Ohio Players

Ohio Players

The Black Keys have spent the past two decades carrying the banner of blues-rock revivalism into the present. The duo have sold more records than most pop stars and have proven, time and time again, that rock has always been here—if you were willing to look. The band, made up of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, emerged from Akron, Ohio, in the early aughts as a welcome counterbalance to what was monopolizing record shelf space at the time. The New York City alternative scene was thriving, with bands including The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, and Interpol dictating the sound coming out of venues, warehouses, and loft spaces up and down the East Coast. Auerbach and Carney, meanwhile, were crafting a sound that was more Mississippi Delta than Mercury Lounge. The duo’s shared love of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Thin Lizzy, and T. Rex formed the foundation of their lo-fi sound, and they spent the next two decades expanding their range, introducing elements of psychedelia and big-chorus anthems that made them festival-headlining mainstays. Now, The Black Keys are returning with album number 12, the aptly titled Ohio Players, a project that bubbles over with the energy of two dudes just here for a good time. “I think once we experienced success, it was like, ‘Let’s try to keep it going and not make the same record again,’” Carney tells ALT CTRL Radio’s Hanuman Welch. “But what happened during this process was the pandemic hits, and after a year of not seeing each other, we walk in the studio to start working on our next record, and something had just changed between us. It was like we finally became best friends; everything was enjoyable. Creatively, we were starting to kind of push things a little bit, but as soon as we finished [2022 album] Dropout Boogie, before it was even released, we started working on this record. The intention was to call our friends to come in and work with us.” Past collaborations have netted The Black Keys the sort of accolades other bands work their entire careers hoping to achieve. The duo’s El Camino, co-produced by Danger Mouse, won Grammys for Best Rock Album and Best Rock Performance in 2013. But Ohio Players is the first time the band has truly collaborated in the sense of sharing writing and performing duties. And then they brought on some friends. The album’s first single, “Beautiful People (Stay High),” was co-written by Beck and Dan the Automator, and is the result of supporting Beck on tour 20 years ago after meeting him at a 2003 SNL after-party. “I just busted out this promo CD,” Carney remembers. “And I was like, ‘This is my band.’ And two weeks later, Beck reached out and took us on tour. So, this track is a result of this relationship and fandom that I have for Beck. We’ve been talking about making music off and on for years, and right when we finished our last record, we’re like, ‘Get down, it’s time.’” The Black Keys managed to enlist another generational talent for the project: Oasis’ Noel Gallagher. “[Collaboration] can always fall flat on its face,” says Carney. “And so, we basically spent 80 grand running the gamble of, ‘This could not work,’ because we didn't have a song. So, we booked the smallest, tiniest studio in London, really, Toe Rag—it’s where The White Stripes did Elephant. It was, like, zero frills. We showed up, and Noel was there—a guy we’ve briefly met a couple of times, and a legend—and we’re now going to write a song from scratch. Within two hours, we had it, and within another two hours, we had the take. Noel was like, ‘I’ve never actually done this before.’” Two decades in, the novelty of working with people whose music they love still hasn’t worn off. “The thing I’m most proud of, as a fan of music, is to have gotten in the studio with people who I’m a fan of and make something I’m proud of and that they’re proud of,” adds Carney. “It just is a really amazing feeling.”

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