The Black Keys

Back when singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, aka The Black Keys, were attending high school in the Midwest, the duo was “all about recording” four-track demos in their parents’ basements. In fact, when the two buddies signed their first label deal, with Alive Records, they hadn’t even played a live show.

“We sent out like 12 demos to some indie labels, and Alive was the only label that said they would put out a record without having to see us play live,” 25-year-old Auerbach told Pollstar while driving to a gig in Pittsburgh.

“We got a couple responses from different labels who said, ‘We really like your demo but we want to see you play, [but] we’re based in Washington State,'” he said. “And we had never driven across the country, let alone played a show. So we went with Alive.”

But let’s take a step back. Before being hand-picked by Sleater-Kinney and Beck to open for them on two separate tours in 2003, The Black Keys were just a couple guys from Akron, Ohio (birthplace of Devo), who lived around the corner from each other and didn’t even know it. After being introduced through a mutual friend at school, Auerbach and Carney began developing their raw dirty blues-rock sound through early basement jam sessions.

“Pat had a drum kit and a four-track and I had my guitar and my amp, and we just started playing,” Auerbach said.

Sounds simple, right? In theory, yes. But with those few simple tools, the Keys have created a uniquely powerful sound that brought offers from major record labels and ultimately landed them a deal with Oxford, Miss.’s Fat Possum Records.

“We didn’t really want to be on a major label,” Auerbach explained. “We just heard way too many horror stories and it just didn’t feel like we were getting spoken to honestly. … [Fat Possum] seemed to have the marketing and distribution that any major would have, so we decided to go with them.”

Not too bad for a couple of guys who, before releasing their 2002 debut, The Big Come Up, were dropping in and out of college and mowing lawns just to scrape up a living.

Shortly before their deal with Fat Possum, the Keys realized the daily tasks of booking and managing were just becoming too much to handle. Enter David “Boche” Viecelli of The Billions Corporation, who went from booking the band to eventually becoming its manager as well.

“I had sort of been helping them out above and beyond the normal call of an agent’s duty at least a few months before [becoming their manager],” Viecelli told Pollstar. “They were just focused on making music and playing a lot of shows.”

Viecelli first heard about the duo from Cindy Barber, co-owner of the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland (where the Keys recently sold out two consecutive shows). She thought they’d be a “good fit” for him.

The Black Keys

“It was actually the shortest period of time that I’d ever gone from never having heard of a band to representing them,” Viecelli said. “The whole time span was about two weeks.”

At that time, the band still “hadn’t quite found their footing,” Viecelli added, but since then, they’ve opened on bigger tours – something the Keys find to be very “grueling” – and have recently found themselves headlining on U.S. and overseas tours.

“I think over the last year and a half, they’ve really grown in their confidence and the power they project off stage,” he said. “From a production standpoint, it’s extremely simple … but there’s a tremendous energy.

“Music is so real and personal to these guys … .They’re perfectly happy playing a little 300-capacity club in Madison (Wis.) as they are playing the Metro in Chicago.”

Auerbach agrees. Since the bandmates hooked up with Viecelli, The Black Keys have gone from playing 100-seat clubs to 1,200-seat venues.

“He’s been completely helpful and we don’t regret our decision at all taking him on as both booking agent and manager,” Auerbach said.

The singer added that the band feels comfortable playing anywhere, but it tries to steer clear from venues that could potentially disconnect them from fans.

“I don’t ever want to play any place bigger than a theatre,” Auerbach said. “Once you get past that, you can’t really connect with the audience, and it just sucks for everybody.”

In September, the Keys released their third full-length album, Rubber Factory, which, like their previous records, was recorded in Akron. For this one, however, the duo decided to rent a small space in an abandoned tire factory to capture a live rawness.

“… the main thing we liked to do was record,” Auerbach reaffirmed. “It’s as much a part of what we do as playing live.”

The Black Keys are currently trekking through Europe with dates spanning into late November.

In December, they’ll head to Australia to play two dates on The Falls Festival before heading back home for a month-long tour of the South from January to early February.

Pull Quote: “I don’t ever want to play any place bigger than a theatre.”