The Black Keys - Ohio Players


“Twelve albums in, the duo enlists Beck to help synthesize their many interests into a record that feels lively, fresh, and colorful.” – Pitchfork (7.2)

Ohio Players is The Black Keys’ fourth album in five years, a momentum with a simple explanation, Auerbach says: “We never stopped recording.” There was his and Carney’s reunion, after a five-year hiatus, on 2019’s “Lets Rock”, then the 2021 blast of Mississippi-hill-country covers, Delta Kream. A rapid-fire follow-up of new originals, 2022’s Dropout Boogie, featured the duo working with outside writers for the first time: Greg Cartwright of Memphis rockers Reigning Sound and Angelo Petraglia, who has worked with Kings of Leon and the teenage Taylor Swift. (Cartwright and Petraglia are back for Ohio Players too.)

Carney estimates that, at one point, he and Auerbach had “something like fifty songs” underway for Ohio Players, many started “the traditional way—us jamming in the studio.” And there was “no slowing down,” Auerbach says, as the guests arrived. “Beck is so prolific—he’ll write a song one way, then go ‘I’ve got another idea’ and write something with a totally different melody.”

The Black Keys were in London in early 2023 combining work and pleasure—DJ gigs while Auerbach was promoting the Arcs’ second album, Electrophonic Chronic—when they wrote and recorded three songs, one a day, with Noel Gallagher at the hip, analog Toe Rag Studios. “When we were sitting around, talking about the people who write the big songs in the rock & roll world, he was one of those people,” Auerbach says. And there was prior history of a sort. In 2009, The Black Keys were invited to open a tour for Oasis. “But we were busy,” Carney remembers, “and they broke up anyway.”

At Toe Rag, Gallagher and The Black Keys got to work the old-fashioned way—sitting “in a circle with our instruments,” Auerbach says. “I had a vocal mic, Noel had a mic, Pat was on a drum kit and Leon was there with this weird, little ’60s-ish organ.” The Black Keys later nicknamed Gallagher “the Chord Lord. “He would sit there and cycle through chords,” Auerbach remembers. “He didn’t stop until he found the chord that worked with mine.” In fact, the versions of “On the Game,” “Only Love Matters,” and “You’ll Pay” on Ohio Players are all “live performances,” Auerbach declares, “us in the room, playing the songs until they were finished.”

Lil Noid and Juicy J, who appears on “Paper Crown,” joined the Ohio Players guest list late in the game—after being in heavy rotation between sessions. “Dan was playing a lot of Memphis rap from the ’90s that I’d never heard,” Carney says, a slow-rolling, lyrically graphic menace mostly limited to “these mixtapes not on any streaming service, uploaded to YouTube.”

Juicy J (real name Jordan Michael Huston III) was a founding member of Three 6 Mafia, who won an Academy Award for their song on the 2005 soundtrack, Hustle and Flow; Lil Noid (Derrick Harris) is best known for his 1995 tape, Paranoid Funk, a classic of the Memphis “horrorcore” genre and Auerbach’s favorite album from that scene. “We spent the whole year being amazed by this music,” Auerbach says. “That’s part of the reason we had Juicy J and Lil Noid on our record, to tell part of their story.”

“Candy and Her Friends” was “half a song,” Carney admits, “with a cool energy. We reached out to Lil Noid on Instagram; he came in and we played him the song. We have been with rappers quite a bit”—going back to The Black Keys’ 2008 hip-hop project, Blakroc—“and sometimes they take hours and get nothing. But Lil Noid heard it and said, ‘Hand me the mic.’ He started doing some adlibs, which are on the record, and in fifteen minutes he had both verses done. And they were perfect.”

“Paper Crown” began “as a collaboration with Beck—and then we mutilated it,” Auerbach confesses, laughing. “We kept the chorus but slowed it down” and added Juicy J’s rap literally on deadline, just before The Black Keys turned in the finished album. “And it made sense,” Carney adds, “because Juicy J discovered Lil Noid. I sent the track to Juicy’s guy on a Thursday. We had it back on Monday afternoon.”

Ohio Players was ready for the world.


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