Today might mark the release of The Black Keys’ 10th studio album Delta Kream, but it was what the rock duo’s drummer Patrick Carney was doing last Friday that still has him shaking his head in disbelief.
“I played golf with Alice Cooper last Friday,” Carney says. “My neighbour here in Nashville is a guy named John Dittmar, who’s a rock’n’roll agent – he was Oasis’ agent and is Alice Cooper’s agent – and John and I golf all the time. Alice was in town doing something and I had dinner with him, John and Bob Ezrin [famed producer of classic albums including Cooper's Welcome To My Nightmare, Pink Floyd's The Wall and KISS' Destroyer]. Then we played golf. He helped me fix my slice.”
I Like Your Old Stuff has a vision of Alice Cooper – almost as famous for his golfing prowess as his rock star status - standing up close behind Carney on a fairway and slightly adjusting him.
“Yeah, that’s what happened,” Carney chuckles. “That’s the coolest thing about my life: somehow I find myself hanging out with Alice Cooper and he’s telling me all these stories that are so incredible. He told me he was there the first time Jimi Hendrix used a wah-wah pedal – and it was Frank Zappa showing him how to use it. I mean, ‘What the fuck?’ He’s the coolest, man.”
After five Grammy Awards, platinum singles and number one albums in the US, Canada and Australia, 2021 finds The Black Keys returning to their blues roots. Delta Kream is a collection of covers by artists including late Mississippi bluesmen RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. In a neatly cyclical move, the album arrives 15 years after Carney and guitarist Dan Auerbach released their Chulahoma EP of Kimbrough covers.
“Chulahoma came out before we really gained a lot of popularity,” Carney states from his Nashville home. “If it weren’t for those country blues guys like RL Burnside or Junior Kimbrough we literally wouldn’t be a band. Chulahoma was one of my favourite things we’ve ever done, but I always regretted not making it a full album. It felt like time for a good homage to these guys, to go back to where the band started and put this record out.”
Recorded in Auerbach’s Nashville studio in December 2019 with musicians who performed with Burnside and Kimbrough, there were no initial plans for the two-day session to be commercially released. When the COVID-19 pandemic put the kibosh on The Black Keys’ prospective recording plans, Carney says the tracks laid down with guitarist Kenny Brown, bassist Eric Deaton and percussionist Sam Bacco were reappraised.
“We were just jamming and had no expectation we were making a record, so it took a while to re-evaluate this recording. When I finally listened back with fresh ears, I realised there was something really interesting about it: it’s the record we’d never made before – a live Black Keys record. For a band that’s as live-oriented as The Black Keys are, all of our records have overdubs because it’s just the fucking two of us. Eric, Sam, Kenny, Dan and I are all nuanced players - no one is trying to be Yngwie Malmsteen, no one is capable of or trying to attempt perfection. It’s a record of us sitting around the studio, listening to each other and reacting to what everyone is playing. We mesh well with what everyone else is doing.”
The video for The Black Keys’ new single "Goin’ Down South", which replicates the live set-up of the Delta Kream recording sessions, finds Carney working up an impressive sweat despite the apparently laidback feel of the song.
“I was hitting the drums pretty hard, but it’s not coming in over the top. When I’m playing it live I’m giving it something. It’s hard to translate, but it’s like when you see someone swing a golf club and it sometimes doesn’t look like they’re hitting the shit out of it, but I hit the drums pretty fucking hard. When I play drums it gets hot quick, even if it’s in an air-conditioned room - it’s a sweaty job, man. When I’m onstage in an arena I typically kick the living shit out of the drum kit.”
On an Instagram post unveiling the "Goin’ Down South" video, a fan observed The Black Keys are “the only band I can think of that started out indie, sold out and then somehow unsold out and went back to who they were. So awesome." Carney is amused by the premise.
“Well I don’t think we ever sold out, but what we did do was this: we started in the smallest possible way, as two dudes in Akron who knew nobody and blindly sent demos to all the record labels. We slowly became a band who got signed to Warner Bros and made number one albums. To try to maintain the status of a band who puts out number one albums, your fans are either going to be into you or they’re not. To try to force that shit down their throats or force music to be popular, it’s just fucking pointless. Even our biggest songs, they were songs we wanted to make and we were pushing ourselves to see how far we could get it. When a band goes from really small to big like us, it spins people out – it spun out Kurt Cobain - because people call you a sell-out and that’s the worst thing you can call a musician. Especially when you grow up looking at pictures of Led Zeppelin flying on a private fucking aeroplane and no one ever called those guys sell-outs. I prescribe to the punk rock version of selling out, where if you aren’t changing what you are doing to make more money, and you’re just changing to push yourself, that’s a big difference.
“Also, there’s nothing more punk rock than making a fuck-load of money playing music,” Carney adds. “Even Chumbawamba enjoyed it.”
Around the time Delta Kream was recorded in December 2019, Carney was counting down his favourite musical releases of the decade via his Instagram account. A tongue-in-cheek collection of the absurd, the list included portly martial arts star Steven Seagal, golfer John Daly and Marvel actor Jeremy Renner covering the Crash Test Dummies. Topping the list was ‘80s film star Corey Feldman’s 2016 album Angelic 2 The Core.
“I have such mixed feelings about social media, but one thing where it does come in handy is being a complete dumb-ass,” Carney says. “I wanted to be Corey Feldman when I was six years old. I thought the dude was so cool. My favourite film of his is hands down The Goonies.”
Maybe Corey could join you for 18 holes on the links?
“I would happily play golf with Corey Feldman – I wonder if he golfs? I’ll have to put the word out to old CDogg22 that I’m coming for him. I’ll DM him."
Listen to The Black Keys' Delta Kream on Spotify:
Listen to The Black Keys' Delta Kream on Apple Music: