Sad Planets, a new collaboration from Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney and Cleveland music lifer John Petkovic, just released its debut album Akron, Ohio in April. But in a way, their partnership has been in development for 20 years, thanks to both men’s connection to a legendary avant-garde musician.
Ralph Carney was a founding member of influential Akron new wavers Tin Huey, an iconic multi-instrumentalist — and Patrick Carney’s uncle and Petkovic’s close friend.
When Patrick and Petkovic met in 1999 at the Akron Art Museum, the then-19-year-old introduced himself as Ralph’s nephew.
In late 2017, Ralph’s unexpected death spurred Patrick and Petkovic to clear their busy schedules and put the finishing touches on Akron, Ohio, the album they had started some years before.
“[Ralph] was kind of how we met — and the way we got this thing finally done,” says Petkovic, a member of influential local acts such as Death of Samantha and Cobra Verde.
This project’s starting point was less deliberate. Some years ago, Patrick invited Petkovic to jam at his Audio Eagle Studios, then located in Akron. The casual sessions marked the first time the pair had ever played together, and spawned the raw material for what would eventually become Akron, Ohio.
“There’s no expectations,” says Petkovic. “We came up with everything on the spot.”
That record is a thoroughly Rubber City product, capturing Akron’s gritty eclecticism with nods to gut-punch blues, bruising psych rock and even power-pop. Petkovic added stream-of-conscious lyrics and fuzzed-out electric guitars, while Patrick layered on ghostly keyboards and pounding drums.
But for Petkovic, making the LP also helped him reconnect with Akron. Both men were born in the city, with Patrick attending Firestone High School and Petkovic spending his first year there before moving to Cleveland. Petkovic, a seasoned journalist, also enjoys photographing Akron’s vintage sites.
After recording sessions, the duo took drives around town. These helped Petkovic see familiar spaces anew, inspiring a reflective mood that permeates much of the album.
“When you leave a place — and then return — your perception of it exists as much in memory as it does in reality,” he says. “It results in an attraction to a place, but also an alienation from it.”
The sessions were poignant in another way, too. As they jammed, Petkovic saw a lot of Ralph in his nephew.
“Patrick has a similar spirit. He was open to try whatever, and being ‘correct’ about [it] wasn’t part of the equation,” says Petkovic.
Patrick is now preparing for the next Black Keys tour (hitting Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse Sept. 30) while Petkovic preps an LP with synth-pop act Metrolight. But he’s sanguine about Sad Planets’ future.
“There’s not really plans,” he says. “But there were never any plans to even do a record. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s something else.”