Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys have revealed some of the tonal secrets behind their trademark blues belter, Howlin’ For You.
The duo recently spoke to Rolling Stone's The Breakdown about the making of their 2010 breakthrough album, Brothers. During the conversation, Auerbach explained that the uniquely raw fuzz tone of the album's hit single, Howlin’ For You, was due in a large part to a Supro Martinique electric guitar.
“I was playing that guitar right there, that Supro,” explains Auerbach of the instrument he is thought to have acquired around 2007.
“It has like a DI sound that’s really weird and we used it a bunch on that record. It’s got three positions. Forward is this pickup [the neck], back is this [the bridge pickup] and when you go here [the final setting] there’s a piezo pickup, which I think is under the bridge.
“It’s sort of like an acoustic pickup, which is not intended to go through a fuzz pedal, you know? [laughs]. Which is what we did and you get this weird, buzzy, thin, cool sound and we used this a bunch throughout the record.”
The Martinique was originally built in the 60s (though later reissued) and featured a semi-hollow ‘reso-glass’ body, a mahogany neck and two Vistatone single-coils. The ‘piezo’ Auerbach refers to is a Silversound under-saddle pickup – an early take on the concept.
“We made the record without Pro Tools,” adds Carney. “There was no grid… We had to get things tight and laid out. There was no going in there and fixing it. The timing of the tremolo was a complete headache, trying to get analog tremolo and analog recording to sync.”
In the accompanying video, Auerbach and Carney play back the original takes and you can hear some nice details, like Auerbach’s improvised scratch vocal echoing across the track.
The instrumentation on Brothers is also revealed to have been influenced somewhat by some of the band’s smoking habits at the time.
“We were dabbling in this weed that was real brown… It looked like a Merit Ultra Light, ground up,” recalls Carney. “It was new for me and we called our day-to-day manager in Nashville after smoking this shit and we’re like, ‘Can you bring down… a… harpsichord?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, what’s going on down there?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know – Dan and I have been smoking some weed lately…’”
“We never claimed to be professional,” chimes in Auerbach.
“It has a life of its own nowadays,” concludes Carney of Howlin’ For You. “I wish we’d have known at the time we were working on it that that was what a hit feels like. It would have been a lot less stressful writing other songs!”
Head to Rolling Stone for the full Black Keys interview on The Breakdown.