By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal music writer
“I was kind of worried, I didn’t know how big that place really was,’’ Dan Auerbach, guitarist/singer of the West Akron duo the Black Keys, said of the Akron Civic Theatre. The theater seats 2,585 people.
His drumming partner, Patrick Carney, added: “I haven’t been in there in a long time. My dad used to take me to see Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, but I haven’t been in the Civic in at least 10 years.’’
For the first time, Akron’s most famous blues/rock duo will perform at the Civic on Saturday night for a sold-out show in front of friends, family and fans not afraid of a little snow, wind and freezing rain.
“My biggest fear was stepping out on the stage and seeing like 300 people out there, but selling it out a month before the show is pretty . . . awesome,’’ Auerbach said.
Although 2007 may appear to have been a relatively low-key year for the duo, with only a few tour dates and no new record, it has actually been a year of big change for them. The friends and Firestone High School grads, who started playing together as teenage boys jamming in Carney’s parents’ garage, are now two full-grown men with full-blown music careers. (Carney is the son of Akron Beacon Journal reporter Jim Carney.)
Both Carney, 27, and Auerbach, 28, got married in 2007. Auerbach and his wife, Stephanie, also welcomed their first child, Sadie, into the world in October.
Additionally, the band, which recorded its previous four albums in the claustrophobic confines of Carney’s various basements and an abandoned rubber factory, have moved to a new, upgraded studio in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood. It’s part of a two-studio complex run by band buddy Ben Vehorn. The Carney side is up and running, and Vehorn hopes to be open for business shortly after the first of the year.
Carney has already recorded a chunk of popular area rock band Goodmorning Valentine’s upcoming album in the new space, and early next year he will record local bands Houseguest and Civic show openers Beaten Awake, both signed to Audio Eagle Records, Carney’s independent record label.
Audio Eagle also recently released a CD, Audio Eagle Presents . . . A Compilation of Bands From Ohio, a 21-track collection featuring the aforementioned Audio Eagle bands, plus Youngstown’s Gil Mantera’s Party Dream, former Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard of Dayton, Cincinnati’s Buffalo Killers and other bands from around the state.
Likewise, Auerbach has been producing performers, including Akron guitarist Pat Sweany on his Every Hour Is a Dollar Gone and Nebraska garage rockers Brimstone Howl, whose reverb-drenched Guts of Steel was recorded at Auerbach’s Pie Co. studio in Akron. Auerbach also has been recording Kent singer/songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield, aka Chittlin, in his new home studio, Akron Analog. Mayfield is the Civic concert’s other opening act. Her album is tentatively scheduled for a spring release.
“We want people to be able to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with us,’’ Auerbach said of the Black Keys’ desire to produce more artists.
On this day the day after the death of music and domestic-abuse legend Ike Turner the Keys were searching through old demos trying to locate three songs submitted to Turner for an abandoned recording project that would have brought the unlikely trio together in a studio earlier this year. Turner recorded some vocals and some guitar parts on top of the music provided by Auerbach and Carney, played it for many of his friends and family, and sent the files back, but the project got no further.
Now, those demos have become precious audio artifacts, given considerable gravitas as some of the last recordings of Turner. Auerbach said Turner’s son called him requesting the tracks, and though a few of the songs will also appear on the band’s new album, Auerbach said he would love to hear properly mixed versions.
“It’s so spooky to hear Ike Turner sing Dan’s words,’’ Carney said while Turner’s basso profundo slowly moaned “I wanna die without pain’’ over the duo’s fuzzed-out blues riff wafting out of the control room speakers.
But what about the Black Keys’ new album due early next year? What about all the buzz about the band letting go of the production reins and working with celebrated knob twiddler and Keys fan Danger Mouse? What can be said of the album?
Nothing. At least not in these pages, because along with the duo’s growing families is their desire to exert control over their growing business. Auerbach partially credits baby Sadie for making him “less tolerant for being jacked around by other people,’’ he said.
The two, who are more popular in Europe than in the United States and are rock stars in Australia, also now have professional tour representation on each continent (except in Australia, where they just have a “guy who knows a lot of other guys’’), a business manager/accountant and a tenacious lawyer (“She’s got a new little girl, too, so she takes no crap either,’’ Auerbach said.). They’ve also learned the lesson absorbed by many other successful bands that have survived too many overlong and hectic tour schedules: They’ve learned to say no.
“Now we can say no. It’s awesome to have some time off to record,’’ Auerbach said.
Carney added: “Last year, we had to cancel from trips because we were losing it . . . Playing shows is fun, but 10 weeks on the road in Spain in a blizzard (for example) is just bad.’’
Auerbach said he is already a little worried about leaving his baby girl for the first time, but he also knows that trying to raise a baby on a tour bus can result in Jack and Kelly Osbourne.
“Obviously, it’s going to be hard because you don’t want to be away for too long, but it’s not like we have a big tour bus, and it’s not easy to travel with a baby. And this is work, you know. Being on the road isn’t like being on a vacation,’’ he said.
But those are issues to be dealt with in 2008. For the end of 2007, the two are excited about playing the Civic Theatre.
“It’s awesome, it’s one of the coolest theaters I’ve ever been in, and we’ve played a lot of theaters, (including) Carnegie Hall,’’ Auerbach said. “I remember when I was a little kid going in there and seeing those moving clouds and stars. It just blew my mind.’’
As for the show itself, Auerbach attempted to play coy.
“It’s going to be basically the same show you used to get at the Lime Spider,’’ he said.
“We’ve got some special treats, some cool covers and stuff,’’ Carney said.
“Oh, and a few new songs,’’ Auerbach said. “People are going to get a decent tickle of the new record.’’