In the five years that passed without them making music together, Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys also did surprisingly little else together, despite the fact that they both live in Nashville now.
It wasn’t because the childhood pals from Akron, Ohio, were sick of each other, Carney insists — although he admitted they “needed to get off the conveyor belt” that their bluesy, Grammy-winning rock duo had become.
It sounds like the main problem beyond that was simply that they’re, you know, guys.
“We’re both just sort of homebodies and not all that social when we’re off the road,” Carney said, “and this was obviously an unusually long break from touring.
“We actually had to make a point of meeting up for dinner once in a while, which is something we’d never really done before. All we ever really had was the band.”
That band certainly proved to be a mighty strong connection in the decade before their hiatus. The Black Keys went from playing puny 7th St. Entry in downtown Minneapolis as a two-piece in 2003 to their first local arena gig with a four-man lineup nine years later across the street at Target Center.
Talking by phone last month as he and Auerbach prepared for their return to the road — one of their first dates back in action is at Target Center again Saturday with Modest Mouse — the drummer talked about how great it was to take a break and especially about how much he’s relishing being back together.
“We really didn’t know what to expect, but we knew it wasn’t going to be all that difficult,” Carney said of when he and Auerbach started working on new tunes last year.
“Dan’s the easiest person in the world for me to make music with. We have pretty similar tastes and sensibilities, and we learned how to do this together. There’s just a lot of commonality there.”
“Easy” and “common” are actually good words to describe “Let’s Rock,” the album the duo wound up making.
The Keys’ ninth LP is accessible, catchy and rather basic, straight-ahead, fuzzed-out guitar rock, with a little of their raw blues boogie of old and the fist-pumping riffage that first got them into sports arenas with the 2010 Danger Mouse-produced record “El Camino.”
Some critics, in fact, have put down the new album as being too basic, a take Carney shrugged off.
“We weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel,” he freely admitted, “just like I don’t think ‘El Camino’ tried to reinvent the wheel. And neither did Tom Petty, for that matter.”
He added, “Our only goal, really, was for Dan and I to rekindle our relationship as bandmates again, to get back to what we do well together. And to have fun again.”
Their last album, 2014’s “Turn Blue,” was a lot more experimental but also less fun. Many of the songs were tinted blue by Auerbach going through a divorce at the time, and with the growing tension from their never-ending tour schedule.
“We were always grateful for what we had,” Carney clarified, “and that may have been part of the problem. We felt so lucky, it was hard to say no to a lot of things.”
Both of the Keys said yes to a lot of other projects in the interim. After earning his stripes as a producer with Dr. John’s Grammy-winning album “Locked Down” in 2012, Auerbach went on to produce records by the Pretenders, Yola, Nikki Lane and numerous others in recent years. He also released 2017’s jangly and breezy solo album, “Waiting on a Song.”
Carney racked up quite a few producer credits during the lull, too, including records with the Beat Happening’s Calvin Johnson, Repeat Repeat and “All You Wanted” hitmaker Michelle Branch, whose 2015 disc “Hopeless Romantic” was her first solo album in 14 years.
That latter project then turned into a much longer-term collaboration: Carney and Branch are now married and raising a 1-year-old son named Rhys Carney, along with Branch’s daughter from a prior marriage.
“She changed my life,” Carney said of Branch. “We started out friends who worked well together, and out of that we fell in love. Neither of us saw it coming, and it’s been wonderful.”
His newly enriched home life is about the only downside Carney cited in returning to the road with the Black Keys. The band is expanding to a new five-piece lineup on tour with the addition of brothers Zachary and Andrew Gabbard from the bands Thee Shams and Buffalo Killers. (“We’ve known them for years, so it’s been an easy fit,” Carney said.)
The other hard adjustment in returning to the road, the drummer humorously admitted, is actually getting back in shape behind the drums.
“To me, drums have never been an instrument I can practice on my own,” he said.
“I always find it boring and just kind of awkward by myself. The only people you ever really see playing drums by themselves are the older brothers on TV sitcoms.”
One more reason the Black Keys were bound to get back together.