The Black Keys are the opposite of an overnight sensation. While they have emerged as one of the most popular rock bands of the early 2010s, this blues-rock duo have been putting out albums since the beginning of the 21st century, slowly building a cult following before crossing over into the mainstream with their hit albums Brothers
and El Camino
. The band, which consists of singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, specialize in heavy rock that's meant to be a throwback to classic sounds of the 1970s. With their proudly retro sound, they draw comparisons to other backward-looking groups like the White Stripes
Making Their Debut:
The Black Keys started up in Akron, Ohio. Auerbach and Carney knew each other in grade school but became friends in their teens. The band came together when Auerbach recruited Carney to help him record a demo, which drew the interest of the indie label Alive. In 2002, the duo put out their first album, The Big Come Up
, which emphasized their crude, blues-heavy sound. (Even their cover of the Beatles
' "She Said, She Said" had a sexy strut to it.) The album didn't have much polish, which was fine: The rawness of the guitar licks was what mattered.
Feeling the 'Thickfreakness':
A year later, the Black Keys moved to Fat Possum
, a label specializing in established blues artists such as R.L. Burnside
. Fat Possum's hipster cachet gave a boost to the Black Keys, whose Thickfreakness
received good reviews, not to mention some radio play from indie stations. At this stage, though, the duo remained an under-the-radar attraction. Perhaps tellingly, one of the sharpest songs off Thickfreakness
was "Have Love Will Travel," a cover of a 1950s Richard Berry tune that was also recorded by the Sonics. Though a skillful group, Auerbach and Carney were still heavily indebted to their influences.
Becoming Indie Faves:
By the time of their third album, 2004's Rubber Factory, the Black Keys had toured with Sleater-Kinney and Beck, which helped raise their profile. (2004 also saw them make their debut at Coachella.) As a result, Rubber Factory was the duo's first to enter the Billboard album charts. It's also important to remember that this was a period in which other garage-rock duos, like the White Stripes and the Raveonettes, were also making commercial inroads. The Black Keys weren't yet a mainstream act, but they were certainly part of a cool subculture of bands focusing on a hard-edged, unvarnished approach to rock 'n' roll.
Moving to Nonesuch ... and Meeting Danger Mouse:
The Black Keys signed with Nonesuch for the release of Magic Potion
, but while their first two albums for the label (perhaps best known for signing Wilco
) were well-made, they failed to break the band onto rock radio. Still, 2006's Magic Potion
and 2008's Attack & Release
were the first Black Keys records that featured all original songs, a sign that the duo were becoming more comfortable with their own voice, not necessarily relying on blues standards to fortify their track list. Attack & Release
landed in the Top 20 on the Billboard
album chart, but perhaps more importantly, it established the band's relationship with Danger Mouse, a hip-hop producer who had worked with Gorillaz
and collaborated with Cee Lo Green
in Gnarls Barkley
. Rather than changing the Black Keys' sound, though, Danger Mouse helped bolster its dynamic punch, which would lead them to their biggest commercial success.
The Name of This Album is 'Brothers':
In 2009, the Black Keys focused on a side project entitled Blakroc, which found the duo collaborating with hip-hop artists such as Mos Def and the RZA. The following year, the Black Keys returned to rock in a big way. After almost a decade of making albums and touring, the duo unveiled Brothers, which for many fans was their first introduction to the group. With Danger Mouse beefing up their sound, the Black Keys conquered rock radio with "Tighten Up" and "Howlin' for You," merging blues-rock and pop accessibility. In the past, Auerbach had emphasized the raw urgency of his vocals, but with Brothers that rawness mixed with a cocky confidence that was enormously appealing. Brothers went platinum and won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album.
In 2011, the Black Keys continued to ride high, releasing the well-received El Camino. Again working with Danger Mouse, the band had big hits with "Lonely Boy" and "Gold on the Ceiling." Celebrated for their ability to bring a sense of authenticity back into mainstream rock, the duo have become one of the more unlikely success stories of recent years.
Black Keys Band Members: