Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach Talks New Solo Album, ‘Waiting On a Song’
“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done, but it still makes sense.”
That’s how nine-time Grammy winner Dan Auerbach describes his new album, Waiting On a Song, which will be released June 2 on his own Easy Eye Sound label.
Waiting On a Song is the followup to the Black Keys frontman’s 2009 solo debut, Keep It Hid. It’s also a love letter to Nashville; Auerbach recruited some of the town’s most respected players to write and record for the new project, including John Prine, Duane Eddy and Bobby Wood. Even Mark Knopfler contributes his own snaky, snarling guitar to “Shine On Me,” which you can hear below.
Other standout tracks include the cinematic “King of a One Horse Town” and the upbeat but melancholy title track. The song’s music video—which was directed by Bryan Schlam—reinforces that perspective by following a group of teens during the “best summer of their lives” before they head off to college.
I recently spoke with Auerbach about Waiting On a Song, songwriting, his gear and more.
When you experience Waiting On a Song as a whole, there are so many different styles and influences from the Sixties and Seventies that come across. Was that the intent?
A lot of what you’re hearing is the guys from those records that you remember listening to, like Bobby Wood, who plays Wurlitzer on this record, also played on hits by Elvis and Dusty Springfield. When you listen to this record you’re not being reminded of a certain style. You’re actually listening to the guy who created the style.
What’s your songwriting process like?
It all depends. Sometimes, you have a melody first or a lyric, and other times it can just be a title and you can write a whole song based on it. What I do know is that every single song on this record was done in an old-school, “songwriter” way of getting into a room with someone and writing a song on acoustic guitar or just on a piano. I’m so used to having the studio be a part of the writing process, but not on this record. Everything was done ahead of time, which is really interesting because it was the first time I’ve ever done that.
When I was growing up, we’d sit around in a circle and play guitar and sing bluegrass and blues songs. Now, I’m sitting in a circle with the guys who wrote many of those bluegrass and blues songs and we’re writing together. Even though it was the first time I did it, something about it felt very natural.
Let’s discuss a few tracks from the new album, beginning with the title track.
I’ve got a little room over at my house that we started writing in last summer. I spent the whole summer in that room just writing, and I wrote that one with John Prine and Pat McLaughlin. The concept for the video was director Bryan Schlam’s idea. He executed it so well. Even if you didn’t grow up during that time period, everything those guys and girls are doing makes you feel nostalgic. There’s something warm about the video, but the feeling of it really matches the song in an uplifting, melancholy way.
“Shine On Me” has a guest appearance by Mark Knopfler. How did that come about?
I recorded that song, and when we went into the control room and listened back, it sounded like it needed Mark Knopfler on rhythm guitar. So we made a rough mix and I sent it to him. Two days later he sent it back with the guitar on it. I felt like anything was possible with this year and was just so thrilled to be working with guys like Mark, Duane Eddy, Bobby Wood and Gene Chrisman.
“King of a One Horse Town”
That’s the first time you hear Duane on the record. For me, the song is very cinematic, intimate and in your face. There’s something old-school about the sound. It’s almost hi-fi and open at times. I love hearing Duane in that setting. It’s a good place for him to be.
Do you have plans to tour in support of Waiting on a Song?
This was more of a recording project, so I don’t have any plans at the moment. We did do a show in Brooklyn recently to see if we wanted to play some more shows, and everyone loved it. We’ll see what happens. I will be opening for John Prine for a few weekends this year, which will be amazing. He’s such a great guy.
What’s your guitar setup like?
At the Brooklyn show I used my Telecaster, which I’ve had for years. I’ve been using it in the studio forever but had never played it out live. I brought that along with a Deluxe Reverb Blackface and my Everly Brothers acoustic.
Was having a career in music something you always aspired to do?
I knew I wanted to do music but didn’t know I wanted to have a career. Music was the thing that stuck with me and I felt a connection to. It was something I could understand at an early age. My dad had a great record collection and my mom played piano and all of her brothers and sisters played bluegrass. Every time the family got together, they would sing all of these great songs. That’s what made me want to play guitar and sing.
Are there any other projects you’re working on?
I’ve got my label, Easy Eye Sound, that I started to put out my record as well as a few other guitar-oriented albums I produced that will be out later this year.
What satisfies you the most about Waiting On a Song?
Every single second of making this record felt so good and was something I needed to do. Last summer, I made a conscious decision to not tour and to be home and play and record and not worry about anything else. I turned down a lot of work but it was so worth it. One of the biggest things these older musicians taught me was to not think about things too much and to get out of my own way. It’s not about doing anything technical. It’s about how it feels.
ames Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.