Akron’s Black Keys keep hometown close

Brenna McNamara

Band makes appearance at Agora this weekend

Courtesy of John Peets

Credit: DKS Editors

Upon leaving the area, many Akronites have a difficult time putting a face to the town when new, curious acquaintances inquire. Luigi’s Restaurant and the Rubber Bowl can’t cut it. Stan Hywet? Nope. That doesn’t quite produce the anticipated “ah ha” either.

But thanks to two Akron-raised musicians (OK Lebron, you’re also a little help), the task has gotten a little easier.

“Where’s Akron?” “Where the Black Keys are from.” “Ohhh.”

Mission complete (plus the snagging of a couple cool points in the process).

Yep, the Keys are making quite a name for Akron – not to mention their soulful rock music.

The release of “Attack and Release,” produced by DJ Danger Mouse, has verified the duo’s departure from their basement jam sesh feel. Don’t think for one second, though, that drummer Patrick Carney and vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach’s more evolved music signifies an evolution into an L.A. flat and Lamborghini.

“I’m in Akron right now,” Carney said during a phone interview. “Yeah, we still live here.”

The two met when then nine-year-old Carney moved into Auerbach’s neighborhood off Merriman Road and started playing together when they attended Firestone High School.

They might have jammed together then, but ran in different cliques, Carney said. “Dan hung out (with) jocks. Well, not really jocks, but dudes who were into smoking weed and Pink Floyd, having long hair, playing soccer and smoking weed,” Carney said about Auerbach’s friends. “My friends were more into being absolute spazes and pestering people. A lot of Dan’s went to Walsh (area private high school). My friends were at Firestone. Some had been kicked out of Walsh and St. V.”

A few years after graduating (Carney in ’98, Auerbach in ’97), the pair got together to record a jam session. Carney mixed it into a “sort of demo” that Auerbach liked. Carney’s brother made a record cover, and their first music was released in 2001.

“In summer 2002, I remember playing for like only 30 people, so it’s cool to be able to fill a 150-seat venue, no problem,” Carney said.

A rise in demand for the band means higher ticket prices, which Carney said is natural. The days of traveling with no sound or light guy have passed. An average tour now costs about $45,000, he said.

Although this touring fulfills Carney’s long-time dream of hopping off a plane and exploring a random city, he doesn’t believe any city is better than Akron. “I had high expectations for a lot of places, but having traveled a lot, it’s true that most cities are, you know, the same. Some cities just have amazing architecture and a lot of history, but when you peel that away it’s just a city, kinda,” he said. “Granted New York is like 30 Akrons combined – but that’s all it is. It’s all the same.”

The band chose to record “Attack and Release” close to home – at a studio slapped in the middle of the Painesville, Ohio wilderness.

“It was pretty secluded and terrifying,” said Carney who passed the time by playing catch in the yard. “We worked every day for like 12 hours, no distractions. No restaurant or bars, just work.”

The two-week session, which he said was two of “the best, most creative weeks,” brought some skepticism for Carney, as he had only met producer Brian Burton (aka DJ Danger Mouse, whose works include the “Grey Album,” Gorillaz and Gnarles Barkley) twice.

“I was not sure what he wanted out of me. I wasn’t sure if he was gonna hate the way I play drums, or what,” Carney said. “But after the first day, we were up there and recorded ‘I Got Mine.’ After that we were pretty stoked and sure it was gonna work out.”

And it did. The album was well-received by critics, promoted during a recent European tour. A live album, “The Black Keys: Live at the Crystal Ballroom,” recorded at Carney’s favorite venue in Portland, Ore., is on sale now. The duo has plans to record an album in Memphis, Tenn. in August. “Yeah, we for sure want some Memphis feel for the next album.”

But until then, the band is touring on-and-off, including playing two shows this Friday and Saturday at the Agora Ballroom. Tickets are $28.

Contact all correspondent Brenna McNamara at [email protected].