Q&A with Patrick Carney of the Black Keys

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

The drummer-songwriter answers questions from fans online

I am Patrick Carney of the Black Keys. Ask me anything.”
Patrick Carney, October 1, 2011, North Hollywood. Photo by Paul Zollo/American Songwriter.

When Black Keys released their 2014 album Turn Blue, the duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney decided it was time to face their fans, and answer the myriad of questions which were always being sent their way. But although they agreed, only Patrick actively opened him up to the glut of queries from fans, which he answered in a one-hour Reddit chat, highlights of which are below

As to Dan’s absence, Pat said, “Dan’s the Internet denier.”

On their website, Patrick posted this invitation:

I am Patrick Carney of the Black Keys. Ask me anything.

My band The Black Keys released an album, ‘Turn Blue’
yesterday. Here’s a music video for the single “Fever.” We’re going on tour soon. I’m in NYC doing promo for the new album. I’m here for an hour with Victoria from reddit in NYC and happy to answer your questions.

The response was vast, as was the range of questions, from the band’s history and songwriting through favorite Muppet, ice-cream and Bieber. There’s also a great
question which is, for some reason, hardly ever asked: “If you could  go back in time and punch one historical figure in the face, who would it be and why?”

He answers all with a humble, ecumenical spirit, and a lot of humor. Also a sense of history, bringing both Chester Arthur and Hitler into the mix.


Pat Carney (left) and Dan Auerbach, The Black Keys

Q & A with Patrick Carney of The Black Keys

Why is the band called The Black Keys? Does it have a meaning or is it just a catchy name?

PATRICK CARNEY: There’s an artist that Dan’s father and my father were friends with and helped take care of in Akron named Alfred McMoore. He was schizophrenic, and lived in a halfway house, and really liked to draw with crayons and pencil on 5 foot by 50 foot scrolls of paper, and he was constantly calling both of our houses when we were kids, asking our dads to bring him pipe tobacco, Diet Coke and crayons.

And he would always end the message with “Don’t be a black key. Don’t be a B-flat.” it was his way of saying that the Black Keys sounded dissonant, or insulting someone. He was totally nuts, but a really sweet guy. He used to cry constantly. He passed away in 2009, and Dan and I set up a non-profit in his name in Akron that helped take care of him in that halfway house. The service that they provide takes people who have mental disabilities and it helps them pay their bills, makes sure they’re insured,[since] the government doesn’t provide services like that.

Hey Pat, what is it you miss the most from your non-celebrity days?

I mean, I don’t consider myself a celebrity. But I miss being able to express my thoughts and not have hundreds and thousands of teenagers attack me.

Patrick, I’m a huge fan. You inspired me to get into music, so let me ask you this: what made you want to get into music?

My dad. Played me The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. And my best friend growing up, Steve. Who got an electric guitar when we were in sixth grade, and I wanted one because he had one, I thought he was such a cool dude.

Are you still in touch with Steve?
No. Sadly, he passed away in 2004.

What’s the craziest thing that happened to you guys when you finally “made it”?

We played SNL this past week, when I find out people like Charlize Theron listen to our music, I can’t actually tell if they are bullshitting me to this day. But the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me? Getting into a fight with Justin Bieber, straight up. An internet argument with Justin Bieber.

Could you talk a little bit about why you chose to record at Rubber Factory in the abandoned coal burning power plant in Akron?

It actually wasn’t a coal burning power plant, although it’s confusing because there’s a photo of that on the record cover. When we were looking for a place to set up a studio, the only place that we could find where we could make music loud was an old General Tire rubber factory that was really scary. And we set up on the second floor, where the offices were. And the downstairs was a giant open factory, and there was a laboratory next door to our room. And when they tore it down a few years later, it became a giant Superfund site because it was completely toxic, it was really bad. I remember walking up the stairs in that building, and having trouble breathing the next day.

Pat, who is your favorite muppet? This is a real important question, man.

Kermit the Frog, definitely, for sure.

Currently listening to `Turn Blue, ‘ and it has become my favorite Black Keys album! What inspired the change in sound and what did you do differently in the studio to achieve that sound?

Every time we make a record, we make it in a completely different way. Early on we made our records in my basement, and each record sounded different even then because we were constantly getting new equipment, cause my equipment kept breaking. And this record we recorded the same way we’ve recorded the last few records, just slightly different microphones. You can hear the sound of a really classic room on this record more than any other record we’ve ever made. Sunset Sound (in Hollywood, California).

What is the most life changing musical performance you have ever played?

Maybe we played a show in Oxford, Mississippi, the summer of 2002 and cleared the entire room and got offered a record soundtrack by Fat Possum that night, so it could be that. Or it could be headlining Lollapalooza in 2012, That was surreal.

Growing up in Akron, what did you do for fun?

I read comic books, I watched Terminator 2 a lot. And eventually I started playing music.

If you could  go back in time and punch one historical figure in the face, who would it be and why?

I mean, you kind of have to say Hitler, obviously.

But I would like to punch Chester A. Arthur in the face just because he has fucked up facial hair. Just for his fucking beard, I want to punch him in the face.

What was your favorite video to do? Mine has to be “Howlin’ for You”.

The Black Keys, “10 AM Automatic.”

Making “Tighten Up” was the most fun we’d ever had. But also the video shoot for “10 AM Automatic”  was really exciting because we were young, and we’d never met any of our heroes before really, comedy heroes, and we had gotten David Cross from Mr. Show to direct it. So we got to hang out with him.

What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Mint chocolate chip.

Was John Stamos actually involved in any of the songs? I heard that rumor before.

Yes. He played the drums on this record.

Just wondering – how was it to tour with the Arctic Monkeys?

Arctic Monkeys we’ve known for a long time, they’re really cool dudes. One of the most fun tours we’ve ever been on. They’re extremely funny and really good at ping-pong. 

When you guys are writing an album, do you ever throw in songs or ideas that you originally started working on a long time ago, or is it all fresh ideas?

There’s a couple of ideas that have been floating around with Dan and I musically for over a decade that we still haven’t been able to correctly use. There’s ideas that we’ve never been able to figure out how to actually make it work into a song. And whenever Dan and I run into a situation like that, we find it easier to start over. So most ideas are fresh, or what we think is fresh.

What’s your favorite film?

Das Boot, or Major League.

When I heard The Black Keys and RZA were making a song together I was skeptical but ‘The Baddest Man Alive’ turned out surprisingly good. Do you have plans to collaborate with any other artists in the future, or is there someone you’d like to work with specifically?

I’m glad you like the collaboration with RZA. It’s always intimidating making music with one of your heroes. There’s tons of people that Dan and I would like to make music with, but are afraid to ask.

How do you not get bored playing the same setlist every night during a long tour? How do you keep it interesting and not start hating the songs? (My bandmates and i would love to know because we often get sick of our songs when we play them too much).

I’ve never been bored playing a concert. But mostly because I’m usually just scared, or tired. But I don’t know. I don’t know why I don’t get bored.

Patrick Carney at work


My fiance and I are getting married August 9th. Will you come to the wedding?

Congratulations. But no. I won’t be able to attend.

WHERE’S DAN???

Dan’s the internet denier. It’s his birthday.

Why is Justin Bieber such a jerk?

If I was 20, and had millions of dollars and no mentoring, I’d be an asshole too.

Being a two piece band, do you prefer playing live or playing in a studio? Ya know, since one guy can’t really play two instruments at the same time.

Recording records is our favorite thing to do. But touring and playing in front of an audience is something we’ve grown to love just as much.

With so many albums out, it seems that you and Dan have always been one cohesive entity, when it comes to music. I’m wondering how your relationship with him was during The Big Come Up, when he first showed up to jam? Was there a tension in your basement between you two, when Dan heard that none of his crew was going to make that legendary practice?

Dan and I have always been friends since we were kids. But we didn’t hang out that much. But we both liked music. We had that in common. It’s something we bonded over. There was never any tension when we played. Our relationship is very brotherly.

If I painted you a picture of a rooster would you put it in your room?

No. Honestly, I wouldn’t.

Photo by Paul Zollo/American Songwriter

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