6 Apr 2024

The Black Keys: On recording with Beck and Noel Gallagher

From Music 101, 1:20 pm on 6 April 2024
American rock duo The Black Keys

American rock duo The Black Keys Photo: Supplied

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney - aka The Black Keys - were enjoying a "record hang" when the name of a little-known 70s funk band became their new album title.

On Ohio Players, the beloved American rock duo tried to capture the thrill of hearing an old album that feels new, Auerbach tells Charlotte Ryan.

"What we wanted was that spirit, the excitement, the feeling you get when you drop a really great record that feels like you should know it or feels like you know it, but it's fresh."

Over the last few years, just for the hell of it, Auerbach and Carney have enjoyed spinning and sharing records with friends, Auerbach says.

"We just got into trying to find these obscure records and playing something that no one's heard before. It became like a friendly competition.

"It really influenced what happened when we went into the studio … that's what we're looking for when we're in the studio."

During a "record hang" in Los Angeles the night before they had to give the new Black Keys album a title, someone put on Ohio Players.

"Pat said 'Let's call the record Ohio Players'. We didn't even think about it, it was sort of spontaneous in that moment. Of course, there's plenty of different meanings. We are from Ohio, we do love the Ohio Players. Their song ['I Forgot to Be Your Lover'] is our walk-out music when we come out on stage."

On their previous album Dropout Boogie, the Black Keys teamed up with new collaborators (including Kings of Leon producer Angelo Petraglia) for the first time. For Ohio Players they enlisted Beck and Noel Gallagher.

"We figured it went so well on the last album that maybe we should dig a little bit deeper into the Rolodex and call some people that we really respect but had never worked with before.

"The first person that came around was Beck. He gave us one of our first big breaks. He was a huge influence on us, even before we were a band.

"He took us out on tour when he was doing Sea Change so we got to hear that beautiful record every night and it was very important in the development of the band.

"He was the first person we asked, and the very first day we got together we wrote the song 'This is Nowhere' and it felt like a celebration. We just kind of carried that on throughout the making of the record."

After recording with Beck went so well, Auerbach and Carney decided to approach Noel Gallagher, formerly of Oasis.

"We reached out and his people said 'You know, he doesn't really do that … he's never done before'. So we waited a few days and we heard back and he said he would be interested if we flew to London. So we booked the tickets, we took the chance. We went out there and booked this amazing studio called Toe Rag that we always wanted to go to in London.

"We were really nervous. We got together with him in the studio for the first time. We've met him in passing a couple of times before but we really never spent any quality time with him, so it was like meeting him for the first time that day.

"We were a little nervous, you know, but we banged out a song on that first day and that kind of took the nerves away. It was like smooth sailing pretty much the whole time and it was amazing.

"We're at a point in our careers where we feel comfortable collaborating with people. It doesn't have to be all about us all the time.

"Pat and I are very good at sitting back and letting people do their thing. And to be able to sit in the room watching [Gallagher] go through his process of songwriting was really amazing, you know, watching him unleash his superpower.

"He's such a stickler for the chords. We ended up calling him a 'Chord Lord' jokingly, because he just would not stop until he found the chord that was right for his ear and then we could continue … He's funny as hell so was constantly making us laugh. He was, you know, all around a great hang and it was very fruitful ... It's very, very raw, in a sense, collaborative and raw."