Mark Neill operates an East County recording studio, Soil of the South Music. In August 2009, when blues-rock duo the Black Keys asked the San Diego sound engineer and record producer if he would load up his vintage recording equipment and bring it to Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama for a ten-day, 16-song recording session, Neill didn’t hesitate to say yes.
“I encouraged the ten-day schedule,” said Neill, who back in 2008 produced the solo project for Black Keys singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach. “I can tell by listening to the way they write that they were ready to make [it] happen.”
During that ten-day recording session, which will make up the Black Keys’ sixth album, Neill, Auerbach, and drummer Patrick Carney followed a regimented schedule.
“We would get up at eight every morning, shave, shower, go get breakfast at the Cracker Barrel restaurant, and talk about records. Then we would get back to the studio and work until we had three songs finished…or at least two and a guitar riff for the next song. That was the rule.”
Out of the 16 songs the Black Keys laid down, Neill says 14 should appear on the record.
“It is by far their biggest statement,” said Neill of the new album during a December 5 phone interview. “This is it. It is the equivalent to Radiohead’s OK Computer, and that’s because of the songs.… Vocally, [Auerbach] is the closest thing we have to Otis Redding. A few times I’d slip up and call him Otis.”
The prolific producer/engineer was featured in the June 2011 issue of Mojo Magazine (#211), in a Black Keys cover feature documenting his work with the blues-rock duo.