Fat Possum's Black Keys Get Their 'Freak' On

A few days removed from the 24-hour drive back to his Akron, Ohio, homebase after playing three sets at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, it's not surprising to hear Black Keys vocalis

A few days removed from the 24-hour drive back to his Akron, Ohio, homebase after playing three sets at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, it's not surprising to hear Black Keys vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach admit that he's "really tired." Indeed, as he and drummer Patrick
Carney have found over the past year, free time is a precious commodity in the Black Keys' camp.

There's one phone interview after another lined up in advance of the April 8 release of "Thickfreakness," the pair's sophomore album and first for the Epitaph-distributed Fat Possum Records. There's a three-week U.S. headlining tour, which kicked off March 26 in Iowa City, Iowa. There's the self-managed group's maiden visits to Paris and London later this month, highlighted by an
April 20 session with famed BBC DJ John Peel. Not bad for a band that hadn't even played live before the dawn of 2002 and records its albums, sans a producer or engineer, during marathon sessions a no-frills Akron basement.

Arriving barely more than a year on the heels of the group's debut, "The Big Come Up," the new set delivers nine original tracks of inspired, unabashedly retro blues rock alongside covers of tunes by Junior Kimbrough and Richard Berry. You wouldn't be wrong to assume Auerbach had been honing his vocal chops in Mississippi juke joints for decades, but in reality, he's just a 23-year-old kid with an uncommonly emotive voice, who loves to play music with lifelong friend Carney.

"It has always been an ongoing thing for us, this whole infatuation with getting in the basement and creating and recording," he says. However, Auerbach concedes that extensive touring has brought a new dimension to "thickfreakness": "The first album was kind of frantic. I think this one is a little more laid back, and we're a little more in the pocket."

And while "The Big Come Up" garnered rave reviews from such major publications as Rolling Stone and the Village Voice, "thickfreakness" is primed to bring the Black Keys to a new level of visibility. The group was handpicked to open Sleater-Kinney's North American tour earlier this year, and will get further exposure in the independent rock community when a track from the new set appears in June on Epitaph's long-running "Punk-o-Rama" sampler series.

According to Fat Possum's Mark Mauer, "thickfreakness" can also be streamed from Epitaph and Fat Possum's Web sites. The set is being featured in listening stations at national chains such as Borders and in various promotions with Best Buy, Transworld, C.I.M.S., and Newbury Comics.

In May, the Black Keys (booked by Boche Billions at Billions Corp.) will tour the East Coast and Midwest and are planning to play a handful of European festivals later this summer. Auerbach says the group already has a few new songs in its arsenal, and is itching to start recording again. "We record and then we're like, oh shit, let's do some more!" he says. "Just on the way home from Austin, we were already talking about a new album and what we want to do."