Interview: New Black Keys Album, 'Turn Blue,' On Morning Edition In an extended conversation with NPR's Steve Inskeep, the band offers insights on the relationship between creative process and success.
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'Bound To Sound Different': The Black Keys On Going Big

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'Bound To Sound Different': The Black Keys On Going Big

'Bound To Sound Different': The Black Keys On Going Big

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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If you hit play on an album from The Black Keys from a decade ago, it would sound like this.


THE BLACK KEYS: (Singing) You hold on to love that's gone. Run a mile to see him smile. But you don't know he's door-to-door, playing you for the fool...

INSKEEP: The music was raw, distorted, loud - songs out of Rust Belt Akron, Ohio. These days, The Black Keys live in Nashville, and their latest album sounds smoother, more highly produced, almost psychedelic.


THE BLACK KEYS: (Singing) I let you use my gifts to back those lying lips. I'll never know just what I did it for. Bullet in the brain, I...

INSKEEP: The Black Keys are two core members, Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach. We've been talking with them on MORNING EDITION since 2006, and watching as they have grown more popular. As we listen to their latest album, which is called "Turn Blue," we got to thinking about how their music has changed since the beginning. Dan Auerbach says one reason is simple.

DAN AUERBACH: We were teenagers recording in a basement with a four-track and now, we're grown-ups.

PAT CARNEY: In the first few albums we made, we had really bad equipment, you know. So it wasn't even a matter of being able to get like, high-fidelity, kind of good-sounding sounds. It was about disguising the bad fidelity with distortion.


INSKEEP: You made a virtue of it.

CARNEY: Yeah, fuzz pedals saved our lives. We'd put them on snare drum, vocals, the whole drum set. We'd just distort everything because it was either distortion or just sound, you know, like it was recorded in a Guitar Center showroom or something.


INSKEEP: So the equipment - that's one difference. But being grown-ups, that is another part of the evolution of The Black Keys. They've lived a little more, and you hear it in the dark lyrics to the title track, "Turn Blue."


THE BLACK KEYS: (Singing) I really don't think you know there could be hell below, below. I really do hope you know there could be hell below, below...

INSKEEP: The lyrics there are a little dark. It's somebody who's dealing with some undefined trouble, and he's not sure that everybody understands what he's going through.

AUERBACH: Well, the lyrics on the record were definitely influenced by my year, and it was a tough year. I went through a breakup, and that definitely shows itself lyrically on the record.

INSKEEP: Can you point me to some lyrics where that's the case?

AUERBACH: Every single one.


AUERBACH: Pretty much. I mean, I was having a hard time not writing about what was going on in my world, you know what I mean? Because it was just so completely taking over everything.

INSKEEP: You said you went through a breakup; what happened to you in the last year?

AUERBACH: Oh, it was a divorce. It was a divorce, you know. It's, you know, not unlike what millions of people go through. But it was a first for me.

INSKEEP: Now, when you have to write about something sad that you want to get out, how does that work for you? Do you, for example, get it right on the first pass? Or are you editing a lot, and changing a lot?

AUERBACH: It was really difficult because it's personal. But at the same time, you sort of feel like you have to do it. Like, you can't really do anything else until you get it out of your mind. You know, music has always been something that I've loved deeply, but I've never actually relied on it for healing. And in this last year, music was very helpful to me.


THE BLACK KEYS: (Singing) You'll been on my mind. Don't give yourself away to the weight of love. You'll be on your side. Don't give yourself away. The weight of, weight of love...

INSKEEP: During this period, the last few years, you've also been producing other artists even as you guys have been working on your own music. Is there anything you've learned from working with other musicians that has influenced what you then do, when it comes time to record your own stuff?

AUERBACH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean both positively and negatively. You know, I mean you see things that - mistakes that bands make and you realize that you need to check yourself. But then you also can get really inspired watching a musician work; you know, seeing someone else who just has a completely different way of operating. And, for me, that's really inspiring to see that.

INSKEEP: What's an example of a way that a musician has inspired you?

AUERBACH: You know, the most obvious was Dr. John.


DR. JOHN: (Singing) Blind eyes of justice, deaf ears of power. Dumb lose our money, left us in a desperate hour...

AUERBACH: He would improvise parts and immediately, right from the get-go, they would sound like they'd been lived in for 100 years. He'd be playing them perfectly behind the beat. I mean I think about it all the time when I'm playing. When I'm singing especially, too.


THE BLACK KEYS: (Singing) When I hear them use your name, I get all choked up inside. It's not only from the shame. It's like 10 different lovers died...

INSKEEP: OK. So you've got to tell me a mistake you've seen someone make.

AUERBACH: Oh, I mean the biggest mistake is insecurity. You know, insecurity can really ruin albums and ruin relationships. You know? That's the biggest thing.

INSKEEP: So if we listen to your music and hear a different sound, part of the answer to why that would be is just that you've lived a few more years of your lives.

AUERBACH: Well, that's true on every record we've ever made. You know? And we've never have been the kind of band that wanted to make the same record over again. We never were even a band that really wanted to be famous. We just wanted to make records. And we love touring and we had this sort of drive that pushed us out onto the road. Even when we weren't making much money, we just kept going and going.


THE BLACK KEYS: (Singing) I went from San Berdoo to Kalamazoo just to get away from you. I searched far and wide, hoping I was wrong. But, baby, all the good women are gone...

INSKEEP: Well, gentlemen, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Congratulations on the album.

CARNEY: Thanks for having us on again.

AUERBACH: Yeah, thank you so much.


THE BLACK KEYS: (Singing) Wish we'd gone so far away, far away...

INSKEEP: The Black Keys' latest release is out today. It's called "Turn Blue."

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.


THE BLACK KEYS: (Singing) Blacktop, I can't stop for no one...

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