After releasing eight studio albums over a 12-year period, Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach were burnt out.
The duo that makes up The Black Keys had cemented their band’s standing in the music industry. For their trouble, they had received 13 Grammy nominations - five of which they won - and three of their records had reached gold, platinum and multi-platinum status around the world.
But it had been a long run, and the band needed a break. The only trouble was that they'd never taken one before, and they didn’t know how.
“It was scary not to have any dates booked,” Carney admits. “At times it was really frustrating for me, but ultimately it was necessary.”
In support of their ninth album, “Let’s Rock,” the Black Keys are back on tour after a three-year hiatus between their last performance in August 2015 and their return to the studio in September 2018. Their latest outing will bring the Ohio natives to Houston’s Toyota Center Tuesday, November 12.
“We realized that taking a little break is something almost every band does, whether it’s Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, the Strokes or the Ramones,” Carney says. “Most bands take a year off between records – they’ll put a record out, tour for a year then take a year off, and we’d never done that.”
So they did, and rumors about a breakup began to swirl. But Carney insists that a permanent separation was never in the cards. Instead, he says the time off gave both artists room to breathe.
“We were able to put the band in perspective. We were able to walk away from it and reset it so that it wasn’t dominating our lives,” Carney says. “For most of our 20s and 30s, it was dominating our lives to the point where it was hard to make personal plans. That wasn’t a bad thing at the time, but it wasn’t a way that we could continue to do it.”
As husbands and fathers, hitting the road for months at a time didn't seem as appealing as it once did. Fortunately for Carney, his wife Michelle Branch – whose fourth studio album he produced – helped keep the drummer’s skills sharp during The Black Keys' hiatus.
“I toured with Michelle in 2017, so it’s not like I didn’t play at all,” he says.
Even so, returning to the stage with Auerbach after all that time was nerve-wracking for the seasoned musician. Before a handful of shows in 2017, Carney went on vacation in France, where he was plagued by a recurring nightmare.
“I basically had the same dream every night,” he says. “I was onstage with Dan and we had forgotten to rehearse and didn’t know any of our songs. It was fucking scary.”
But once he was back in the saddle, he settled in quickly.
“I was pretty nervous about remembering parts, but the show was good,” Carney says of his first performance with Auerbach in four years. “Within a couple days, I think we were playing great, and I actually think we sound better now than we ever have.”
Carney still wants to be on the road, but his priorities have changed. He and Auerbach have put in the time and have reached a level of success that affords them a bit more leeway as they continue their careers, and both of them want to take full advantage of it.
“On a typical record, we’d be wrapping up this next leg, then going to Europe for probably six weeks, and then going to Australia and then coming back and doing the U.S. again,” Carney says. “A lot of that has to do with when you’re coming up, when you’re growing and starting to get some heat behind you with songs on the radio. You’ll go on tour and play venue A and then your booking agent will call and say, ‘You’re big enough to play venue B now.’ So you’re trying, on one record cycle, to get to the next level.
“That transition for us happened between Brothers and El Camino,” he says. “Our first shows for Brothers were in 1,000-4,000 seat venues, and we ended up playing 5,000-10,000 seat (venues). And then, for El Camino, we started playing in arenas. It was a lot of work to get to that spot.”
And now that they have reached that spot, Carney wants to spend more time on himself and his loved ones. He isn't giving up on The Black Keys or music at large, but he's excited about spending more time with his friends and family, enjoying life and watching a little baseball.
“As an Indians fan, I'll admit I found myself kind of rooting for the Nats, but only because they hadn’t gotten there yet," Carney says of the recent World Series. "But Astros fans need not worry, because you guys still have the best odds to win the World Series next year."
The Black Keys and Modest Mouse are scheduled to perform at 6 p.m. (doors open) on November 12 at Toyota Center 1510 Polk. For more information, call 866-446-8849 or visit houstontoyotacenter.com, $54.50-$499.50.
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