Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
The Arcs Alysse Gafkjen
Nine Songs
Dan Auerbach

Ahead of the release of The Arcs second album, Dan Auerbach talks Victoria Parkey through the songs that made him fall in love with music.

There are a few people who seem truly born to make music, but Dan Auerbach is undeniably one of them.

Though best known for fronting The Black Keys, it’s impossible to overlook his extensive production credits, including Cage The Elephant, CeeLo Green and the bulk of Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence.

This month sees the release of Electrophonic Chronic, the second record from his band The Arcs, eight years after their first album, Yours, Dreamily. Following the death of their bandmate, the legendary prolific artist, writer and producer, Richard Swift, the band put the album on pause but returned it years later to finish it off.

“Leon and I got together after Richard passed away,” Auerbach explains. “We waited a couple years and we started sending each other music. We hadn't listened to it since he passed away, so it was nice to revisit it and it was really good to hear his voice, to hear him laughing on tape”.

As well as The Arcs’ record, The Black Keys are working on new music ahead of a European arena tour this summer, and Auerbach is also putting out an armful of releases on his record label Easy Eye Sound, born out of his Nashville studio.

"We just released a Hermanos Gutiérrez album that's been doing really well, and Yola's continuing to kill it, Shannon & The Clams just played three sold out nights in their hometown and they're totally destroying it, and Robert Finley has been touring Europe a bunch - we just made a new record with him. We've got a couple new albums coming out from some baby bands, young acts. So it's fun. It's all kinds of different stuff”.

With such a wealth of recording and industry experience, Auerbach tells me he drew on the best elements of studios he’d visited to create Easy Eye Sound’s studio. “I've set it up for writing and for being spontaneous. Everything is mic'd up so you can go and go and go, and people, when they come to the studio, are so surprised by how quickly you can work, but it’s set up and custom made for that.”

The influences of having grown up in a musical family run deep and are still apparent across his vast back catalogue, and it’s the songs he was obsessed with as a child and young adult that Auerbach explores in his Nine Songs choices.

“There's no way to explain how much of an impact a song has had on you, but I think when you're impressionable and young, when you hear music and you don't know anything about music, that's the most important time. It's when you can't control your intake. It's ‘that’s the raw reaction to music’. And it's like, no pretense, no ‘this sounds like this’, or ‘this reminds me of this'. It's none of that shit. I used to be in middle school listening to songs and they'd make me cry and I didn't really understand why. Most of my friends didn't care about music, I always knew I loved music.”

“The Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

I heard my parents play lots of Motown, so I knew all the Motown songs, but Smokey was always my favourite and that was always my favourite song when I was a kid.

I think my parents had the Platoon soundtrack and it was on that. I remember them playing that all the time. I was constantly hearing music growing up. Whether it was my mom playing piano, my dad playing records or my mom's family playing bluegrass, playing acoustic guitars and then growing up in the age of rap, so it's like all of that stuff is going on at the same time. It was really interesting.

“The Tracks of My Tears” is so catchy but musically it's incredible too. You don't realise it when you're a kid, but musically it's so nuanced and hooky and melodic. It was very bubblegum, but at the same time it had so much depth and so much groove that it really planted the seed.

I love sad songs and hearing a sad song from Motown that was so hooky was like perfection to me.

BEST FIT: Did Motown as a label serve as influence for Easy Eye Sound?

It has in a way, and it also hasn't. I guess I love the efficiency of the label, I like how they have their own studio - that’s definitely the model. But all those labels, the really great labels, had their own studios, their own vision.

Labels like Arhoolie Records, those are really big influences. The way their album covers are so direct and graphic, I love that, and it's very cohesive. It's like the overall design of everything, something like Blue Note where it's like every record has its own soul but they all are cohesive.

“Foxy Lady” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

When I was in middle school, I was at a party and I heard “Foxy Lady” for the first time. I heard it playing from the other room and it just brought me into the room, I’ll never forget that sound, hearing it so primal and raw. I loved it.

I've never tried to play “Foxy Lady” and I never tried to play “Revolution” by The Beatles, I don't think they made me want to pick up the guitar, but they made me know that I love sounds. I never tried to dissect any of Hendrix’s recordings, honestly. This is all music that inspired me before I was a musician.

I listen to them all the time, it’s almost like a breather for me. I can listen to that stuff and not be dissecting it from start to finish. I can listen to it with my kids and just enjoy it. There's definitely nostalgia there, but I think it's just really good music. I think that’s why I go back to it over and over again.

“Revolution” by The Beatles

I put “Revolution” in the same category that I put ‘Foxy Lady’. I heard those two songs before I knew anything about guitar, but I was transfixed by the sound of it, and I didn't know what it was. I’d listen to it over and over again and think ‘Why do I love this song so much?’

It shares that ‘Foxy Lady’ thing, it was so bombastic and catchy, and it was the combination of the two that made my 14-year-old brain explode - I don't know what it was. I didn't know what John Lennon was talking about, didn’t know what he was saying - I probably had a lot of the words wrong because I was learning it phonetically. First and foremost, it’s how it made me feel initially. I think the best read is when you don't know anything and it makes you feel something.

The thing is, The Beatles are such a part of my DNA. I know every one of their songs. I don't even know which records they came off, because I would just listen to all the songs. I know all of them in my heart, I can always find something I like in a Beatles song.

I was writing with this guy one time, L. Russell Brown, in Nashville. He's a famous songwriter, he wrote “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree”. I said, “Doesn't this sound a little bit too much like the Beatles?” And he goes, “It doesn't sound enough like the Beatles!’

“Mind Playing Tricks on Me” by Geto Boys

“Mind Playing Tricks on Me” was the first piece of music I ever bought in a store. I bought the cassette single and I still have it. I bought it at Quonset Hut record shop, and I heard it at the school dance when I was in middle school.

This guy called Earl the Pearl was the DJ at my middle school and he had all the new rap hits, the clean versions on 12” single vinyl. It was awesome. This is middle school, so you're just like 13, 14 - a bunch of little dorks - and you get to go in there and eat candy, the music’s on and there's lights. It was pretty fun, you'd get to get out of school, get out of class and listen to music.

I can remember the first time I heard that song and it was mind-blowing. I loved it so much and I didn't know anything about it. I didn't know that it was an Isley Brothers sample, I didn't know what I was hearing, I just knew that I loved the voices, the way that the music sounded and felt. It was kind of lo-fi in a way, I didn't know what lo-fi was, but I knew that I liked how it sounded. So it was very influential at a time where I was very naïve and ripe.

BEST FIT: Is that the first time you really got into hip-hop?

Yeah, that would have been it. It would have been Geto Boys and Wreckx-N-Effect “Rump Shaker”, all that shit that was really popular when I was 14, because that was pop music, that’s what was popular.

At home I'd hear bluegrass, The Beatles and soul music, when I'd go to school I'd hear rap music and when you'd turn on the TV you’d hear rap on TV, because nobody watched Saturday Night Live, we watched In Living Color. That was the show. They had a new artist on every week and that's what all the kids were staying up watching. So it was a really fun, exciting time.

Something about “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” and rap music that I like feels in step with some of the other music I like, even something like “Numbers on the Boards” by Pusha T, it's not a sample but it almost feels old school in a way. I don't know what it is, but I know I gravitate towards that kind of stuff.

“Meet Me in the City” by Junior Kimbrough

That was from that Junior Kimbrough record All Night Long. It really fucked me up, because I was just starting to get into playing the guitar really heavy, and it was like a new type of guitar music and it was current. It wasn’t like old blues music, or when I'd listen to Howlin' Wolf - he's been dead for decades, so I'm just alone listening to Howlin' Wolf. These guys, R.L. Burnside, T-Model Ford, they would actually be in my town soon and it was awesome, it was living breathing musicians that played this raw style of Juke Joint music that I really loved.

This record in particular was so unique, in that I could hear all of his influences, but I could also hear how he was himself completely. I loved that about it.

BEST FIT: Is it important for you to deep dive into the influences in a track you’re into and learn more about it?

Well, I sort of already knew them, like old Hillbilly music, old gospel songs and stuff like that. Junior was really inspired by Hillbilly music, he and Charlie Feathers were best buds and they played music together a lot. And in a song like “Meet Me In The City”, you can hear that, and I love that, because that's what's so beautiful about the music - it’s like it's a melting pot, but there's something magical about that record.

I dropped out of school and all I did was play music after that record came out.

BEST FIT: When you signed to Fat Possum was the history of releasing records like Junior Kimbrough a draw for you?

Yes, we initially sent our first demo to Fat Possum and they never responded!

I was a huge fan of Fat Possum, and Matthew and Bruce, are to this day two of my favourite people from the music business, which is few and far between. This is a tough business, and those two guys are so unique and quirky, one of a kind. Matthew says the funniest shit I've ever heard in my life - that I can never repeat - and they're true characters, they’re the kind of characters that you read about. It's like they were created by Cormac McCarthy or something.

“Angel Band” by The Stanley Brothers and The Clinch Mountain Boys

“Angel Band” is a song that my mom's family would play, they all play bluegrass, and my uncle Jim is an amazing singer. He and Michael Jack play mandolin, Tim plays harmonica, Caroline plays bass and they all play bluegrass music.

They introduced me to The Stanley Brothers, they’re my favorite, the best singers of bluegrass in my opinion, and that's one of my favorite songs of theirs. We always sing that song.

BEST FIT: Do you remember the first time you heard it?

It was at family reunion when I was a baby. They'd be playing it and singing it and then I grew up and I started playing guitar, singing and playing with them - that would be one of the first times I ever probably sang in front of anybody.

I was really nervous, I still don't like to talk in front of people. It was never my goal to be on a stage, that was never a draw for me, and that was always a problem, so it's weird that I became successful at doing something that feels so awkward to me. When I'm with the Black Keys I’ve done it so much, it's fine, but if you put me on a stage to do something else, to go totally off the cuff and be a charismatic rock star guy on stage? I don't want to hear anybody do that.

“Sadie” by Hound Dog Taylor

When I was really getting into guitarists like Junior Kimbrough and stuff, I was searching for raw, stripped-down music and that was raw shit, those first couple of Hound Dog records.

I listened to him constantly. I used to play with a guy right before The Black Keys, I was playing weekly gigs all over Akron and Cleveland and wherever I could. I was making really good money playing local. I’d play a couple nights a week - if somebody needed a solo act that would play for three hours - and I could bring a little band and we could play it all.

I would play with this guy named Patrick Sweany and he was doing all these Hound Dog Taylor songs, so I would just play Hound Dog Taylor songs over and over again, playing the Brewer Phillips parts - the rhythm parts - and it was really fun, I love that stuff.

I’d listen those records non-stop driving back and forth to the gigs, listening to them, memorising every little fucking creak of the chair and everything. I love that song, I ended up naming my daughter Sadie because I love that song so much.

“Shot Down” by The Sonics

When we started playing clubs and we were touring in a minivan, we were listening to The Sonics all the time, it was just a banger. I loved that song. It starts with my favorite riff of all time, it’s simple and the whole aesthetic was so perfect to me.

That was before even The Black Keys, I would be going to the Beachland Tavern and I'd go see The Greenhornes play - they'd play “Shot Down”, and I was like, ‘Those guys are fucking great.’ And seeing them in a little 100 capacity bar was so, so good, so influential.

That place, the Beachland Tavern and Ballroom in Cleveland was owned by Mark and Cindy, and they were amazing people. They had great taste and every time you'd go up, they'd hip you to something - they had a record shop in the basement.

BEST FIT: Do you still go to record shops to find new music?

I mean, I'll find music any way. I feel like Spotify has gotten way better at suggesting good stuff, but I honestly find more music on YouTube than anywhere else. There's more 45’s and unknown 45’s, on YouTube than anywhere and it's incredible.

“Ode to a Blackman” by The Dirtbombs

That was a really influential time for me, going to The Beachland and seeing shows. The Dirtbombs would go play and they were so fucking great, Mick Collins is such a good singer and the band was fucking great. It's the first time I saw a double drum kit and I loved it, I loved how it looked, how it sounded. So it's influential, and I love that song.

I was going to shows all the time, every week. We lived in Akron and not a whole lot would go on, but we were 45 minutes from Cleveland and Cleveland is where everything would come so I'd drive to Cleveland all the time, just to go see music.

I heard “Ode to a Black Man” on the record before seeing it live. Ultraglide in Black was a badass record. I loved it when it came out and I still love that record, I love their version, I love Mick’s voice on it, I love everything about it. I never heard the original, I didn't know it. I never listened to Thin Lizzy.

Electrophonic Chronic is released 27 January via Easy Eye Sound

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