As frontman of The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach’s raw, hard-driving guitar defined the sound that made the duo among the biggest rock acts of the past decade.
Releasing an album on Friday under the new name The Arcs, Auerbach has drifted into a greater variety of influences including soul and psychedelia.
Auerbach insists that the debut album by The Arcs, entitled Yours, Dreamily, is not just a continuation but instead an exploration with a new set of musicians.
“It’s not a solo album — it’s a new band, because we wrote all the songs and all the music together,” the blond-haired, thick-bearded artist said on a recent trip to Paris.
The Arcs mark Auerbach’s growing focus on the studio side of music.
Along with his busy career in The Black Keys, the Nashville-based guitarist has produced an eclectic range of major artists including dark pop diva Lana Del Rey, New Orleans funk legend Dr John and California indie rocker Hanni El Khatib.
Other members of The Arcs include Leon Michels, a saxophonist and producer who worked with Amy Winehouse, and Richard Swift, who has played bass with The Black Keys but is best known for his rural Oregon studio where he has recorded acts including rockers The Shins and singer-songwriter Damien Jurado.
“The thing with The Arcs is that it’s just very pure,” Auerbach said. “It’s all fun, it’s just like my best friends, and some of the only people that I trust musically.”
Band of producers
As producers, Auerbach said that he and his new bandmates had for years recorded songs to share together for their own enjoyment.
The Arcs came together during an encounter with Michels.
“I got together with Leon to catalogue the songs that we recorded, because we didn’t really know what we had. And added all up, put all together, we had 75 songs,” said Auerbach, who took the Grammy for Producer of the Year in 2013.
“We sat at a computer and we decided that we had to put this music out. Let’s just give this thing a name and an identity,” he said.
The band’s name was not complex — it comes from a song on the 14-track album called The Arc.
“It started like a stupid joke but then we liked it, and we started thinking about it — four letters, simple,” he said.
Trippy rock and soul
The sound of The Arcs will be partially familiar to fans of The Black Keys — a blues base with, on songs such as The Arc, charging solo guitars that defy the contemporary push for tidy studio production.
But Yours, Dreamily, heads into the sound of ballroom soul on tracks such as Stay in My Corner and the erotic Come and Go.
The music turns trippy on Put a Flower in Your Pocket, with a chorus offering a tongue-in-cheek precaution about dogs, and perhaps life: “They may pretend they like you / But man’s best friend will bite you.”
The album also features a collaboration with the Mariachi Flor De Toloache, the New York-based mariachi group that, in contrast to most such groups in Mexico, comprises only women.
The sound moves Auerbach further away from fellow Nashville-based garage rockers The White Stripes, whose frontman Jack White has made no secret of his disdain at being often lumped together with The Black Keys.
The Black Keys — formed by Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney in their hometown of Akron, Ohio — won a global fan base in the 2000s through extensive touring.
The band’s last album, Turn Blue, came out last year and also showed a growing interest in psychedelic rock, as well as a darker lyrical turn indicative of Auerbach’s divorce at the time.
The Black Keys played a number of summer festivals this year but the band was forced to cancel shows in Australia, New Zealand and Japan as well as a larger European tour after Carney injured his shoulder.
Auerbach said he was unconcerned with Black Keys fans’ reaction to The Arcs, explaining that the project was more about the artists’ desire to make music than making money.
“Some fans will like it, some fans will love it, some will hate it. I don’t care,” he said.
The project also allows The Black Keys to take a vacation. As for whether he will record again with Carney, Auerbach said: “I’ll think about it later.”