Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney on the inspirations behind their new album

By Piya Sinha-Roy
June 24, 2019 at 03:23 PM EDT
Alysse Gafkjen

The Musical Moodboard is a recurring EW feature where musicians run down the inspirations behind a new album.

For the first Black Keys album in five years, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney played things loose. “We started improvising together and songs would just start to form and we would keep the ones that felt best,” says Auerbach, of the duo’s rollicking new record Let’s Rock (out 6/28). As Carney explains, that no frills element is also baked into the band’s DNA. “It’s always been the MO for Dan and I: simplicity,” he tells EW. “There’s beauty in simplicity. Growing up, there were friends of mine who were really into learning how to shred on the guitar or drums or insane, crazy technical things…. But for me and my tastes, it’s usually more understated.”

The less-is-more aesthetic doesn’t extend to all the influences that helped inspire Let’s Rock. Ahead, Auerbach and Carney walk through a mix of albums, films, and a particularly notable newspaper headline that went into the making of the new record

Danny McBride on HBO’s Vice Principals

I love everything that Danny has ever done. I particularly like Vice Principals. If you think about it, it’s so hard to make something good that’s funny. How many funny things do you get to watch in a year when you get to be 40 years old? You’ve run through so many things. To actually construct something that’s meant to be funny—purposely funny—is very hard, I think. Vice Principals is incredible. I ended up becoming obsessed with it. You either get it or you don’t, and if you get it, you’re part of a club. —Carney

The Stooges — Fun House

It’s a record that I’m always listening to. But I definitely came back to it when we started making this album. I guess the interesting thing to me about Fun House is that if you were to play it for the average listener who has run-of-the-mill tastes, I don’t think they would understand it at all, because there’s really nothing intrinsically catchy about it. It’s all about the energy in the tracks. There’s a simplicity that is just so visceral to me. I find it to be the pure essence of rock & roll. It’s like orange juice concentrate: There’s nothing watered down, and it’s hard for most people to stomach. I find it really inspiring. There’s not many drum fills, there’s not many lyrics. It may be the blueprint for punk rock. —Carney

ZZ Top — Tejas

Tom Hill/Getty Images

A lot of people my age associate ZZ Top with songs that are a bit cheesy. But they really are one of the coolest rock & roll bands. In the canon of American rock & roll, ZZ Top is definitely towards the top of the list. When we first started the band, Dan would play ZZ Top’s First Album, but I was a bit hesitant to get into it because I didn’t really know the band at first. He showed me the box set that came out a few years ago, and we got to meet Billy Gibbons, and I really started getting it. There’s no frills, there’s no synthesizers on that record. There’s not any drum fills really, there’s just cool rhythm, cool melodies. It’s essentially a guitar album, which is what we were trying to make. —Carney

T-Model Ford

T-Model played guitar with his fingers — electric guitar, very raw — and toured as a duo, just him and a drummer. When Pat and I were first making our demos, we were really inspired by him. A lot of the way I play is influenced by the way T-Model played. When I was 18, I drove from Akron, Ohio, to Greenville, Mississippi, to go meet him. I didn’t know him, I just drove to the town I knew he was from and searched. I found him, and we ended up playing music. Me and my friends ended up staying with him for a couple of days. When we got together to make this new record, we were listening to some of that T-Model stuff, and you can definitely hear it in songs like “Eagle Birds.” —Auerbach

This Is Spinal Tap

Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection

That’s just the influence for our lives. It’s weird: I first saw that movie when my dad showed it to me in middle school — I’ve probably seen it a hundred times since, and I don’t watch movies on repeat. I typically watch a movie one time, but that one, every time I watch it, there’s something new I pick up on. At this point, I think I know every single joke in it and every single reference, but it’s 100 percent accurate. No matter if you’re in an arena rock band or a punk band, everything in it is relevant. —Carney

Glenn Schwartz

Glenn Schwartz is a guitar player from Ohio, where Pat and I are from. I was watching him almost every Thursday [at a bar in Cleveland]. A year and a half ago, I invited him to come to the studio. Just being with him and watching him play those old songs again, it inspired me to make the new Black Keys record. It reminded me of all the things I loved about the electric guitar, and it made me want to make an electric-guitar record again. —Auerbach

The Tennessean

I was reading The Tennessean on the third or fourth day of recording the new record, and one of the headlines had “Let’s Rock” in quotations. They had just executed a prisoner [a couple of days] before in Nashville by electric chair. They asked him if he had any final words, and he said, “Let’s rock.” When we were thinking about album titles, it just kept coming back to my mind. Those were his last words and he said them the day we were recording, and we had just made a rock & roll record. It just felt like a sign or something, like we were supposed to use it. —Auerbach

T-Rex — Electric Warrior

My dad and I went record shopping when I was in high school — back then a vinyl record was, like, a dollar unless it was a rare Beatles record or something — and he actually pulled out Electric Warrior and bought it and played it for me. I took it to my room and began playing it over and over again and it’s become basically my favorite album. It is that thing where it’s just like what I’m talking about with the Stooges and ZZ Top, as far as guitar and simple drum beats, there’s some really cool vocals and hooks. It’s always been something that I’d love to put into the music that Dan and I make. —Carney

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