The Black Keys’ Lonely Boy #2 on Triple J Radio’s Hottest 100 2011

Triple J radio in Australia conducts an annual listener poll, the Hottest 100,  that attracts 1.3 million votes. It is one of the largest music polls in the world. The vote covers songs released in the previous calendar year.

The results for the 2011 poll have just been announced. Lonely Boy was voted the number 2 most popular song of 2011 in Australia.

For past results regarding The Black Keys in this poll see this post. The Black Keys’ previous best result was number 54 in 2004 for 10am Automatic.

It’s a significant result since The Black Keys cancelled their 2011 tour of Australia to concentrate their efforts on recording the new El Camino album, of which Lonely Boy was the first single. The decision to cancel the Australian tour cost the band $100,000 but the time off has created a hit record around the world. Clearly any resentment fans might have felt for the Australian tour cancellation was irrelevant to the result. Arguably, the band have now created a new fan base that wasn’t even aware of The Black Keys prior to the El Camino release.

The number 2 position is all the more significant since Lonely Boy was only released in early December 2011. It was therefore competing with songs that had been publicly available for alot longer. The result will surely fuel additional speculation regarding a tour of Australia in 2012. Current scheduling and comments by the band would suggest, however, that a tour is unlikely until early 2013.

The result shows again how important radio still is to breaking a band and popularising their music. Especially in a country where one radio station is as influential as Triple J is, since it can be listened to anywhere in Australia. In a brief audio interview with Pat Carney prior to the announcement of the number 2 position, he noted the support of Triple J in championing The Black Keys’ music in 2003 which created the band’s largest fanbase in Australia during their early years. The same phenomenon of radio support, of course, propelled Tighten Up to the top of the charts in the USA in 2010.

Interestingly, the artist who had a song at the number 3 in the countdown, Matt Corby, recently did a version of Lonely Boy live to air on Triple J. Pretty impressive it was too.

 

The Black Keys’ Mystery Promo Video

Update: Mystery solved. See this MTV article for details.

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It’s now been more than a month since The Black Keys’ released their new album, El Camino. While everything about the release was relatively self-explanatory, one big unknown remains. What was the point of this so-called ‘Masked’ video?

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DM-2p3sUML4

The video shows Dan and Pat having moulds made of their faces to masks.

The video was, of course, released as part of an elaborate Record Store Day promotion for the Lonely Boy/Run Right Back 12″ vinyl release. There was a backwards url placed on the record sleeve that prompted fans to go to a url : www.theblackkeyselcamino.com. The site just had a countdown clock which, when it hit the zero hour, revealed this video.

Even more interesting how come only, to date, 725 or so people have viewed it? Fans seem not to have been interested in it. Or rather it just hasn’t received the publicity it perhaps deserves. Part of the reason the video has so few views is that it is unlisted, so it doesn’t appear on The Black Keys’ YouTube channel if you are looking at the Lonely Boy video, say.

So, what now? What is the point, purpose or meaning behind this video? It doesn’t make sense to develop a campaign around this video for it not to play a further role in the elaborate marketing strategy for this album.

Perhaps it’s part of the ‘making of’ a new video. What do you think? Surely the fans out there are interested to know, or someone knows what the plans are for it. Leave a comment or hit  The Black Keys Fan Lounge up on Twitter with your thoughts.

Interview: Tchad Blake On Mixing The Black Keys’ El Camino Album

Tchad Blake has mixed The Black Keys’ last three records – El Camino, Brothers and Blakroc. Although he hasn’t had the press of fellow Black Keys’ collaborator Danger Mouse, his perceptive ear has ensured the best possible finished sound for all these records. His mixes have tied disparate expectations and sounds together to create a better listening experience.

Tchad Blake is one of the most esteemed producer-engineers working in popular music today. His back catalogue of credits reads like a who’s who in the music industry. Hopefully, Tchad might also get an opportunity to record The Black Keys’ rather than just mixing their records one day too. As Tchad explains, he almost did so for the El Camino release.

Dan Auerbach has previously been quoted as saying Tchad Blake, with reference to his work on Brothers, is “a genius with audio, a complete wizard, because we recorded these songs in a really minimal way. There are no more than 11 or 12 tracks on one song. All the drums are on one or two tracks, which is sort of unheard of in the modern-day recording world. Tchad does a lot of mixing where I’m sure he gets, you know, 40 or 50 tracks on one song. So he was really excited about our record, he would call us up and just tell us how much fun it is to mix this stuff because it was so raw.”

The Fan Lounge previously spoke with Tchad in this 2010 interview regarding his mixing of Brothers and Blakroc. It was therefore a joy to speak with Tchad again regarding a quite different mixing job for El Camino. The interview starts below the photo.

Tchad Blake

We should start at the beginning, obviously The Black Keys asked you to mix the El Camino record, after the success of Brothers.

There was a funny metamorphosis. Originally they asked me to record with them in France. Then they asked to have Danger Mouse produce and me engineer in Nashville, then things changed a couple more times and I couldn’t change my schedule quick enough. So they recorded with Danger Mouse and his engineer Ken.

Did the band give you any specific instructions?

Not to begin with. I got through most of the mixes with some minor feedback from the band. Then I went through them all on the phone with Danger Mouse for his changes. Then I had one more go with the band for details. So, we did it in layers – I did my thing, then band, then Danger Mouse and then again with the band doing the final calls on what they wanted. That’s very different from Brothers.

What sort of things were they changing?

Things like too much low end on a bass drum, the guitars panned a little too wide, bring things to the centre a little more. Maybe too much effect on something. Many vocal arrangement things because there’s a lot of background vocals on this one.

When it came to mixing, did they send you the album as a whole on a flash drive like last time?

No, they sent it to me in bits and pieces. I was mixing and they were still recording. I think I got three or four songs at a time sent to me on different DVDs. It was a little different in that regard.

I read that they recorded El Camino over 40 studio days, while Brothers they did in a relatively short amount of time. And with you mixing as songs were finished changes the process considerably.

From what I can gather, they finished a segment of recording that was mostly done, and they decided to redo some songs, there are always problem tunes you keep re-writing lyrics or adding stuff; so it was another layered process, not getting everything finished at once. It was taking a little longer this time and at some point it overlapped with me starting to mix.

You mention layering in a context there. Certainly listening to El Camino vs Brothers there seems to be a lot more orchestration, instrumentation, and layering of tracks. That’s quite distinctive. Would you agree? Is that what you received?

As an album I’d say El Camino has more focus. Brothers had a huge amount of abandon to it, which is a crazy energy thing. How you approach writing, playing, recording and mixing. There’s a feel to that which I really love. That said, there’s plenty of other ways to approach things. One is to be more considered. I can’t say one’s better than the other, just different. I think El Camino is a really good contrast to Brothers, in that it’s a more considered record with the song writing more focused. It’s got more of a thread through it all. Brothers has a broader range of different musical styles whereas this one is contained a little bit more. There’s still a lot of variety, it’s just not as wide.

I recall for Brothers you were given, say, eight tracks to mix as part of each song. Were you given a lot more tracks to mix as part of each song on El Camino?

This was a different approach mostly. [On Brothers] I was asked to take what they had recorded, which they liked already, and augment it, change it, take it to a whole different place. For me that’s a very liberating, fun kind of instruction. [El Camino] came to me much closer to what they wanted the finished record to be so it was more of a balance job. There really wasn’t anything to change too much. They wanted a few things expanded, more dynamic. Also, all drums were recorded on separate tracks, that wasn’t the case on Brothers. This was done much more like a traditional studio record.

The fact that Danger Mouse was there from start to finish in the one studio obviously had an impact on that. He was a co-writer and co-producer, he’s coordinating the process. Would you agree?

He came with his engineering team to continue work with the band. I think that’s a really good thing, to have a close relationship with everybody. Working with the band multiple times helps to get a flow going quickly, which sometimes, you can’t when you have all first timers in the room. Seems like a very comfortable situation. They all knew what they wanted to go for, they were all on the same page.

On some of the tracks there are multiple guitar parts or sounds, which is some they’ve done before, but perhaps not to this extent. I would have thought this was an important consideration in how you mixed the record?

It was a case of using doubles and that type of thing for dynamics. Getting the energy to come up a little bit, without too much of a change. Sometimes you do that because you don’t want to add a new sound, you just want to have the sound that’s there to energize a bit or be bigger. Doubles are often used like that. I also created some doubles cutting things up, moving them around with vocals and guitars.

Compared to their other albums, it’s been remarked that the guitars sound like they have been mixed down. We saw that happening on Brothers. What’s your take on this?

What’s great about these guys is they started with absolutely crazy, fearless abandon in their playing writing and recording. Recording with one or two microphones in the basement of an old factory and jamming them out. Drums, guitar and voice – and that’s it. You could say the guitar was prominent or the drums. There’s not much more of a choice you can make there. As they’ve progressed, they seem to be getting more instrumentation, more melody, more instruments playing melody, more instrumental hooks. On this record, many songs start with an instrumental hook, and have that echo as a solo. It’s a really good vehicle for remembering the hook. So there’s a progression here that’s really great. They’re not stuck with making one record.

When we spoke last time you were mentioning some of the plug-ins you were using. Were there any new ones this time around?

Not much, again, the Decapitator is on there quite a bit. The Devil Lock was new this time around. It’s a SoundToys plug-in that was styled after a compressor I’ve been using since the 80s called the Level Loc made by Shure. SoundToys copied one they had and it’s a very cool plug-in. Sans Amp and the ReFuse Lowender is on this record although we weren’t going for that real low end that we were on some of Brothers. I dusted off from the barn my Hughes SRS box. It’s a stereo widener I use on effects like room sounds and reverbs which I didn’t use last time. Another new plug-in I used a bit was the Kramer MPX. I used that on some of the drums. It’s a tape saturator and also has a cool tape delay feature. So, all in the box save the SRS.