Monday, June 10, 2013

"Keep it Hid" No More: the untold story of the classic Dan Auerbach album

"Keep it Hid" No More:
Digging up the untold story of the classic Dan Auerbach album

a head medicine world exclusive

part one
the Bob Cesare Interview

in 2009, Dan Auerbach, singer/guitarist of the massively successful Black Keys and the 2013 Producer of the Year Grammy award winner, quietly released "Keep it Hid," a phenomenal solo album. the record turned out to be a defining creative moment for Auerbach and set a previously unreachable standard when compared to the raw and untamed minimalistic basement blues rawk of the early Black Keys albums:  the songwriting was stronger, the performances were tighter and more nuanced, the production deeper, and the instrumentation and musical styles more varied.  the influence of "Keep it Hid" runs deep through Auerbach's recent work and serves as a sonic template for his greatest musical accomplishments with the Black Keys and as a producer that would follow. (click HERE for the full HEAD MEDICINE "Keep it Hid" review)

the roots of "Keep it Hid" dig back to 2006 with the construction of Auerbach's Akron Analog home studio (assisted by the legendary Mark Neill, who would later produce "Brothers" and take home his own Grammy for his efforts), and the exploratory recording sessions that took place there with co-producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist/drummer Bob Cesare.   Neill and Cesare acted as sonic mentors to Auerbach, guiding him out of the dank basement recording lifestyle and showing him the ins and outs of a proper recording workspace.  The two men dramatically helped midwife "Keep it Hid" into existence, with Cesare's drumming and musical knowledge critical to the album's greatness, and Neill's production touch and the masterful weaving of the final mix giving the record much of its personality.  Cesare was present on a molecular level with the creation of "Keep it Hid," and without his contributions and mentorship, the album would have turned out very differently, perhaps unrecognizably so.

Bob Cesare is a local Akron musician/artist whose musical roots dig back to the late 1960's.  an admitted obsessive audiophile, he has built an impressive knowledge of musical instruments and recording equipment and has developed a knack for tweaking the best possible performances out of them.  He formed the Beatles "historic performance" band Revolver in the early 80's with a vision of reproducing a vintage Fab Four performance from 1963-1966 (video HERE and HERE), and came shockingly close to realizing it's potential until a well-crafted employee derived mutiny stole Cesare's creation.  he largely retired from a career in music, focusing instead on graphic design, and it was almost by accident that he hooked up with Dan Auerbach in the summer of 2006.  this is his first ever  interview about his "Keep it Hid" experiences, and HEAD MEDICINE could not possibly be any more excited to share it with the world.

"Bob Cesare is one of the most sensitive and talented musicians I have ever had the pleasure of working on a project with. His drumming is always on point.  His sense of melody is peerless.
 I don't think "Keep it Hid" could have been near what it was without him."

~Mark Neill, of Soil of the South Sounds, world-renowned and
Grammy Award winning producer/engineer


HEAD MEDICINE:  How did your collaboration with Dan Auerbach come about and what were you guys trying to accomplish with the "keep it hid" recording sessions?

BOB CESARE:  I think it was after a 2006 Fourth of July show in downtown Akron, where I ended up chatting with Dan, after TBK played their slot. I don't know why, but Dan asked me if I had any recommendations for getting them a better drum sound for some recordings that they were doing. I asked him to explain the recording layout and the acoustics of the room. I recommended simply placing some gobos (sound dividers) around the drums and that I had some gobos that he was welcome to come over and borrow. Some time later, I found a message on my answering machine, from Dan, asking if he could try my gobos. That's how it all got started.

What were we trying to accomplish? For Dan, you'll have to ask him. For me, it was something to do. I quickly surmised that Dan seemed to keep his cards close to his chest and being polite, I didn't pry. Me? I'm just the opposite, as you'll soon see and/or regret. I was old enough to be his father, and played out since the 60's, having had all but retired many years prior. Lots and lots of rust. I don't think Dan was even aware that I was a drummer.  Primarily, I just felt like helping him work the bugs out of his new make-shift recording area in a rented room of an out-of-production Barberton, Ohio pie factory... that's how we referred to it on all of our subsequent labeling... The Pie Factory. The first time I saw the room, I thought to myself, 'You've got to be kidding?" It had a strange smell of rancid dough and often felt like either a freezer or an oven.  Back then, Dan had a hired drummer in there laying a drum track for a tune he called, "If The Sky Was A City".  I offered to help him get some better drum sounds. First thing I did was try to coax some half-decent sound out of something that resembled a drum kit located in the corner of the room. Lots of tuning and mic placement. Talk about trying to polish the proverbial turd? That's why the first things I started bringing in were some decent cymbals. My cymbals ended up being on nearly everyone's recordings that came out of Dan's studio during those years. Secondly, trying to tidy up the spaghetti wiring all over the place, running cables correctly. That's how I spent a lot of time while Dan was out on tour. Working on the acoustics of the space and trying to explain it all to Dan and introducing him to a few pieces of musical gear. We had lots of talks about gear and everything audio related. He seemed to really listen intently. Eventually I got behind the drum kit that I tweaked and gave it a test run. Dan looked a little surprised and then strapped on a guitar and soon after, was hitting the record button. I think the first song that we recorded together was that formerly mentioned tune, "If The Sky Was A City". This became a routine that lasted for around 3 years. Later on, I completely reworked a few vintage drum kits that I helped Dan procure, often taking them down to every single nut and bolt and setting them up with proper heads and tunings that I pitch matched with vintage cymbals. I'm pretty keen on that stuff.

Dan was an early riser, as am I, and he'd, nearly daily, call me first thing and say something like, "Hey, man, come on over. Hey, man, we've got work to do. Hey, man, let's make some music. Hey, man, let's work on our stuff. Hey, man, check out what I just bought." I'd swig down some coffee, get in the car and often not get home until very late. The tape would often run, capturing warts and all. I tried not to be so hard on myself, because we were just making test recordings with the ease of falling off a log. We would plug in some new toy, give it a road test and probably end up doing it all differently the next time. It was like a wacked-out laboratory of recording experiments. At times, the music seemed secondary to getting his studio worked out. As far as I knew, Dan's recording of some music to listen to in his car was simply a by product of getting his own studio, or his TBK studio, worked out. We burnt session copies for our cars and for me to listen on my home system.

Now and then, Patrick would come over to Dan's house or be there when I got there. We would chat, but never about recording. Being raised the way I was, I thought it impolite and crass to say something like, "Check out what Dan and I are recording". Strangely, for three years it never came up. It seemed natural to surmise that Patrick, being Dan's best friend, was aware of everything Dan was doing and why I seemed to be there almost as much as the family dog. I just figured that Dan kept him clued in and that Patrick was cool with it. I saw no reasons for anyone to hide anything and I had no reason to dislike or distrust Patrick. He seemed like a bright and funny guy to me. I even turned him onto using towels on his kit prior to the "Attack & Release" sessions... my own personal drum towels. If Patrick would have ever asked me to come over and help him with his studio, I would have gladly pitched in. That's how on-the-level everything appeared to me.

HEAD MEDICINE:  was it assumed that these songs would eventually evolve into future Black Keys compositions, or were they always independent and clearly separated from Dan's other work?

BOB CESARE:  I really didn't know for sure. I seem to recall hearing something that we did end up being re-recorded as Black Keys material. Other tunes that we crafted would not seem to benefit being done by TBK. To me, It appeared that Dan liked seeing what it was like working with someone else just to see what they brought to the table. Heck, Mark Neill and I helped design and build that proverbial table. When I would tell Dan about the small-time band in which I spent so many years of my youth, he seemed almost envious. It seemed that being in a band for many years with several of the same good musicians, who were, firstly, great friends, was something he said that he wished he could feel. What Dan did see, was that I was not Patrick and I had no desire to be Patrick or a Patrick knock-off either. If he wanted Carney-sounding drum parts, then call Patrick, not me and if that was ever to be the case, then why not use the real McCoy instead of an imitation? Dan told me that he could have any drummer he wanted, to work with on his projects, and he chose me. I never knew how to really take that. Funny, even though I never knew Patrick that well or any his family, it seems that we and our families had very much in common (railroading, graphic design, music, & art). As people, I think Dan and I and our families are very different though. We seemed to have precious little in common.

HEAD MEDICINE:  can you tell us a bit about the creative atmosphere inside the studio during the album's recording? how did the songs develop? did Dan come in with fairly finished compositions or was there alot of collaboration involved?

BOB CESARE:  First of all, I wasn't really aware of any music being recorded for an actual "album" up until the last few sessions. As far as I knew, the tunes or jams that came out of three long years and long days together were nothing more than the results of testing out different studio gear, recording approaches and different instrumentation. I felt it to be a very creative atmosphere, even when doing covers in our own way. Songs would often come about in a multitude of ways: Dan noodling around on a guitar and then me adding a drum part and or some percussion or I would be playing around with kit after tweaking it and Dan joining in with a guitar. A few times, Dan would go straight into some lyrics he had in his head, but usually he came up with a note book filled with lyrics. Sometimes Dan would ask me to play a drum style that he was hearing in his head and he would say something like, "Can you play a jungle beat?" My mission was to figure out and play what was in his mind. Nothing new really, because I did the same thing with clients that came to my art/design studio for twenty years. Being able to show people what they have in their minds is a honed skill. Of course, all of us drummers know the "jungle beat" from page 32 in our Lemming International Drum School Manual. We drummers are all really the same, you see... totally interchangeable... one size fits all. Joking aside, there was never any drum music laid down in front of me or any recording samples for me to regurgitate. Sometimes Dan would make drum-like sounds with his mouth to express a rhythm idea. Usually, I just came up with stuff off-the-cuff. Sure, I'd listen to his ideas, but ultimately ended up doing whatever I saw best serve the song. Dan always had the option of re-recording my drums tracks himself. That "jungle beat" tune turned out to be known as, "I Want Some More." Dan asked me something like, "What was a 70's funk beat?" Referring again to page 46 in The Lemming International... wait a second. Really, I just started in on a completely off-the-cuff non-repetitive groove and Dan asked if I could do it again in prep of recording. He then came in with a guitar part. I added some maracas and a Shekere of my liking. The recording was slowed down a bit to get that fat and gooey sound. That's the drum work you hear in "The Prowl". I know there are a lot of articles out there that make it appear as if I was just some hired sticks coming in to sit down and perform one drum score for the tune "Whispered Words" and then split, but it was so insanely far from that. So lets nip that in the bud before that proverbial dead horse gets beaten beyond recognition. Besides, the album credits tell a slightly more accurate story.

I will always look at Keep It Hid as a collaboration and remember laying down tracks with Dan looking at me and asking, "What do you think we should do next?' That's when you know that you're working together and there is mutual respect. Just listen to the two acoustic guitar tracks on the hard left and right of "Goin' Home". I brought over a beautiful Epiphone Texan, that was probably born within days of Paul McCartney's, for Dan to play. He wanted to use my Rickenbacker 12 for this song, too. I was persuasive in getting Dan to keep this song light, airy, clean and simple, utilizing it as a soft closing for the album. My reason being that since Dan's tune, "Trouble Weighs A Ton" was also such a soft tune that I suggested bookending the album with a soft opening and soft closing, but "letting them have it" in between those two...right between the ears. I explained that having the LP mastered with the first light tune mixed down in level by several db's, would leave enough overall headroom for the next tune to come crashing in at a comparatively realistic level. That's a rarity in the new age of hyper-compressed digital tracks, where "loud" is the prime directive. First, I recorded Dan and then helped set up a mic for trying out the Texan. Dan sat in the control room to hear how it sounded and I listened to a playback in my cans while playing a couple of different rhythm guitar parts that came into my head. Dan got on the talk back and said, "Let's track that." My two, slightly different, guitar tracks ended up on the tune and Dan said to me, "I would have never been able to come up with a guitar part like that." I took that as a nice complement that I'll never forget. That tune also ended up being in the movie soundtrack for "Up In The Air" and you can see my Ric 12 and Texan in the video of Dan with one of his uncles promoting "Trouble Weighs A Ton" (video HERE). Technically speaking, I truly believe that "Keep It Hid" was no more of a solo album than any other Black Keys album. I was there instead of Patrick. It's as simple as that. Same duties, different drummer. If someone thinks they can program a drummer to play exactly what they want, then their choice in drummer becomes moot and all drummers would fit the bill as the result is predeterminate. If they want total control... get a drum machine. Chemistry is what its all about. Try to get chemistry with drum samples.

It's a pity that none of you got to hear the original version of "Goin' Home". It included something that I referred to as a subliminal bass track. Dan had a synth that I had him set up with a pure sinus tone (a la organ pipe). He played a bass line consisting of long droning notes that came in (0.31) and accompanied the hard panned acoustic guitar tracks that I had previously laid down. It was such a low octave and mixed in so lightly that it didn't stand out as any particular instrument, but rather serving a sense of spirituality and petite grandeur to the song. It made the two acoustic guitars sound more majestic. Somehow that subliminal bass track vanished and I've always thought it castrated such a beautiful tune. Fortunately, I can still listen to the original burn of that session's rough... low end and all.

HEAD MEDICINE:  "keep it hid," from a production standpoint, has a very rich, warm, and classic sound, and stands out in stark contrast to the early, raw basement recordings of the Black Keys. were there any notable influences on you guys while shaping the overall sound of the recordings? were there any classic albums that anyone would pull out and say, "THIS... this is the sound i'm trying to find?" any interesting eureka moments in the search for capturing the sounds?

BOB CESARE:  I'm glad that you noticed the difference. I'd say that "Keep It Hid" needed to be very different from earlier Black Keys recordings but similar enough to hear some lineage or kinship, or else it would just be another TBK record. I also felt that it needed to show growth and not waft of sell-out. The happen-chance way that Keep It Hid came together should show that it wasn't purposely targeted for any money-making corporate-run genre. It was just music. Besides music, I've always been into high fidelity gear ever since I was a kid. I tried continuously and gingerly to get Dan to take baby steps out of his routine and comfort zone without letting him know it. I think I succeeded whether he liked it or not. I grew to know his real voice very well and thought he should allow others to hear it without so much processing. And yes, Dan was always pulling up music for me to check out. I, too, had him listen to some of my recommendations. An LP that comes to mind was Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1975 "Symphonion Dream. Reason being, early on, I was going on about the importance of track order and creating a visual journey with an album that just has to be listened to from beginning to end, without pause. Easier said than done and I told him that it was becoming a lost art brought on by kids compiling songs one by one. It was also a lost joy, the joy of sitting down with a big album cover to comb over while you listened to its musical prize. That's how we "multi-tasked" back in the day. I also listen to music that had horrible production, just to hear the greatness of the performance and I listen to music that I don't particularly like just because I'm so impressed with it's production. It works both ways.

I seem to remember Dan being enamored with productions that came from Mark Neill's "Soil of The South" studio in California and recordings done at Liam Watson's "Toe Rag Studios" in Hackney, London. Dan wanted to take me to Toe Rag Studios to record with him and, hopefully, learn some tricks of the trade. Mark and Liam go way back. Mark Neill was Dan's go-to guy for trying to capture the classic big hi-fi sounds that were Mark and Liam's trademark. Mark Neill's "Soil of The South Productions" and Liam's "Toe Rag Studio" look like they were separated at birth. Appearance-wise, Dan's new home studio in Akron didn't appear to fall far from that tree. Whenever you would see Dan's phone glued to his ear while he was in the studio, you could pretty much guess that mentor, Mark Neill was on the other end of the string.

As far as nuance and subtlety, that's something that I've always been majorly into. It's kinda been my rep. I loved discovering those little hidden gems buried deep into mixes and appreciate the extra efforts made to gain something so small. Even the most delicate squeaking of an old Ludwig Speed King bass drum pedal, I find intriguing. I always strove to hear recordings sound as real as possible to get a good idea of what the engineers and musicians were experiencing. I never liked when an audio system would get in the way of listening to music. I could go on and on about that subject.

HEAD MEDICINE:  there is a wide variety of instruments used throughout "Keep it Hid,"as opposed to the guitar-and-drums minimalism of the previous Black Keys albums. what was the feeling and the attitude in the studio with Dan's new wide open approach to instrumentation and the experimentation with sound, color, and texture? were there any rules or boundaries at all? a track like "when i left the room," for example sounds like a chef joyously throwing every available spice into the pot, just to see what happens. did Dan have any previous experience with multi-instruments or was it a learn on the fly experience?

BOB CESARE:  I really have no idea of what approach Dan had in mind. You would have to get that kind of information directly from him. All I can say is that Dan seemed interested in any type of instrument or piece of gear that I found pleasure in, which led me to introducing him to some of my vintage gear. Since you mentioned "When I Left The Room", I recall coming up with how the song started out with a tympani-like roll building-up on my floor tom, using mallets instead of drumsticks, throughout the entire song. Dan came in with the vocals after the drumroll started its build. That hook repeated throughout the song. When it came time to lay down a guitar lead on a second guitar track, I mentioned to Dan that, in my head, I was hearing a backwards guitar sound, a la reversed tape. My reasoning was that it would represent muffled voices coming through the walls of another room. Dan had an effect pedal that simulated that type of sound and we used that instead. He had a cheap Harmony banjo that we both thought would sound cool if it was tossed into the pot as well. I'm trying to remember what made me come up with the cha-cha-cha ending. With the minor cord structure forging a slight Latin feel, I felt the ending needed to be predictably old school. I don't know what Dan's previous experience was with instrumentation but I would say that we were always learning on the fly. The whole thing was a learning experience/experiment and we both had a lot of fun with it using that approach.

HEAD MEDICINE:  you seem incredibly knowledgeable about musical instruments and recording gear. can you tell us a bit about the various instruments/effects that were used on the sessions? i bet it was a vintage tech geeks wet dream. were they instruments from dan's collection, your collection, or someone else's collection? or a combination of all three? what kind of equipment was used to record the sessions?

BOB CESARE:  I've been on the planet for a bit longer than Dan, and had amassed a small collection of instruments and gear of which I lent quite a bit for the "Attack & Release" sessions at Suma Recording. Most of the actual KIH recording gear came from what Dan was procuring. I would bring in a few bits to complement things, but mainly I brought in instruments/amps and combed over several drum kits that both Dan and I had for the studio. I'm a freak on tweaking out a vintage drum kit and a bit of a cymbalholic, so I'm into details that have most people just rolling their eyes or scratching their heads.

When it comes to real knowledge about recording and vintage recording gear, you would have a hard time finding anyone that knows more than Mark Neill. He's in league of his own and he's simply just a great guy. Even though we used some pretty sweet, classic microphones, ranging from classic Coles & RCA ribbons, to Neumann tube mics, a few AKG D19's and some various EV mics, we also used some new Sure condenser mics that Dan was given. Mixing consoles went through a few changes from Studer to API, and lastly onto some old Altec tube mixers, along with a myriad of rack effects(compressors, echo and distortion boxes, etc,) complemented with a EMT plate reverb. Even though some recording was done by way of a Studer tape machine, most of the actual tracking was captured by a digital RADAR system. Sorry, vintage gear folks. There were a few other digital effects used along the line, also. Frankly, things changed around so often in that studio that I have a hard time remembering what was used on what and when and why it got changed for the next time. It was like a revolving door over there and nearly each session was a different lab experiment.

HEAD MEDICINE:  "Keep it Hid" is filled with a tight bass and drum interplay which anchors a large chunk of the album, and is the most obvious feature that separates this album from early Black Keys and would hint at their future recordings. can you enlighten us a bit on Dan's early approach to the bass during those sessions and the interplay between you and your drumming and how it developed? did you two record live bass and drums often or was the bass largely overdubbed over a Black Keys-ish guitar/drum structure, something a bit more in Dan's comfort zone?

BOB CESARE: I remember telling Dan how much I enjoyed the experiences of playing with bass players that I could just lock in with. I would always say that when a great bass player does an incredible job, you don't even know he's there. He just seems to play what's already in your head. As far as it went when Dan and I would start out on a tune, we would normally just have me on drums and Dan on guitar, sometimes laying down a live scratch vocal track and sometimes the main vocal track. It was afterwards that Dan would usually use his Gibson EB-3(I think) short-scale bass or even some sort of synth bass. I brought in a few different basses, but don't recall which one got used on what. I remember stressing that he shouldn't just play basically the same thing on the bass that he just played on his previous guitar part... notes, pacing, etc. and to think of complimentary alternatives, such as playing in the holes or working with the bass drum and not thumping on the strings in between notes. Leave a few of those holes for the drums but still leave some holes. After all, it takes holes to make good Swiss cheese. You can really beef up the percussion with the bass landing in the right spots. I feel that if the bass part sounds like it's obviously being overdubbed by the same guitar player, it just takes away from the feeling of a real band playing live in the studio. One-man "basement-tape-itis".

HEAD MEDICINE:  the album also features performances by Dave Huddleston and Rob "Thorney" Thorsen on upright bass, Jessica Lea Mayfield on backing vocals, and James Quine (dan's uncle) on rhythm guitar and harmony vocals. how did they become involved? were there any musicians who appeared yet are uncredited? many people think that the Fast Five, Dan's "Keep it Hid" touring band, were his guinea pigs for the sessions, yet the albums' credits do not mention them at all.

BOB CESARE:  I don't think that the Fast Five were the only guinea pigs and yet they were indeed guinea pigs... on their own sessions. When you're learning how to set up a good recording studio, everyone that walks through the door is a guinea pig. That's how you learn. I guess the trick is, that when a client walks through that door, to make them feel like you've already learned it.

Dave Huddleston sang and played guitar in a Cleveland band called "The Echos", as well as with a myriad of other musicians in the area. Dave has a great voice and is a great musician. He is so proficient in so may types of music. Best of all, he is a great friend. We've known each other since around 1981. Rob Thorney is a friend of Mark Neill, Jessica Lea Mayfield is a dear friend that was introduced to me by Dan, and James Quine is Dan's uncle who was visiting during those years. He had a good time playing some old guitars of mine and he ended up on the album as well.

When Dan first sat down with a guitar and played a tune for me titled "Whispered Words", I instantly heard a finished fleshed-out version in my head, being sung by Roy Orbison, just the way I think Roy would have recorded it in some huge old studio. That's how it usually works in my head. But at that time we were still in Dan's "Pie Factory" studio and it was tracked with a simpler but heavier hitting drum part on a P.O.S. drum kit, with Dan on an acoustic guitar, facing me while singing into his vocal mic as I would just follow his lead, watching his body cues, nothing more than that. Later on, when we built up the studio in Dan's new house, we approached it differently, a little bit more like what I originally heard in my head. I suggested using an acoustic bass and bringing in my friend, Dave Huddleston, for the part and to have all of us play live in the studio... just the three of us... old school. I remember just barely tapping my own trusty ol' Ludwig Super Classic kit with pencil sized sticks, but they ended up still sounding rather huge. Dan's Dad, Chuck, wrote those lyrics and seemed pretty happy with our results, I wish we would have spent the time to cut another take with Dave singing the main vocal in his Roy Orbison voice. That would have been a real trip to listen to.

During one of his visits, Dan's uncle James joined in for several numbers after he saw what Dan and I had been doing. I lent him a few guitars of mine to play with and he ended up using them on the album. On "HeartBroken, In Disrepair", I came up with some ideas on harmony parts for James and Dan to sing in the background. James was also in on the handclaps of "Street Walkin' ". James Quine is a very talented artist and he added a lot to the mix. Having more than one guitarist in the studio at the same time seemed like such a luxury. In the promo for "Trouble Weighs a Ton", you can see Dan and James using a couple of my old guitars.

Jessica Lea Mayfield lent her sweet voice to the harmonies on "When The Night Comes". I've always loved working with Jessica and we remain dear friends. We cracked each other up from the get-go. I thank Dan for that introduction.

With the way that it all gets spun, I can see how people get confused about "The Fast Five" being involved with the making of KIH. They, The Fast Five(Hacienda), were not involved with the making of "Keep It Hid". They were members of a band called "Hacienda" and they were Dan's friends. They spent a lot of time at Dan's home studio and we used them a lot to test out ways to record and audition different recording gear while they played their own material, which included some covers. They, too, were youngsters interested in vintage gear and I let them borrow some extremely sweet pieces to use on their own recordings. You would never know it by reading any of their interviews or promo materials.  When I was their ages, if someone would have put into my hands some of the gear that I trustingly put into theirs, I wouldn't know how or when to stop thanking them.  Like us old people say, "These kids today..."

HEAD MEDICINE:  when exactly did you realize that the initial experimental studio recordings were being honed into an album? were alot of the original recordings used on the final album or were new versions created from these early takes or overdubs added later to polish them and finish them off?

BOB CESARE:  I don't actually recall the exact date of when Dan told me that his record label wanted an album's worth of our work. Since I don't know when Dan started sending in our recordings to his people, I have no way of knowing what tune we would have been working on at the time. All I remember is that he said something like his label wanted a few more songs to round out an album. You've got to realize that during those few years of me helping him out as a friend, as far as a drummer, I had been out of the music game for nearly a few decades. At best, I sat in with some friends in a Cleveland band called "The Echos" just a few times a year for only a few years, so I was basically covered with rust. Other than that, I seldom touched a drumstick. Many a drum track that I laid down for Dan, still makes my gut turn into a knot when I hear a playback but they went out into the world as is, warts and all. Oh well, what's done is done.

HEAD MEDICINE:  other than "Goin' Home," are there any other out-takes you remember being better/notably different than the final tracks? were there any compositions that you had wished would have made the album or been developed further but didn't make the cut?

BOB CESARE: Man, that's a tuff one. Dan and I had put so many other tunes together. So many cool tunes come to mind, such as "My Final Scene", "Come To Me", "Nothin' More To Give", "I'm That Kind Of Man", "All I Can Do Is Cry", "Money And Trouble", "Fate And Circumstance", "Any Old Way"... The list can go on and on. They were all a lot of fun to craft and I still pull them out for a listen once in a while. I can still smell the rancid dough odor from the Pie Factory tunes.

HEAD MEDICINE:  Mark Neil's contributions to "Keep it Hid" cannot be overstated. can you tell us a bit about what Mark brought to the table as mixer and co-engineer, as well as co-designer of Dan's studio?

BOB CESARE: Mark Neill just didn't bring things to the table, Hell, he helped design and build the damn table. Mark and I were both ready and eager to be the musicians for a KIH tour. Who knew the music better than us? At that time, Dan seemed very impressed with Mark Neill's Soil of The South Studio and Liam Watson's Toe Rag Studio. He seemed to want their sound and whatever it took to make it happen. It's not as easy as is appears. Cool gear doesn't make great songs. Great songs make gear cool. Mark knew what it took to make great records and he also knew how to make it happen. He has a great ear for tone and sound. He trusts his own ear and doesn't depend on the ears of others and besides that, he's a great musician and vocalist. He can walk the walk and talk the talk with the best of them. He uses what he knows to work and knows how to work what he uses. Sure, you can buy much of the same vintage gear that Mark uses, but it still doesn't turn you into him. A great (cool, hip, retro, rare, repro, expensive, etc.) brush does not an artist make.

HEAD MEDICINE:  obviously Patrick Carney is a great drummer, but i think your drumming has a more focused sound and a wider range. was it intimidating recording with Dan when he and Patrick were so closely linked, especially at such a pivotal point in the Black Keys career as they teetered on the edge of superstardom?

BOB CESARE:  Patrick is unique, to say the least and I thank you for the cool compliment on my drumming. I started playing in the sixties and have had the opportunity to play with many gifted musicians, which include my Dad. I've played in all sorts of musical situations and had to learn how to adapt. Before I started working with Dan, I had all but given it up with only playing a few gigs a year only to help out some friends. My tastes in music run the gamut. I wasn't intimidated at all by either Patrick or Dan. Yeah, I think they were starting to get big, but I just don't get star struck. I feel that trait can be off-putting to some ego-heads and that's pretty sad. Yes, at one time it was The Beatles for me but nowadays, nobody comes to mind. If I meet a musician who is a good person, then all is good. The second part of that equation is the most important part to me. I would be the last person on earth to ever want to get a band to break up. Slime bags who do that and/or screw over their bandmates rate nothing more than being simply defined as carbon-based.

HEAD MEDICINE:  after "keep it hid," the Black Keys reconvened and released their two blockbuster, career defining albums that sonically took the band into more expansive territory. they became far more than just a bombastic blues rawk band, and i can't help but feel that alot of that found it's start on this record. are there any traits, either with the songs themselves or the production, where you can see the lingering "keep it hid" influence on the Black Keys?

BOB CESARE:  As far as any lingering DNA from "Keep It Hid", perhaps you should rephrase your question, "Where don't you...?"

HEAD MEDICINE:  Bob, you seemed to have a strong yet rarely discussed influence on the development of the Black Keys during their most important and transformative years, the bridge years from a raw basement blues band to arguably the biggest rock band in the world today. you are prominently thanked in the liner notes of Magic Potion as well as Attack and Release. what do you feel was your strongest contribution during these years, outside of the recording of "Keep it Hid?"  i understand that you introduced Dan to Paul Hamann at Suma Studios (later where Attack and Release would be recorded)?

BOB CESARE: Strongest contribution? Getting them out of the basement. You can only go so far in a basement before you hit a wall.

I introduced Dan to my old friend, Paul Hamann,who owns and operates Suma Recording in Painesville, Ohio. Paul and I go way back. I went there with Dan to show him a real studio. That's how Dan learned about the genius of Paul Hamann and Suma Recording. Suma has to be one of the coolest recording studios on the planet. I took Dan up for a tour and he seemed rather taken with the place and it's rich history. Dan seemed especially geeked over Paul's beautiful Neumann record cutting lathe. "This is what it really meant by going into the studio to cut a record", I told Dan as he stared at the lathe. It all seemed to suddenly click and to make a long story less long, recording time was booked at Suma for the recording of "Attack & Release". What's in that name? Just look at the control panel of a basic audio compressor.  Dan started working with Paul, first with some baby steps, getting some of his other projects mastered, cut onto vinyl and such, and then onto actually recording Attack & Release there. Patrick even ended up using my drum's tea towels on his own drums during those sessions.

HEAD MEDICINE:  is there anything else about "Keep it Hid," whether during the sessions or the album itself or anything really, that you feel is interesting or important for fans of the album to know?

BOB CESARE:  "Keep It Hid" happened. It can't be undone, un-rung, burned or buried. It shall remain a permanent rung in their ladder. "Keep It Hid" was the resulting chemical reaction that took place between the two of us... and Mark Neill makes three. Sorry to say, but you will never see/hear that particular reaction take place again. It could have grown into such a good thing.  but It was a good thing that Dan made that "solo" album. It was a very good thing.


NEXT:  Mark Neill gives an exclusive interview providing invaluable insight into the recording, production, and mixing of "Keep it Hid."  Please stay tuned for Part Two of "'Keep it Hid' No More"

~art and interview conducted by Kojak.  copyright 2013 brian james koschak and bob cesare.  cannot be reproduced without permission by the author.


  1. So, where's the 2nd part already?!

    Love it, keep it up!

  2. Bob Cesare's barely contained bitterness at Keep It Hid having not been released as a "Auerbach & Cesare" record (or even Cesare & Auerbach) is painful to experience. He wanted more written credit, he wanted to tour, he wanted to be mentioned in interviews and promotional material, he wanted to be recognized for making The Black Keys the very band they are today...he wanted to experience the glory. There is clearly a bruised ego here, and this interview/expose comes off as ugly; there is no relevatory "making-of" knowledge to be had other than the fact that Bob Cesare feels cheated. Mr. Cesare himself admits that he hadn't been meaningfully involved in making music in decades, and it seems that the genuine gratefulness he should feel for having been held in high enough regard by Mr. Auerbach to have been involved in the project in the first place is absent.

    1. I see. In interviews with Mark Neill I read elsewhere I sensed bitterness or disappointment as well, especially regarding Brothers. Would still be interesting what he had to say about Keep It Hid though, since it's not a million-selling record and as such doesn't get featured that much. Thanks!

    2. Have to say I agree with you’re assessment of this interview. Mr. Cesare is obviously very bitter about his experience making this music. I wonder if Dan put a gun to his head and told him he had to play drums for him? Very odd.

  3. bob is anything but a glory hound. there is far more to this story than the public will ever know. it should remain private. if there is any subtle anger in some of his words, i can assure you he has his reasons. be careful making personal judgements.

  4. Hey man where's part 2 at?

  5. yooooooo is there gonna be a part two?