Rock's awesomest duo since the White Stripes have a new album, ''El Camino,'' and a big year ahead. We sat down with guitarist-singer Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney to talk Grammys, vans, and Robert Plant

By Melissa Maerz
April 01, 2019 at 12:03 PM EDT

Whiskey (Auerbach), Bloody Mary (Carney), vodka and soda (EW)
You two were just nominated for another Grammy. How have your lives changed since you won for [2010 breakout] Brothers?
Patrick Carney Last time, when we walked the red carpet, everyone pushed us out of the way so that Kim Kardashian and Snooki could get through. We left when Justin Bieber was about to perform. Dan’s Bieber fever spiked so high we had to rush him to the emergency room. [Laughs]

But now you’re playing to massive crowds. Pat, I heard that you started to get stage fright for a while.
Carney There was a really huge crowd at Lollapalooza last year, and it kind of freaked me out.
Dan Auerbach We were playing in the daylight, which is scary because we don’t get to use any lights — you’re just out there. It’s like watching a sweaty puppet show.
Carney It was a little bit overwhelming. I had a panic attack.

I heard you hired a hypnotist to help.
Carney Yeah, a guy who worked with, like, Kim Jong Il and Russell Crowe. [Laughs] The next night, I sleepwalked out of the hotel room in my underwear.
Auerbach He was wearing Spanx.
Carney Yeah, Spanx and some pasties. [Laughs] But it worked.

Round 2
Whiskey (Auerbach), beer (Carney), vodka and soda (EW)
You just moved from Akron, Ohio, to Nashville. Has living in the capital of country music inspired you?
Auerbach For sure. I love it, meeting all these old-school Nashville people. I mean, middle America is scared of hip-hop people? Country musicians, man — they’re the craziest. Their lifestyle was so what you would think of as rock & roll. They’ve all got these stories, just filthy, about motorcycle crashes, pill-popping, [dirty] Polaroids of famous women. It’s awesome.
Carney I haven’t met anyone cool. In Nashville, if you can’t sing, you’re a second-class citizen. Seriously.

Tell me about your new studio in Nashville, where you made this record.
Auerbach I love my studio, but I’m not delusional. I know none of that matters if you have s—ty songs. It’s the musicians, it’s the spirit of the moment, the energy in the room. Every morning, we’d get together and sit around and listen to records — the Clash, the Cramps, Johnny Burnette, Tom Petty; everything that was drums, bass, guitar, organ. That’s it. Not a lot of excess. And there’s art in the studio, too, some that’s from Alfred McMoore…

Didn’t he give you your band name?
Auerbach Yeah, he did these 30-foot-long drawings of, like, Jesus playing an electric guitar that’s plugged into a Christmas tree. He was mentally handicapped and schizophrenic, and my dad, who was a folk-art dealer, would buy him pencils.
Carney My dad wrote a story about him for the Akron newspaper. For a while, Dan and I would get home from school, and there would be, like, 50 messages from Alfred on our answering machines. He’d use these crazy sayings we didn’t understand. He called my dad a ”black key.”

Your album is called El Camino, but that’s not an El Camino on the cover. That’s your old Plymouth Grand Voyager tour van, right?
Carney Yeah. We drove it from Portland, Oregon, to San Francisco, after playing the worst show of our lives.
Auerbach We played for, like, two drunk middle-aged women, and we opened for a black-metal band. The singer told us, ”Whatever you do, don’t hang out in front of the [club], because there’s crazy drug dealers out there.” And we’re like, ”Okay.” But the place was so gross, we went back to the van. And there was the black-metal band in their car, smoking crack.

And now here you are, touring with Kings of Leon and Radiohead. Dan, is it true that you never heard Radiohead’s music before you toured with them?
Auerbach I’d never listened to them once. I was listening to lots of South American psychedelic music then. I sometimes dig into a certain kind of music — like, now I’m into ’60s falsetto soul. When I get together with Brian [Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse, who co-produced El Camino], we’re always trying to one-up each other, like, ”Oh, you haven’t heard this?”

Round 3
Water (Auerbach), beer (Carney), more vodka (EW)
Dan, I heard that you once traveled around the South trying to find your favorite blues heroes.
Auerbach I went to Greenville, Mississippi, and [blues musician] T-Model Ford showed up in this giant Lincoln. I said, ”Are you playing music?” and he’s like, ”Yeah, follow me.” I had my guitar, so we played at this no-name cinder-block juke joint in the middle of a field. Later, I passed out in his trailer. I slept on the linoleum floor and woke up to him plunging the toilet. I learned a lot from him. He got paid nothing, and he was still happy.

Speaking of meeting your idols, Robert Plant is a pretty big fan of yours…
Carney He came to our listening session. He offered to play bass for us, kind of as a joke, but we tried to take him up on it. He’s the exception; normally, I don’t think you should meet your idols. Unless your idol is George Clooney, and you’re a hot babe.

EW’s Black Keys Essential Playlist
”Have Love, Will Travel” (2003)
”Your Touch” (2006)
”I Got Mine” (2008)
”Howlin’ for You” (2010)
”Lonely Boy” (2011)