PHOTO: Rich Fury / Staff
From The Black Keys To Behind The Board: How Dan Auerbach's Production Work Ripples Through The Music Community
In addition to his GRAMMY-winning work as one half of the Black Keys, Dan Auerbach has made waves through his production work at his Nashville studio, Easy Eye Sound
Imagine the world's music producers and engineers in a line, then mark one end "Least Finicky" and the other "Most Finicky." After you reorganize them on that spectrum, who would be closer to one end, or the other? Nearer to "Most Finicky" might be well-known eccentrics like Todd Rundgren, Brian Wilson or Prince — on the other end, perhaps Gary Kellgren, the incredulous engineer who hit "record" and walked out while the Velvet Underground recorded "Sister Ray."
In many aspects of record-making, more often than not, you want a happy medium. Somebody invested, who cares, who listens, but who doesn't sacrifice happy accidents or the natural flow of creativity. And somewhere in that Goldilocks zone — not only of attentiveness, but of attunement to the future and the past — is Dan Auerbach, who has been producing and releasing records through his studio/label, Easy Eye Sound, since 2017.
"I think Dan is unafraid to embrace tradition, but is also not a purist," singer/songwriter and drummer Aaron Frazer, whose 2021 debut solo album Introducing… was produced by Auerbach, tells GRAMMY.com. "That's a really rare combination. He has an obsessive eye and ear for details, but he's playful with the boundaries between old-school and contemporary."
Of course, Auerbach is best known as one half of the Ohioan blues-rockers the Black Keys, who have garnered four GRAMMY Awards and 11 nominations across a quarter century-long career. In 2021, they dropped the beautifully ragged hill country covers album Delta Kream, which was nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards. (Their latest album, Dropout Boogie, is due out May 13.)
But that's not Auerbach's only presence on the GRAMMY nominations list. Guess who produced Yola's "Diamond Studded Shoes," the singer/songwriter's Stand For Myself cut that's nominated for Best American Roots Song? You guessed it. And outside of that list, Auerbach produced a litany of albums in the last year and change, from Introducing… to the Velveteers' Nightmare Daydream and Hank Williams, Jr.'s Rich White Honky Blues — all of which only bolster his reputation as a primary hub of roots music innovation and preservation in the 2020s.
Auerbach doesn't puff himself up one iota when reflecting on his rapidly expanding legacy, or his place in the universe of record production. "I feel like it would be hard to answer that question without sounding totally pretentious," Auerbach tells GRAMMY.com. "I just feel very fortunate that I get to make records with artists that I love, and people that blow me away. Getting to work with these different artists makes my life better, so I hope that I return the favor when I work with artists."
Despite this breezy magnanimity, Auerbach is a dead-serious student of the blues, both working with modern practitioners like Robert Finley and curating long-lost recordings by progenitor Son House. On top of it all, he’s a workaholic, notes Patrick Carney, Auerbach's partner in the Black Keys.
"He's able to work at a pace that most people couldn't fathom, as far as the amount of projects he's juggling at any given time," Carney tells GRAMMY.com. "I think he needs that outlet. It's just as important to him as the Black Keys, and I know that and support it wholeheartedly."
Frazer came to work with Auerbach in the least ceremonious way possible — which comports with Auerbach's who-me? vibe. "Dan called me directly on the phone while I was frying some plantains in my kitchen," Frazer says, placing the year around 2006 or '07. "That's a little different than how things normally work. With bigger artists like that, sometimes there's so much bureaucracy — it's label to management to management to label to artist, blah blah blah.
"But, God, he just called me directly," he continues. "He said that he had heard my music and loved the style, and wanted to make a record together." This was surreal for Frazer, who says he learned to drive and sing at the same time while belting Black Keys songs in his car.
In the studio, Auerbach blew Frazer's mind by bringing in studio cats of the highest order — including keyboardist Bobby Wood, who played on Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man," and Nick Movshon, widely known as a bassist with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. "He was bringing together people to bring out the best in an artist," Frazer says.
Frazer will never forget one piece of advice Auerbach laid on him before the session musicians arrived. "He was basically like, 'These musicians will play for you, and they will play exactly what you want them to play. But my advice is to first give them the room to explore and maybe find their own take on it first, because once you've been told a direction, you can't replace first impression, first inspiration.'"
Shannon Shaw — who leads of the rock band Shannon and the Clams, who released their Auerbach-produced album Year of the Spider last year, and whose 2018 solo effort, Shannon In Nashville, was similarly produced at Easy Eye — also recalls Auerbach's cogent in-studio advice. Again, that Goldilocks zone: Auerbach's input was clear and straightforward, but never harsh.
"Something I like about Dan is that he does not beat around the bush," Shaw tells GRAMMY.com. "He says exactly what he means — there's no tip-toeing, and he's very direct, which was really good for me. I don't remember him ever saying, 'That's not good.' He'd say, 'Why don't you try something else?' It was always positive and encouraging."
Shaw particularly remembers one moment that made "It's Gonna Go Away" (off 2016's Onion) pop — which is straight from the playbook of the most impactful blues and rock songs. "I wrote a chorus, and the chorus felt so good — it felt so right. I wanted the chorus to happen two or three times," she recalls. "And Dan was like, 'That chorus is so powerful, that you should only do it once."
At first, Shaw thought that would be counterintuitive — it didn't naturally spring from her voice and guitar like that. "I was like, 'No! That's not satisfying! I need it to happen!'" she says. "But Dan's approach was really good for me to learn, because it does make it stand out or feel more important if it only happens once."
That's how Auerbach works his magic — not only by engendering satisfying sounds, enlisting the right musicians, and offering germane advice, but stripping things to their very essence when need be. That's the magic of the blues, and why the Black Keys mean so much to so many. It's also why Auerbach is rising and rising as a producer, and his GRAMMY presence in that department only seems to be getting started.
The Black Keys At Quicken Loans Arena
Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.
By Julian Ring
Who is the average Black Keys fan? I thought I knew. To say the blues-rock duo's audience consists primarily of white males in their 20s and 30s wouldn't be inaccurate, and prior to the band's Sept. 6 concert in Cleveland, I would have expected as much; White Stripes holdovers, sincere blues aficionados and garage-rock enthusiasts could have easily filled Quicken Loans Arena to capacity. Yet this stop on the band's latest tour — behind their eighth studio album, the ambitious Turn Blue — signaled the dawn of a new era for the Keys' appeal.
Now nearly 14 years into their career, the Black Keys have grown from a raw two-man act into a Danger Mouse-produced institution, adding lush instrumentation and increasingly catchy melodies to their Ohio-borne, grit-earth rock. And as the size of their headlining tours grows along with their repertoire, so has the diversity of their fanbase. At their 2012 performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, fans likely didn't see a 7-year-old girl playing air guitar along with Dan Auerbach's piercing solos. On this night, a young fan was loud and proud, cheering and pumping her fist as if to say, "These are my rock and roll heroes" — while her father, the good sport that he was, tapped his foot along with Patrick Carney's spastic, plodding rhythms.
Their set list was short yet backed with classics and rarities. While the Black Keys largely skirted around Turn Blue's deeper cuts, pulling out fan favorites such as "Your Touch" and a surprising "Leavin' Trunk." Equally unexpected was a cover of Edwyn Collins' "A Girl Like You," performed under hot-pink rotating psychedelic lights and sounding bluesy enough to be a selection from their own catalog. Newer cuts, including "Gold On The Ceiling," as well as 2010's Brothers highlights "She's Long Gone" and "Howlin' For You" provoked the crowd into a frenzy of shouted choruses as the band's elaborate lighting rig pumped the dark arena full of white heat.
Somber guitar and soulful vocals converged during "Little Black Submarines," the night's dramatic centerpiece and the best display of Auerbach's unvarnished musicality. As he sang the lyrics "Everybody knows/That a broken heart is blind," Auerbach (who is reportedly happy married with kids) sounded as if he was delivering this revelation in the midst of retreat, having returned from some deeply wounding romantic encounter.
"We'd like to thank [the Cleveland Cavaliers'] LeBron [James] for letting us use his house for the evening," Auerbach joked early in the night. Such a titanic comparison wasn't the least bit unwarranted as basketball's biggest star likely didn't mind a stopover from one of rock's biggest bands. And judging by the eager screams and camera flashes when the Black Keys concluded their first set, neither did the rest of Cleveland.
"Dead And Gone"
"Run Right Back"
"Same Old Thing"
"Gold On The Ceiling"
"It's Up To You Now"
"Too Afraid To Love You"
"A Girl Like You" (Edwyn Collins cover)
"Howlin' For You"
"Gotta Get Away"
"She's Long Gone"
"Little Black Submarines"
"I Got Mine"
(A music journalist from the San Francisco Bay Area, Julian Ring is an alumnus of the Medill Northwestern Journalism Institute and currently studies English and rhetoric and composition at Ohio's Oberlin College. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal and The Oakland Tribune, as well as on GRAMMY.com. Ring currently serves as a staff writer at Consequence of Sound and is the managing editor of his college newspaper, The Oberlin Review.)
Dan Auerbach, Fun., Jay-Z, Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean, Kanye West Lead 55th GRAMMY Nominations
The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Fun., Jay-Z, Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean, and Kanye West lead diverse field with six GRAMMY nominations each; the Black Keys, Chick Corea and Miguel earn five nominations each
Nominations for the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards were announced tonight by The Recording Academy and reflected an eclectic mix of the best and brightest in music over the past year, as determined by the voting members of The Academy. For the fifth year, nominations for the annual GRAMMY Awards were announced on primetime television as part of "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night," a one-hour CBS entertainment special broadcast live for the first time ever from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Fun., Jay-Z, Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean, and Kanye West top the nominations with six each; the Black Keys, Chick Corea and Miguel each garner five nods; and producer Jeff Bhasker, mastering engineer Bob Ludwig and Nas are each up for four awards.
"The GRAMMY Awards process once again has produced a diverse and impressive list of nominations across multiple genres," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "This year's nominees truly represent an exceptional and vibrant creative community that exemplifies some of the highest levels of artistry and excellence in their respective fields. Combined with the fifth year of our primetime nominations special, we're off to an exciting start on the road to Music's Biggest Night, the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards, on February 10."
Following are the nominations in the General Field categories:
Record Of The Year:
"Lonely Boy" — The Black Keys
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" — Kelly Clarkson
"We Are Young" — Fun. featuring Janelle Monáe
"Somebody That I Used To Know" — Gotye featuring Kimbra
"Thinkin Bout You" — Frank Ocean
"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" — Taylor Swift
Album Of The Year:
El Camino — The Black Keys
Some Nights — Fun.
Babel — Mumford & Sons
Channel Orange — Frank Ocean
Blunderbuss — Jack White
Song Of The Year:
"The A Team" — Ed Sheeran, songwriter (Ed Sheeran)
"Adorn" — Miguel Pimentel, songwriter (Miguel)
"Call Me Maybe" — Tavish Crowe, Carly Rae Jepsen & Josh Ramsay, songwriters (Carly Rae Jepsen)
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" — Jörgen Elofsson, David Gamson, Greg Kurstin & Ali Tamposi, songwriters (Kelly Clarkson)
"We Are Young" — Jack Antonoff, Jeff Bhasker, Andrew Dost & Nate Ruess, songwriters (Fun. featuring Janelle Monáe)
Best New Artist:
Following is a sampling of nominations in the GRAMMY Awards' other 29 Fields:
For Best Pop Solo Performance, the nominees are "Set Fire To The Rain (Live)" by Adele; "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" by Kelly Clarkson; "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen; "Wide Awake" by Katy Perry; and "Where Have You Been" by Rihanna.
The nominees for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance are "Shake It Out" by Florence & The Machine; "We Are Young" by Fun. featuring Janelle Monáe; "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye featuring Kimbra; "Sexy And I Know It" by LMFAO; and "Payphone" by Maroon 5 & Wiz Khalifa.
For Best Dance/Electronica Album, the nominees are Wonderland by Steve Aoki; Don't Think by the Chemical Brothers; > Album Title Goes Here < by Deadmau5; Fire & Ice by Kaskade; and Bangarang by Skrillex.
The nominees for Best Rock Performance are "Hold On" by Alabama Shakes; "Lonely Boy" by the Black Keys; "Charlie Brown" by Coldplay; "I Will Wait" by Mumford & Sons; and "We Take Care Of Our Own" by Bruce Springsteen.
For Best Alternative Music Album, the nominees are The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do by Fiona Apple; Biophilia by Björk; Making Mirrors by Gotye; Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. by M83; and Bad As Me by Tom Waits.
The nominees for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration are "Wild Ones" by Flo Rida featuring Sia; "No Church In The Wild" by Jay-Z & Kanye West featuring Frank Ocean & The-Dream; "Tonight (Best You Ever Had)" by John Legend featuring Ludacris; "Cherry Wine" by Nas featuring Amy Winehouse; and "Talk That Talk" by Rihanna featuring Jay-Z.
For Best Country Album, the nominees are Uncaged by Zac Brown Band; Hunter Hayes by Hunter Hayes; Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran by Jamey Johnson; Four The Record by Miranda Lambert; and The Time Jumpers by the Time Jumpers.
The nominees for Best Americana Album are The Carpenter by the Avett Brothers; From The Ground Up by John Fullbright; The Lumineers by the Lumineers; Babel by Mumford & Sons; and Slipstream by Bonnie Raitt.
This year's Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical nominations go to Dan Auerbach, Jeff Bhasker, Diplo, Markus Dravs, and Salaam Remi.
This year's GRAMMY Awards process registered more than 17,000 submissions over a 12-month eligibility period (Oct. 1, 2011 – Sept. 30, 2012). GRAMMY ballots for the final round of voting will be mailed on Dec. 19 to the voting members of The Recording Academy. They are due back to the accounting firm of Deloitte by Jan. 16, 2013, when they will be tabulated and the results kept secret until the 55th GRAMMY telecast.
The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards will be held on GRAMMY Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and once again will be broadcast live in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards are produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures for The Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer and Louis J. Horvitz is director.
Photo: Alysse Gafkjen
You're invited: Dan Auerbach GRAMMY Museum live stream
Tune in for a special conversation and performance with the eight-time GRAMMY winner via live stream on June 13
The GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live will welcome Auerbach to the Clive Davis Theater on June 13 for an intimate conversation about his incredible career and new album, plus a stripped-down performance. Although tickets for the evening are now sold out, the Museum will live stream The Drop: With Dan Auerbach on June 13 via Facebook Live at 8 p.m. PT.
Auerbach's follow-up to 2009's Keep It Hid, Waiting On A Song is a love letter to Nashville. As such, he recruited some of the city's most respected musicians to write and record with, including John Prine, Duane Eddy, Jerry Douglas, and Pat McLaughlin, along with Bobby Wood and Gene Chrisman of the Memphis Boys. Waiting On A Song also marks the debut release for Easy Eye Sound, Auerbach's new record label.
Scott Goldman and Dan Auerbach
Photo: Alison Buck/Getty Images
Dan Auerbach | "Required Listening" Podcast
Auerbach opens up on co-writing with John Prine, collaborating with Mark Knopfler and the source of his eclectic musical influence
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.