Danny McBride Takes on the Black Keys
What happens when one of the world's biggest rock bands meets comedy's most badass heavy hitter? Taxidermy, chitchat, and a little light bondage, naturally.
We here at ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY like to think of our jobs as highly specialized. (Not just anyone can push that little voice-recorder button while simultaneously asking questions and nodding wisely, you know.) But when the Black Keys said they wanted to be interviewed by Danny McBride, how could we refuse? After all, the platinum-selling, Grammy-sweeping rock duo just released their eighth studio album, Turn Blue, and will be dominating festivals and headlining arena shows from Croatia to Cleveland this summer. We asked McBride, 37 — so memorable as egomaniacal pitcher Kenny Powers on HBO’s late, lamented Eastbound & Down and as himself in last year’s star-packed apocalyptic meta-comedy This Is the End — to man the tiny microphone for us. While he and drummer Patrick Carney, 34, already knew each other socially, singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, also 34, hadn’t met McBride before our EW photo shoot. Soon enough, the duct tape appeared, the pants came off, and a friendship was born. Of course, bondage is one thing; hard-hitting journalism is quite another. Does McBride feel up to the task of conducting his first cover-story interview? ”To be on this end of it,” he says with Powers-like confidence, ”that’s the easy stuff, right?” Well, actually, no. ”I will be the judge of that!”
Danny McBride ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY wants us to kick this off by talking about the first time we came across each other’s work. I’ve been along since the very first album. I was unemployed, living at my parents’ house. I was the person always telling all my friends, ”The Black Keys, the Black Keys!” Then we set up our show, Eastbound & Down, and you guys’ music is all that we scored our pilot with.
Dan Auerbach That’s weird. We have something in common. Because when we made that record, we were unemployed, living at our parents’ houses too. [Laughs]
McBride So I sense kindred spirits! No, you guys’ music was pretty influential on our show. It was mainly R.L. Burnside and you that we were using to find the tone. And then at the end of the pilot, Kenny comes to school to accept the job and we used ”Your Touch.” That was the moment we felt like we’d found who Kenny Powers was. You did that!
Auerbach We love that.
Patrick Carney Yeah. We used to watch Eastbound & Down on tour all the time.
McBride I might have illegally downloaded your first album, but I’ve paid for all of them since then. Your new one, Turn Blue, was announced via a tweet by Mike Tyson. Who approached him?
Auerbach We had just let him use a couple of songs for a documentary. He actually called to thank us and said, ”If I can ever return the favor, let me know.”
McBride Do you guys feel social media is useful to you?
Carney It’s useful if you want to have Mike Tyson post something. But I’ll wake up and check my Twitter sometimes and some dude in Arkansas just wakes up and is like, ”You know what I should do? The drummer from the Black Keys, I should just let him know he sucks.” That’s what it is. You have this instant access to just tell people to f— themselves.
McBride I’ve never gotten into it. I’m afraid to, and I think it’s for that reason — giving a–holes access to you.
Carney Well, whoever writes the Kenny Powers Twitter account, it’s pretty funny.
McBride He’s not associated with the show. He just started doing it on his own. We thought the whole time it was HBO, and they thought it was us. It wasn’t until two years in, we were like, ”It’s not us, either.” So, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY thinks your new album is pretty trippy. I wouldn’t call it that. But they want to know if Danger Mouse dosed you in the studio. I’m curious how you guys even met.
Auerbach He approached us about doing the music for an Ike Turner record. We started doing little demos and we sent them back to him. He would take the demos down to Ike’s house, get Ike to overdub his vocals on them. It was a really slow process. Ike was not super-interested. But that’s how we met Brian [Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse], anyway. And then Ike passed away. But when we were thinking about the next record [2008’s Attack & Release], we had Brian come along.
McBride Was there ever any pushback from your families about you guys wanting to be musicians?
Auerbach My parents were always supportive of me playing music, but they didn’t want me just f—ing around. They said, ”You can drop out of college, but you’ve got to do it for real, you’ve got to work on it.” My dad would make me go down to busk on the street and make me go up on stages and play. I wouldn’t have done it without them, to be honest. Because I’m not naturally comfortable on stage. Those first few gigs were pretty rough, especially playing, like, a sports bar in Canton, Ohio, where no one gives a s— who you are. That’s just brutal.
McBride How about you, Patrick?
Carney My dad was always supportive. But I think he was freaked out when I decided to drop out of college.
McBride You guys were in high school together, right? Did you drop out at the same time?
Carney Yeah, Dan dropped out a semester before me. I was working at a burger place as a cook, and my dad and grandfather came in. My grandfather has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering — I don’t even know what chemistry is. I came out of the kitchen and told them while they were eating, “I’m going to drop out of school to play music.” My grandfather was totally cool with it. My dad was like, ”Patrick, you can’t.” And as he was talking, my grandfather was like, ”Give it a year and see what happens.”
Auerbach We sent out 12 demos. We’d never played a show before. And we got a record deal.
McBride Off of your demo?
Auerbach This guy Patrick Boissel, a French guy who lives in Los Angeles, was like, ”Send me 11 songs, I’ll put out your record.” And we did it. We did a couple of awful tours, and then it got reviewed in Rolling Stone and this band called Sleater-Kinney took us out on tour. They introduced us to Beck, and Beck took us out on tour, and then Beck introduced us to Radiohead, and they took us on tour. It literally hasn’t stopped since we put out that demo.
Carney That first record, [Boissel] didn’t give us any money to make it. He only had a $350 promo budget that he used to put an ad in the back of Magnet magazine. And he told us, ”If you guys sell 5,000 records, I’ll throw you the biggest party you’ve ever been to. There’ll be strippers there, man!” The record has sold 220,000 copies now. And no party.
McBride I was able to start working with guys that I grew up with as well. It’s pretty crazy to take this journey with people that you’ve known since you were younger.
Auerbach We don’t know any other way. I mean, I’ve never toured in a band other than the Black Keys. People always ask, ”What’s it like, being in a two-piece?” I’m like, ”I don’t know.” I don’t know what it’s like being in any other band.
McBride Do you guys have any crazy f—in’ rituals to help you get into the zone?
Auerbach When we made the first record, we just drank coffee nonstop. And then my roommate’s girlfriend washed the coffeemaker with, like, 308 or whatever, that surface cleaner. [Laughs] Our ritual backfired. I think we both got ulcers.
McBride You guys turned down a mayo commercial back in the day. You were like, ”No way, no bueno.” But since then, you’re one of the most consistently coveted bands for ads.
Carney That’s not true anymore. We sued, like, three companies, and their ad agencies, and their jingle houses, for doing soundalikes. And basically have been blacklisted because of it.
Carney Yeah, there was this one song which sounded exactly like our song ”Howlin’ for You.” I started getting these messages on my Twitter account like ”You sellout piece of s—, you put this song in this f—ing ad!” We weren’t going to do anything, but it kept getting worse. Another ad came out that sounded like ”Gold on the Ceiling,” and then another ad came out that sounded like ”Lonely Boy.” We basically sued, like, two or three of the biggest ad agencies. And we are now c–kblocked. Legally c–kblocked.
McBride Where do you guys keep your Grammys?
Carney Have you seen that show Pawn Stars? They have all mine.
Auerbach What do you do with all your awards?
McBride I’ve never won any awards. I’m asking just in case there’s a day when I do win an award, I’ll know where to store it.
Carney You put it on a shelf, usually.
Auerbach Yeah, you put it on a shelf, sort of display it. But you’ve got to put it on an out-of-the-way shelf. You pretend you don’t really care about it. But it’s there.
McBride So people can say, ”Oh, there’s a Grammy!”
Auerbach Yeah, they see it and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, whatever.”
Carney I’ve got a room with about 30 photos of Dan and I — mostly of me, though — and my Grammys in a semicircle with a crystal.
McBride Oh, that’s perfect.
Carney I have candles burning 24 hours. That’s my centering room. I make my wife go in there daily, for hours.
McBride In the studio, how do you know when a song or an album is done?
Auerbach We try to get a song done a day, maybe two days tops. Every time we’ve spent more than a couple of days on a song, it just ends up sucking.
Carney It usually comes down to the label saying, ”You have to have the recording to us by this particular date.” We always wait till the last minute to finish it.
McBride In TV and movies, you have the studio give you notes on what you’re doing. Have you guys never gotten notes at all?
Carney We’ve never had an A&R guy. We tend to not listen to the label. We’ll listen to them when it comes to, like, when to put [a record] out, things like that.
Auerbach We let them pick singles. We don’t really listen to the radio. We’re not qualified to pick a single.
McBride What’s the strangest gift you’ve ever gotten from a fan?
Auerbach We got some voodoo dolls with our faces on them.
McBride With your faces on them?
Auerbach Yeah, yeah. That was weird.
McBride Have you ever tried to put a little needle in there and see if anyone gets hurt?
Carney We actually take really good care of them.
Auerbach Mine’s back in my room right now watching Game of Thrones. Season 3.
Carney Mine’s getting its d— sucked.
Auerbach Oh, that’s dope!
McBride Now you guys get to go rehearse?
Auerbach We’re off for the night, man.
McBride F—, dude, what are you guys doing?
Auerbach We’re going to go rock & roll.
McBride I’m doing nothing. Stroking it.
Auerbach Want to come back to the hotel? Hang out?
McBride Let’s do it. Let’s dance!
Keys’ Turn: The Band Interviews Danny
Once we peeled off the duct tape, it turned out Eastbound & Down superfans Auerbach and Carney had a few questions of their own
Carney Did you want Eastbound & Down to go longer than four seasons?
McBride We didn’t want it to go longer than three, actually.
Auerbach Yeah, you could tell. No, go ahead… [Laughs]
McBride We didn’t really even want to write a TV show — we made it because we felt like nobody would let us make a three-hour R-rated dark movie like that.
Carney Is Kenny Powers based on one person?
McBride Honestly, none of us even follow sports or anything. We have no idea about baseball. People always ask if it’s one of these famous baseball players, and we’re literally like, ”I don’t even know who you’re talking about.”
Auerbach Have you ever thrown the first pitch out at a game?
McBride I’ve been asked to and I’ve always turned it down. I can get into the zone, but I feel the pressure of one pitch would be too much. I’d throw it right to third, and then I feel like it would just be replayed over and over again.