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electronic MUSICIAN

THE BLACK KEYS LEARN NEW TRICKS WITH SHURE

January 5, 2009

With a history of sequestering themselves in out-of-the-way rustbelt places with nothing more than a modicum of essential gear and their own energy to create records, the Keys (who can individually be identified as guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney) have pursued their creative musical endeavors with soulful panache, pouring forth a multi-hued amalgam of sound inspired by everything from blistering rock to classic, corn-fed R&B.

Coming up and out of the basement earlier this year and into the studio, the Keys released Attack & Release, an album produced by the mind behind Gnarls Barkley's sound, Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton.

"We decided we wanted to go into the studio with a real producer," Patrick Carney says, giving explanation to the move, "to use really nice old equipment for once."

Working in tandem with Burton — the first producer the duo has ever used on a project — and an impressive and irreplaceable collection of vintage gear, Auerbach and Carney found that the process moved quickly compared to their previous recording efforts. This newfound swiftness, as Auerbach points out matter-of-factly, being the result of having to pay for studio time.

Starting from scratch on the record right in the studio, virtually the only things the pair brought with them from the outside world were the tricks they learned during years of their own home production. Carney, who readily admits he is a "self-taught dog" in this department, also is quick to acknowledge that large dual-diaphragm KSM44 condenser mics were put to work on their behalf in this studio foray, along with KSM141 condenser microphones with switchable polar patterns.

Perhaps as an unwitting complement to the vintage theme of the Key's record project, Auerbach also procured a Vocal Master PA in Cleveland that the pair used onstage while touring just before entering the studio. Introduced in 1967, the Shure Vocal Master was touted in advertising at the time as the "first portable total sound system," joining an integrated power amplifier and mixer with columnar loudspeakers to complete the package. Having developed a cult-like following extending into this century, for many, if you haven't used a Vocal Master, you haven't been in a band. Or, at least, a garage band.

"We wanted to get that kind of weird vocal sound blended in," Auerbach relates, giving substance to the choice of landing the Vocal Master cabinets on the Black Keys stage. "They're kind of dangerous...heavy as hell, metal-lined on the rims. If you drop one, you'll cut off your feet. Besides that, they're awesome."

Attack & Release was recorded in Ohio at a studio outside Cleveland called Suma, owned by Paul Hamann. The Black Keys picked the location based on the availability of Hamann's engineering skills as well as its ambience. "The place is covered with dust, it smells like a moldy cabin, and it looks like a haunted house," Carney relates with noticeable fondness on The Black Keys website. "It was fitting for our first time of going into a real studio."

Indeed, all the comforts of the home basement and then some. The Black Keys concluded a U.S. tour on October 30 at The Fillmore in San Francisco.  Next, the band will travel to the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, and Australia.

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