Catching Up With... Dan Auerbach

Music Features Dan Auerbach
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Dan Auerbach is busy. So busy, he doesn’t remember the last time he took a vacation. And even if he had the time to take one, he finds it hard to figure out where he’d go or what he’d do. But this doesn’t really bother him, if only because he’s gotten to work on so many great music projects lately. “I got to make so many different records last year with different bands, and I just love doing it,” he says.

Auerbach, best known as guitarist and vocalist for the Akron, Ohio blues-rock duo The Black Keys, is set to release his solo debut album, Keep It Hid, on Nonesuch Records tomorrow (Feb. 10). Paste caught up with hirsute frontman shortly after returning home from a tour in Australia with The Black Keys.

Paste: You had a huge year with The Black Keys with the release of a new album, Attack and Release, and a live DVD, as well as a tour. How did you find the time to work on a solo project?
Dan Auerbach: It’s what I do, you know? I love playing music. I have a studio, and that’s what I do in my spare time when I’m home. [laughs]

Paste: With a young daughter, how are you balancing the family aspect of your life with all of your music projects?
Auerbach: Well, it’s not easy. It’s definitely not easy. But all the projects I do that are not touring are in Akron. That makes it fine—it’s just like having a day job. But it’s touring that can really take its toll and really suck. So we put limits on the amount of touring we’ll do—limits on the amount of time that any one particular tour is. Generally, they’re two to three weeks max. Nothing longer than that. And after our tour, we have to have at least three weeks off.

Paste: You’ve been putting a lot of work into The Black Keys lately, so what sparked your initial interest in pursuing a solo project?
Auerbach: Well, pretty much 90 percent of the songs that are The Black Keys songs start of as my own songs, really, especially on the new records. Pretty much everything from Rubber Factory onward has been less about me and Pat [Carney] just jamming songs into a song, and more about me working on my own, trying to get the song together, and then bringing it to Pat to turn it into a Black Keys song. I’ve always been recording, I’ve just never had an opportunity to put out a record. I’ve been so busy. So there was this window of opportunity, and I just did it. So I’ve got songs from four, three, two years ago that I recorded with a full band, and then would just never see the light of day. And I just thought that was a shame. And I love to play music. I love to play music with my family, with my friends. I like playing in a full band because I like that interplay. So I really wanted to do that. That’s something I don’t get to do with The Black Keys.

Paste: You mentioned that some of the songs on the new album are from several years ago. What was the timeline like for recording?
Auerbach: Well, the recording was all in the last seven months. I picked the songs I wanted to be on the record and just re-recorded them.

Paste: And what was the process of the recording like? Did you record in Akron?
Auerbach: I recorded all of them in Akron, except for one song—“When the Night Comes.” I recorded that in San Diego at my friend’s studio. And everything else was recorded in my studio in Akron. Some of them were just me, and some of them were with a band. That was me and some other friends and family—my uncle playing guitar or second guitar, a drummer and an upright bass player from Cleveland who played on a couple of songs, and he was really great.

Paste: So what was it like working with your family on the album?
Auerbach: It was cool. My Uncle Jim was the one who taught me how to play guitar and taught me to sing when I was 15. So having him on the record, just he and I on the first song—I didn’t really do it on purpose, but I guess it is really representative of who I am and where I came from because it’s the beginning of the record and it represents the beginning of my musical career, when I was 14 and 15 and he was showing me how to play guitar and we were singing.

Paste: Are you steering your daughter in any particular musical direction at a young age? Do you have any hopes about where she’ll go musically?
Auerbach: She’s too young right now to really tell what she likes best, but she just seems to like it all. Anything that’s physical—she likes to pound on the piano keys, she likes to play the drums. Guitar doesn’t really interest her too much because it’s not so easy.

Paste: Anything in particular that she likes to listen to?
Auerbach: She likes anything, really. Anytime you turn on music, she’ll start dancing no matter what it is. Anything coming out of the speakers represents dancing to her.

Paste: How old is she now?
Auerbach: Seventeen months.

Paste: You mentioned that you did much of the recording for the album on your own, and you play many different instruments on the album. What’s the set-up going to be like when you’re playing live shows?
Auerbach: It’s going to be a six-piece band. It’s going to be two drummers, two guitars, bass and an organ, and there’s going to be harmonies too. So I’m really excited about that. All these themes in the record, I’m going to be able to continue that live, and even expand on it, improvisation, and all that, things I don’t get to do with The Black Keys. It’s going to be fun.

Paste: I wanted to talk about a few tracks that stood out in particular to me on the album—“Trouble Weighs a Ton,” “When the Night Comes” and “Goin’ Home.” I thought that they were pretty different from what most of your fans are probably used to hearing. Why did you choose to go in the acoustic direction for these songs—something a little different than what would probably be expected?
Auerbach: When I was first making the record, I thought I was going to make the whole record like that. But then I just had so much fun playing electric stuff that I just thought, we’ll put everything on there and try to make it fit. I love that kind of music. I love playing with The Black Keys, and it’s such a privilege to be so successful with it, but on the other hand, it would be crazy to think that just because I’m in The Black Keys, that’s the only thing I’m interested in. That’s just nonsense. I’ve had a lot of people say, “Why didn’t you just make a Black Keys record?” [laughs] but without really listening and taking into account all the different things that are on the record. It’s like if an actor were only allowed to make a movie with the same cast as the same character for the rest of his life. It’s very strange that people think like that.

Paste: So you’ve done some production work for some bands, including Iowa’s Radio Moscow and Nebraska’s Brimstone Howl. How did you get involved with these bands and start working with them?
Auerbach: I think (for Brimstone Howl), I heard a song on the Internet and contacted them. I thought they were so good—kind of this weird garage rock with these religious undertones. Overtones. Would it be undertones? [laughs] I think it’d be undertones. And I just thought they were great, so I contacted them. Some other bands contacted me. Hacienda contacted me. They gave me a demo when I was on tour with The Black Keys. Jessica Lea Mayfield—I contacted her when I was home one time, and the Buffalo Killers, I’m just friends with them. The Ettes, I’m friends with them and just got in touch with them by hanging out.

Paste: What’s the extent of the work that you’ve done with these different bands?
Auerbach: Usually I do all the engineering, all the recording, the producing and the mixing. It’s everything. Producing is sort of different for different bands. Some bands want more help, some bands don’t need it. But it varies.

Paste: Do you have big plans coming up for other producing projects?
Auerbach: I do. I’m doing the next Hacienda record. We’re halfway through it. I’ve got to start mixing that right now. And then I’ve got a few other projects that I can’t really talk about. I don’t want to jinx it, but they’re pretty cool and are gonna be really fun. And it’s starting to get to the point where I’m having to turn people away because I just don’t have enough time to do all these things.

Paste: So I guess we’ll have to wait to hear about those other projects you’re working on, but do you have anything else to add?
Auerbach: Yeah, sorry. Nothing really. Just the Jessica Lea Mayfield record that is on my label that I’m still promoting, and she’s touring. She just got a tour with Ray LaMontagne that she’s gonna do in a couple months. I think they’re gonna use one of her songs on Gossip Girl. I don’t know if you watch that. [laughs]

Paste: I haven’t watched it.
Auerbach: I’ve never seen it, but apparently it’s a popular show.