Dan Auerbach has been involved in music for almost two decades now. The singer/guitarist has helped steer ramshackle blues two-piece The Black Keys to global fame, released a solo record and worked with countless friends, while his production credits include everyone from Dr. John to Lana Del Rey.
In short, he knows a thing or two. It’s there in the quiet way he addresses Clash, the patient manner in which he formulates the answers to our questions – and it’s there in his work on fresh project The Arcs.
Essentially evolving from a series of close musical friendships, The Arcs has – over time – taken on a life of its own. “This is just me forming relationships with these guys. These are some of my oldest musical buddies – other than Pat (Carney, drummer in Black Keys). Guys I've been making records with the longest.”
“In our free time we would get together and record, and this project has pretty much been born out of that, out of those recordings,” he explains. “And it was really like seven months ago, eight months ago – Leon (Michels) and I got together just to look on the hard drive we had. But there are like 70 songs, when we started to put 'em all into a folder and find them all. And it was just at that moment where we said: we should do something with all of this. We should give this a name, so that we can have a platform to share this music.”
Using the feted hard drive as a point of inspiration, The Arcs then wiped the slate clean. “We didn't use any of those old tracks,” he admits. “It was just the realisation that there were so many was kind of like the kick in the ass that we needed to take it seriously. What's different is that all these guys have such strong voices, they all have their own thing that they do, they're all perfectly capable of making records completely on their own and having them sound great. So it's just the mix in the studio – and it works. When we get together it really does work, it's really fun.”
Not that simply recruiting the right cast will lead to a great album, as Dan readily admits. The sessions may have happened quickly, but – as ever – nothing is easy when it comes to creating something worthwhile. “It’s definitely the essential chemistry,” he says. “These are all my favourite musicians, but that doesn't mean we're going to make good music together. You know what I mean? It doesn't. It doesn't mean that you're going to make good music together.”
“Honestly, this whole thing is such a big learning process too, because we make great chemistry in the studio but that also, in turn, doesn't mean that we're going to be great onstage – cos that's a very different medium... being in the studio and being onstage. So now we're testing those waters to see what that's all about. There's all this new shit happening and it's really fun. It's nice to experience these things for the very first time – with people who I've known for so long. It's kind of bizarre.”
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It’s clear in the language he uses, the clarity of tone that Dan Auerbach really means it. Even after such a prolonged, intense period making music with The Black Keys the singer is still finding new avenues of exploration, new facets to the way music can be made and constructed. The sessions themselves, it seems, were very much structured in a first though/best thought manner.
“It was recorded whenever we had free time,” he explains. “So if Leon was in LA with his family and so was I for a couple days we would try to find a place to record. It was very much what happened that day, absolutely. Pretty much everything that we do starts in the studio. Together. With an idea.”
“That's how I like to work,” Dan continues. “That's how I always like to work. But it's just different. When it's just Pat (Carney, drummer in The Black Keys) and I, then it's just Pat and I. When I'm doing this with the Arcs then it's me, it's Richard Swift, it's Leon (Michels), it's Homer (Steinweiss) and Nick (Movshon). That's a very different thing.”
Running on instinct, it seems that once The Arcs embarked on recording sessions very little was going to stand in their way. “I think it was once we realised we had all that material and it was starting to take shape, this whole thing, we realised the scope of what we've been working on, the focus just got better. Everyone's focus got tighter and we really banged out the album tracks in just a couple weeks. After we said, alright let's do something with this.”
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This is a public company now. We've gone public!
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Debut album ‘Yours, Dreamily’ is a remarkably fresh sounding record. Sure, the grit of The Black Keys remains – this is still Dan Auerbach we’re talking about – but the arrangements have incredible space, and all manner of pastoral phrases and gorgeous influences.
“It's something that we've built over the years,” he explains. “It's similar influences. We're all record geeks. We all love old records. We all love hip-hop. We all love hip-hop production. So the idea of something being just old is totally unappealing to all of us, the idea of something being just completely new sounding is also completely unappealing to us. We live in some weird netherworld in between. We all do and we kind of always have. And that's the connection, I think, that we all have. We live in that space.”
Dan Auerbach certainly isn’t joking when he talks about his love of hip-hop. Working with Danger Mouse on the Blakroc project, the singer maintains an intense love of the genre. “It's definitely in the production and it's definitely in the mix,” he insists. “We listen to so much hip-hop, we try to make sure that when you go back and forth between The Arcs' music and hip-hop you don't lose the low end. Sonically, it's in the same ballpark.”
As for his current jams, Future’s flamboyant rap is currently glued to the Auerbach family stereo. “You know, I haven't really listened to the Kendrick (Lamar) record that much. I love the Vince Staples record. I thought that record was pretty great. I love the production, too. I love the Future album. The Future record is great. Dumb fun – triple exclamation point! That would be my quote for the one sheet for the Future record. Dumb fun for the whole family!”
Currently plotting live shows – where The Arcs will play in a democratic v-shape, looking inwards instead of towards the audience – Dan Auerbach appears completely refreshed and utterly enthused by seeking out some of his oldest musical partnerships. “I mean, I want to push myself as far as I can. I want to make new music, all the time. That's what I want to do. So these guys certainly helped me get that feeling because they're all very like-minded. They all are. They want to create. That's why the project just seems to be so fertile at the moment. Everyone really is in the right head space.”
“We've got another EP finished. Almost the second record done. Finished another video. We're just going!” he exclaims. “Not to mention rehearsals for the live show, which have been really cool, so far. We just haven't stopped recording.”
“This is the thing,” he states. “Now this is public. This is a thing we always do and never have stopped doing, for years. So this will continue, I'm thinking, indefinitely. I don't see why we wouldn't. This is a public company now. We've gone public!”
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The Arcs' debut album 'Yours, Dreamily' is out now. Catch the band at London's Forum venue on November 11th.