Scott Goldman and Dan Auerbach
Photo: Alison Buck/Getty Images
Dan Auerbach | "Required Listening" Podcast
Considering the wild success of The Black Keys over the past decade, you might imagine Dan Auerbach felt a certain amount of pressure in stepping away from the duo to build his own career as an artist and producer. To the contrary, Auerbach has soared fearlessly. As a producer, he's worked with Dr. John, Ray LaMontagne, Lana Del Rey, Cage The Elephant, and The Pretenders, to name just a few. Auerbach even took home the GRAMMY for Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards. Not bad.
But perhaps Auerbach is at his most comfortable on his latest solo album, 2017's Waiting On A Song, a decidedly "sunny" album, as "Required Listening" podcast host Scott Goldman, Executive Director of the GRAMMY Museum, calls it in the series' latest episode. Auerbach and Goldman dove into the inspirations and collaborations behind Waiting On A Song, starting with where exactly the joy behind the album's comes from.
"I think that these songs, this collection of songs, it does have an uplifting feeling to it. It's a direct result of how I felt when I made the music," says Auerbach. "It was pure joy every day. At home, in the studio, writing and recording with some of these musicians who have made some of my favorite records of all time. I was elated every day."
The spirit in these songs reflect this contentment, but they also let shine through the light from some key collaborators. And while Auerbach has established himself as a master collaborator in recent years, the actual practice of co-writing was relatively new to him. And what better way to dive into it than linking up with songwriting legend, John Prine?
"I didn't even really know what co-writing was all about until a year and a half ago," admits Auerbach. "I'm really comfortable with it because the thing about it is it should be easy. If you get paired with the right person and you have the right chemistry, that's what you're looking for, someone to help the momentum grow. And I met some people like that. I could've gotten together with Prine and maybe nothing would've happened, but it did. It worked. And we wrote six or seven songs together."
Another marquee name appearing on the album's credits is Dire Straits' guitar hero Mark Knopfler on "Shine On Me." From the first clean string plucks, Knopfler's tone is immediately identifiable. As it turns out, Auerbach came into the collaboration remotely, which left the song in Knopfler's capable hands.
"I could hear it on the song. So that night, we did a rough mix, I sent it to my manager, and I said, 'Can you please find Mark Knopfler and send him this song? And ask him very nicely if he would want to participate in any way,'" says Auerbach. "I didn't give him any instructions or anything, and then two days later, we got the song back with his guitar on it… Mark came through and it was awesome because he did exactly what the song needed too, which was so interesting… You send it to a guitar player and you assume that the guitar player is going to do a guitar solo. He didn't. He just played the rhythm guitar. That's what the song needed. That's all it needed. He knew what it needed."
Knowing who to ask to play on what is one of many key responsibilities of the producer, and Auerbach placed all the right calls on Waiting On A Song. Unsurprisingly, his acute musical judgment comes from having a rich background and understanding of rock and roll history.
"Well, my dad had a record collection and that was stocked. He was like an old hippie, so Grateful Dead was on all the time. Allman Brothers were on all the time. He had The Beatles on all the time. But then he also played Sam Cooke and Otis Redding and Louis Jordan," says Auerbach. "It was the combination of all that plus whatever's on the radio. I swear to God I know every Tom Petty song. I've never even owned a Tom Petty record."
Auerbach's latest solo effort plays like a focused culmination of all of these influences and experiences. He skillfully navigates the fine line of integrating the styles of those who inspire him while letting the artist within steer the ship.
"It's like the more things change, the more they stay the same," says Auerbach. "I feel like I have learned so many things and I've gotten better, but my base instincts are kind of still the same as they've always been. …I feel like my DNA was fixed a long time ago and I still always go back to certain things that I do that are just a part of who I am, musically."
Listen to the full interview on "Required Listening" podcast HERE.