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The Black Keys don't relish garage-rock label

July 13, 2005 - After recording their first two CDs in a basement in Akron, Ohio, it would seem that the Black Keys took a step up in their surroundings by converting office space in an abandoned tire factory into a studio to make their latest CD, "Rubber Factory."

But drummer Patrick Carney said it hardly was an indulgence in rock-star luxury.

"This was basically an above-ground basement with carpet," Carney said. "It's disgusting. It's dirtier than any basement I've ever been in. There were like weird particles floating in the hallways, dust. You can't open any windows. I really don't like going in there mainly because I feel like I'm getting cancer every time I walk in."

It seems fitting, though, that the Black Keys, which includes the drum-and-guitar duo of Carney and Dan Auerbach, ended up recording in a dingy, dusty space. The duo, after all, have spent the past several years creating one of the most gritty, yet enjoyable, sounds in all of rock 'n' roll.

"Rubber Factory" offers a good example of the duo's sound, which is rooted in raw Southern blues, but with a strong garage-rock aesthetic and raucous hooks galore.

Like the group's two earlier CDs, "Rub-ber Factory" is built around an elemental stomping blues-rock sound. For instance, "All Hands Against His Own," "Grown So Ugly" and "10 A.M. Automatic" generate plenty of heat behind Auerbach's grainy, yet tuneful electric guitar riffing and his vo-cals that often recall the soulful and author-itative singing of Bad Company's Paul Rod-gers. For a change of pace from the otherwise rocking sound, the CD offers "The Lengths," a ballad with plenty of weepy slide guitar, and "Act Nice," an understated tune with a folky edge.

Carney and Auerbach began building their sound in the mid-1990s when they were high school friends in Akron, Ohio.

Circumstances steered them toward be-ing a two-man band.

"When we first started playing in high school, there was like nobody else in the neighborhood at the time who played mu-sic," Carney said. "Dan and I started playing and we experimented with having a third person and it never worked out. So we just kind of said: 'Let's stick to the two of us' ...''

The duo's musical adventures were interrupted for a time by college, but by 2002, they had resumed their musical activities, this time with an eye toward recording a demo, which earned them a deal with the independent label, Alive Records, and the release of their debut, "The Big Come Up."

That debut earned enough rave reviews and audience response to attract the attention of a variety of major and independent record labels. Carney and Auerbach, though, decided against joining a major label, and instead signed with the independent Fat Possum Records. As the home for such raw-sounding early Mississippi Delta bluesmen as Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside and T-Model Ford, it seemed like a natural choice for a duo like the Black Keys.

The Fat Possum deal gave Carney and Auerbach a slightly larger recording budget, but they returned to the basement to make their acclaimed second CD, "Thick-freakness," which amazingly enough, was recorded in a single 14-hour session.

In recording "Rubber Factory" the move out of the basement and into the factory — a former General Tire facility that had been abandoned in the late 1980s — for recording wasn't the only departure from past practice. Going into the project, Carney said he and Auerbach knew a repeat of the single-day magic of the "Thickfreakness" session wasn't going to be in the cards.

"The plan was different," Carney said. "I think doing 'Thickfreakness' that way was fun. But I kind of wish we had spent a few more days on it. So for this one we knew we were going to take as long as it wanted. We started in January (2004) and finished in the first week of May. But we weren't like over-thinking anything. We spent most of our time trying to figure out how to work our equipment."

If the recording circumstances for "Rub-ber Factory" were different from "Thick-freakness," Carney and Auerbach have only modestly expanded on the sound they established on their first two CDs. This means the Black Keys probably will continue to be compared to the White Stripes and other garage-rock bands, something that Carney doesn't relish.

"I think it always sucks to be (categorized)," Carney said. "There are certain labels that we're going to get and you really can't control that. I think the main thing is just to, as long as you don't buy into the way people are labeling you and you do whatever you kind of want to do (then labels aren't a problem). If somebody says: 'Hey, this is like a new garage band' and then you're (considered) a garage band and you try to stick to that ... I don't think it's a good thing."

The Black Keys play Friday, July 15, at the Pageant, 6161 Delmar Blvd. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show cost $15.

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