The Black Keys paid homage to the blues music that made them a band on last year’s Delta Kream. On Dropout Boogie, the follow-up to Delta Kream and their 11th studio album, Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney go back to the garage. Or at least to the sense of urgency that shaped 2010’s Brothers, the duo’s breakthrough LP that featured one of their best-known blues-rock monsters, “Howlin’ for You.”
In the latest installment of Rolling Stone’s series The Breakdown, Auerbach and Carney walked us through the making of “Howlin’ for You” in Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville, pointing out the similarities to their latest LP, out now, along the way.
“Dropout Boogie has a lot of elements that are shared with ‘Howlin’ for You’: simplicity, the directness,” Carney tells Rolling Stone. “I think that the urgency that that song was made with, we didn’t wake up the next day and want to open it back up. We got through the song, finished it and we were on to the next thing. That’s kind of how we like to work.”
Like much of Brothers, “Howlin’ for You” was cut at Muscle Shoals Sound in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a recording retreat that found the band and co-producer Mark Neill using vintage gear like a Studer 12-channel desk. “We could only hear back 12 channels at a time. We could never hear the whole song constructed,” Carney says. “So there’s a lot of space on this record. It’s an accidental thing that really was amazing.”
Some potent pot may have also played a role.
“We were dabbling in this weed that was real brown. It looked like a Merit Ultra Light but ground up,” Carney says, recalling how they called their day-to-day manager at the time in Nashville with a request for a harpsichord. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, what’s going on down there?’” Carney says. “‘I don’t know — Dan and I have been smoking some weed.”
At Easy Eye, Auerbach and Carney isolated each instrument to underscore the simplicity of “Howlin’ for You.” Carney’s drum track thunders over the control-room speakers.
“The whole song is based on that special kind of swing that Pat has on the drums,” Auerbach says. “We’ve been playing together for so long, since we were 16, 17, that we just get locked in.”
The result was one of the Black Keys’ grooviest songs to date and a staple of their set lists.
“’Howlin’ for You’ is definitely one of the highlights of playing live,” Auerbach says, “and it’s always been since we cut it.”