Dan ­Auerbach: Of Heroes, the Dead and ­Total Jerks

It’s not every day that someone starts jamming with a high school friend, works on it long enough and becomes successful. That, in a nutshell, is the story of Dan ­Auerbach and The Black Keys. The forty-three-year-old musician also owns his own recording studio in Nashville, runs a record label and is the frontman for his side project The Arcs. He’s also got two ex-wives and recently dedicated an album to a dead friend. In other words, it was a special conversation.

  • Interview
    Marcel Anders
  • Photo
    © Jim Herrington

Dan Auerbach is one of the busiest musicians of our time. With his original band, The Black Keys, he brought the blues back into rock consciousness, with The Arcs he is making catchy, psychedelic garage rock, and as a producer, he’s leaving a serious mark on the rock sound of our time. Electrophonic Chronic is the name of The Arcs’ second album. It is a tribute to band member Richard Swift, who died in 2018. Swift was also part of The Black Keys’ live band for some time, among other projects, and worked as a producer, singer and songwriter. 

So what’s the story behind the songs for Electrophonic Chronic? How did they come about?

We recorded them while Richard was still alive, so it was right after we did the first album. Basically, any time that we were together, we would get into the studio and record. If we were driving through Oregon, we’d stop at Swift’s house and record. Same in Nashville. There we’d go to my Easy Eye Studio. Or Leon Michels’ studio in New York. We were always finding an excuse to record.

Even in Europe?

Yeah. Like “Backstage Mess” – that’s a recording taken from backstage at our Paris show. It was totally impromptu. We were just hanging out, messing around. That’s the fun of being around all these super creative people from The Arcs. You can come up with music at any time.

© Laura E. Partain
© Laura E. Partain
“We had the same promoter as the Eagles of Death Metal, and we were booked at the Bataclan first but then he switched us at the last minute. He didn’t even really know why. It was heavy.”
That show in Paris was on the day of the terrorist attacks in 2015. Is it true you were originally scheduled to perform at the Bataclan that evening? What are your memories of that day?

Oh, that’s insane. We had the same promoter as the Eagles of Death Metal, and we were booked at the Bataclan first but then he switched us at the last minute. He didn’t even really know why. He just said, “I felt like maybe you should be in this place and they should be in that place.” It was heavy. We played the show, and it was incredible, and it wasn’t until we got off stage that any of us found out what had happened. It was the last time I was in Europe.

Is that because of some kind of trauma?

The Arcs haven’t toured since then. And with The Black Keys, we’ve gotten a bit more picky-choosey with our touring. We’re just touring less these days in general.

It took you five years after Richard Swift’s death to put out the new album . . .

We were all busy doing our own things, and the music just sat there. And consequently, we never really spoke about Richard’s death, and we never really dealt with it properly. Opening up these tapes and listening to these old recordings and hearing Richard’s voice, hearing him laughing, hearing him playing, that was very helpful for me. I know it was helpful for Leon, too, to have some sort of closure.

Were you close?

We were like brothers, you know? I knew I could always look to him for real guidance, and he was endlessly supportive and the funniest person I’ve ever met in my life. He was a comedian. And it’s just a great tragedy that he’s gone.

How unique a musician and producer was he?

He was a savant, a musical genius. He could sing like a bird, he could play drums like Al Jackson, he would get on the keyboards and play beautiful melodies, and he could play the piano like Harry Nilsson. He was sickeningly talented, and I loved being around him.

→ Read the whole story in rampstyle #28 »Into the Great Wide Open«.

rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open

rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open

Ein exklusives Fashion Editorial mit Tim Bendzko. Bislang ungesehene Bilder der Fotografin Anouk Masson Krantz. Ein Gespräch mit Star-Regisseur Guy Ritchie und das etwas andere Interview mit Musiker Dan Auerbach. All das und vieles mehr erwartet Sie in dieser Ausgabe der rampstyle.

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