When The Black Keys named their new record Rubber Factory, it was no joke. The guitar-and-drums duo’s third release was actually recorded in an abandoned General Tire factory in its hometown of Akron, Ohio.
“I think [the setting] had a lot to do with the sound, the feeling—you can hear the cavernous rooms,” says singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach, just back from the Fuji Rock Festival, where he and longtime drummer Patrick Carney blasted an attentive Japanese audience with their swampy, electrified brand of Delta blues. “There’s some bleak songs on the record, and the area where the factory’s located is the old industrial area in Akron where all the tire companies used to be—Firestone, BF Goodrich, General, Goodyear, all these places—and now they’re all disappeared … they closed decades ago, when they took business outside of the country to cheaper places. The only thing that’s left is all these giant, rundown buildings. It’s a weird side of town, but we were there [working on the record] every single day, all day long.”
Auerbach and Carney have been playing together as a duo since high school, and they’ve developed a deep musical chemistry over the years. In fact, they’ve always recorded without producers, engineers or guest musicians—just pure, unfiltered Black Keys voodoo—and Auerbach doesn’t see things changing anytime soon. (“We’re just really comfortable with it,” he says. “We have a lot of fun.”) But isn’t the two-man approach limiting at times?
“When we’ve played with other people, it’s been really awkward,” says Auerbach in his gravelly near-whisper. “I don’t know. Some nights it’s better than others when we play, but— when it’s on—I definitely don’t feel like we ever need anything else.”
And the duo does seem to be doing just fine on its own. After the success of 2003’s thickfreakness, Auerbach and Carney hit the road, playing all over the U.S. and the world. And they’ll be doing it all over again in support of Rubber Factory. But with such an overwhelming schedule, things can get a little crazy out there.
“It’s completely un-human to be in such close proximity with the same person for months at a time—it’s just not right,” Auerbach laughs. “I don’t think anybody would get along … I mean, we don’t really want to kill each other. Maybe at times we do, but that mainly involves me not having enough coffee or Pat not having enough cigarette breaks. The road gets to be grueling—mentally, more so even than physically.”
“But the best thing is being able to play music and see these places you’ve never seen before—you know, driving down the Pacific Coast highway. We did that for the first time last time we toured and it was amazing. We saw a bald eagle going through Northern California, and then we hit the Pacific highway, and we’d stop every half hour or so. It was totally amazing. And to think, ‘I’m working.’ It’s a pretty cool idea.”