Black Keys Singer-Guitarist Dan Auerbach Explores His Experimental Side with the Arcs

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click to enlarge Black Keys Singer-Guitarist Dan Auerbach Explores His Experimental Side with the Arcs
Richard Swift
“I’m back home in Nashville,” says the Arcs singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach via phone just after he returned from France, where he played a show on the day of the recent terrorist attacks. You can tell from the tone of his voice that Auerbach, an Akron native who also fronts the Black Keys, is relieved. He’s talked plenty about the incident and even wrote an essay about experiencing “survivor’s remorse” for Rolling Stone magazine.

Instead of focusing on that horrible incident, we choose to ask Auerbach about the inspiration for the Arcs, a band that he fronts that includes Shins and Black Keys touring bassist Richard Swift, Leon Michels, Homer Steinweiss, Nick Movshon, Kenny Vaughan, and the women of Mariachi Flor De Toloache. Appropriately entitled Yours, Dreamily, the group’s atmospheric debut enables Auerbach and Co. to pin down the music that they’ve made for years as the group essentially serves as the house band as Auerbach’s Nashville studio, where he’s recorded everyone from rock icon Dr. John to pop singer Lana Del Rey.

“I’ve been making music with these guys for six years,” says Auerbach when asked about how the Arcs came together. “I reached out to them [at that time about doing some recordings]. We’ve been friends ever since. We would produce records and do records for other people. We did Lana del Rey and Dr. John and all kinds of stuff. The thing that remained was that we would try to get together whenever we could to make music. That’s what this is all about. Arcs have been around for a while. This year is just the first time we started to share it with people."

He says the songs are actually “all pretty fresh” despite the long gestation period.

“A year ago Leon [Michels] and I got together and we went through the catalog of songs we recorded,” he says. “We would record them and put them away and record them and put them away. We started looking into it. We had 75 songs. At that moment, we agreed that we would put together an album. We gave the name the Arcs and that gave us the platform.”

The guys recorded over two weeks at the Sound Factory in Los Angeles, Electric Lady Studios in New York, Easy Eye Sound in Nashville, and the Sound Mine in New York. Auerbach and Michels co-produced the album, and Tchad Blake mixed it.

“We work pretty quickly,” says Auerbach. “The songs on the album took about two weeks to record. This wasn’t our main job. We could only get together when we were free. We weren’t ever all five of us all in the same town together at the same time ever. That hasn’t happened until recently. We would get together whenever we had some time in whatever city we happened to be in. That’s how it happened.”

The album commences with a narrated snippet, “Once We Begin.”

“For me, the record is kind of a collection of songs that feel like little daydreams and little scenes, I guess,” says Auerbach. “I heard a narrator bring us into the world of the Arcs. That was the idea, I guess. That’s Leon playing the organ.”

“Everything You Do (You Do for You)” has some unique clicks and clacks; Auerbach made use of a Chamberlin Rhythmate Tape Loop Drum Machine to create the sounds.

“It’s a drum machine but it’s a real drummer so it has a human feel,” says Auerbach when asked about the instrument. “It’s like a Mellotron. It’s rare to hear about it. When I first heard it and saw it, my fucking jaw hit the floor. It’s also one of the greatest drummers of all time recorded amazingly well so you have these loops of amazing sounding drums. It’s a really neat invention but not very reliable.”

The band released the first singles, "Stay in My Corner” and “Put a Flower in Your Pocket” on the day of the Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao boxing match that took place this past May.

“The boxing match was steadily approaching, so I just threw it out there,” says Auerbach. “That has become what the Arcs is all about. That was our first release. Those aren’t singles. Those aren’t radio singles. We released it on the day of a boxing match on vinyl only. From our first release, we were putting out there what this whole project is all about.”

He also discovered the New York-based all-female mariachi band Mariachi Flor de Toloache, which performs backing vocals on several album tracks and the lead vocals on "Chains of Love,” by chance.

“Leon and I had this song and we wanted some mariachi for ten seconds,” he says. “That’s it. We were in new York and Leon knew a guy who managed the band. They show up and it’s an all girl band. We didn’t know that. We were like, ‘That’s interesting.’ They started playing, and they were so fucking great. They nailed it. We tried them on another song. They picked it up really quickly. We put them on another song. And then we put them on another song and another song. We asked them if they could sing and they almost sing better than they play. We were like, ‘What the hell?’ These things just happen. We don’t play any of these things. It all just happens in real time.”

The band has also just issued a ten-inch, Arcs vs. Inventors. The album sounds like the band took the weirder aspects of the full-length and expanded on them.

“It’s the beginning of a series we’re doing,” Auerbach explains. “We’re reaching out to musicians who have inspired us, people we love who may not be big stars but are very influential. You could say unsung heroes but that sounds corny. This is the start of that series. We invited David Hidalgo from Los Lobos into the studio. He is amazing. Some people just have something really special. He’s got it. He walks in and he’s quiet and you can tell he knows something that you don’t know. He sits down and he’s the greatest. He sits down at the piano and he’s killing it. He sits down and plays the mandolin and he’s killing it. He’s the best conga player I’ve ever heard in my life. He’s a really creative person and great in the studio.”

Auerbach says the band’s Akron debut, which finds it playing the Akron Civic Theatre, a venue he describes as a “magical place,” will be extra special since he so rarely returns home.

“I haven’t been to Akron for years,” he says. “It’ll be the first time in years. When I’m not on tour, I’m at home and my parents have been coming down to Nashville to visit. I just haven’t had a reason to drive up there.”

The Arcs, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8, Akron Civic Theatre, 182 S. Main St., 330-253-2488. Tickets: $32.50-$39.50,

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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