we don’t really understand how it happened or why it happened.”

The band’s first album, The Big Come Up, was recorded in Carney’s basement and released by the small specialty label Alive in 2002. By contrast, 2011’s El Camino was a huge priority for Warner Bros. Records and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album chart with sales of nearly 206,000 in its opening week. The nine years in between were filled with mid-level status. Playing right before the headliner at festivals is the rock’n’roll equivalent of “always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” That’s precisely where the Black Keys were stuck for a number of years.

“There are moments when it can feel really, really hard,” Carney says. “The Magic Potion tour [2006]: We were too big for a van but we didn’t have enough money to rent a bus, so we had to rent a Penske truck and a mini-van and drive it around the U.S. for seven weeks. It’s soul-crushing, really. Been lots of moments like that. Being sick and huddled in a van in Europe, traveling around, making 100 pounds a night. I guess the whole time the hope was that one day it would make sense and we’d be able to afford houses. It eventually happened, but it took getting through a lot of really difficult moments.”

He continues: “We’ve definitely worked hard, but a lot of bands have worked just as hard. You just have to feel really lucky. Never feel like you’re entitled to it – because then you just sort of turn into a prick.”

 

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