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Black Keys’ Patrick Carney Discusses Road Life, Spotify Vs iTunes, Mixtapes + More

Patrick Carney
Dave Kim, WGRD

The overdue rise of The Black Keys in the last couple of years has elevated them to arena rock status. Earlier this month the Akron, OH duo embarked on their biggest tour so far, bringing along English indie rockers Arctic Monkeys as support. We caught up with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney before their show in Grand Rapids, MI to talk about the tour, possessive fans, his disdain for Spotify’s Sean Parker and more.

To add an interesting side note, we had to wait a few minutes for Carney because he and vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach were in a heated game of ping pong with their road crew. It was very entertaining to watch – and intense.

You guys have embarked on the biggest tour of your careers so far. It’s kind of crazy because we were driving up to the venue and saw semis. Six years ago it was just a van and a trailer. How has the tour been so far? Is it everything you expected?

It’s actually easier to tour now than it was then. Six years ago I had to get to the venue and set up my own drums. Then after the show take them apart and pack them in the van. Now I just have to play a concert. It’s not very difficult.

Your fan base has grown exponentially over the last few years. We know you take your glasses off when you play, but have you noticed new types of people showing up at your shows?

Our audience has always been pretty diverse, but I’ve noticed in the past two years it started to get a little bit younger which is cool.

Some fans get very possessive of their band and when they start to get bigger, old school fans get kind of angry. Have you been confronted by that at all?

The real hardcore Black Keys fans from the first album have been upset with us since 2007 when we worked with Danger Mouse for the first time. You get that. We’ve been a band for 10 years making records every 18 months. In the course of doing that, hopefully your taste is going to kind of change a little bit. You’re going to evolve as a musician and you’re not going to be wanting to make the same record over and over again.

What happens is when you pick up certain fans at certain points, there’s something about a sound that resonates with them. When you change, sometimes you leave some fans behind.

Going back to the glasses, you don’t wear contacts, do you?

No, I’ve been trying to wear my glasses more when I play though. The problem is, once I start sweating my glasses fly off my face. For some reason I don’t have a backup set of glasses on tour. I get really worried once they fly off my face that I’m going to crush them.

You could wear goggles like how Horace Grant from the Chicago Bulls did when he played.

Oh right, yeah the sports goggles. Actually, in these bigger rooms it’s easier to play when I have my glasses off because I’m so blind that it just looks like an endless void of people without my glasses on. Without my glasses on it looks like we’re playing in a huge football stadium.

As you mentioned before, you’ve made a lot of records and have been touring like crazy. Touring has taken a toll on your personal life. Learning from those experiences, has life on the road been easier now?

Touring is always hard. Whether it’s hard because you’re away from your family and your friends or because of the actual work you have to do. Honestly, it’s kind of a really bizarre job and I don’t think many people would really like it. One tour is cool but once you get going, we probably spend about 160 days a year on the road. It can be really difficult.

You and Dan have stated before that it’s not really monetarily beneficial for artists to stream their whole albums on services like Spotify. Sean Parker, who started Napster and is a board member for Spotify, said at SXSW that Spotify will generate more revenue for the music industry than iTunes in just two years. Do you believe him?

No.

How come?

Because he’s an a——. That guy has $2 billion that he made from figuring out ways to steal royalties from artists, and that’s the bottom line. You can’t really trust anybody like that. The idea of a streaming service, like Netflix for music, I’m totally not against it. It’s just we won’t put all of our music on it until there are enough subscribers for it to make sense.

Trust me, Dan and I like to make money. If it was fair to the artist we would be involved in it. I honestly don’t want to see Sean Parker succeed in anything. I imagine if Spotify becomes something that people are willing to pay for, then I’m sure iTunes will just create their own service, and they’re actually fair to artists.

You and Dan receive a lot of requests to license Black Keys music to different types of media. For instance, ‘I’ll Be Your Man’ was used as the opening theme song for the HBO series Hung. Were you a fan of the show?

Actually I haven’t watched it since like the first season. I was getting into it and I like the fact that it’s based in Detroit and everything.

If the band thing didn’t work out, would you be a male prostitute?

Would I be one? Hmmm, no. My moral code is maybe a little too strong.

I’m going to confess to you, I put ‘Lonely Boy’ on a mixtape for a girl. If you were going to make a mixtape for a girl, what would be the top five songs that have to be on there.

Oh man, that’s a serious question. ‘Vicious’ by Lou Reed would start off the mixtape. And then ‘Down On The Street’ – The Stooges. ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’ by Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio. ‘Black Coffee’ by Ike and Tina Turner, their cover of that song. Let’s see, one more. I would say ‘Motor Away’ by Guided by Voices would be a good way to close out a mixtape.

Listen to the entire interview on WGRD.com.

Check Out Our Interview With Black Keys Frontman Dan Auerbach

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