Auerbach leans on legends to record ‘Waiting on a Song’
For much of this decade, Dan Auerbach has spent his summers as any good rock star should: front and center on a massive festival stage, performing guitar heroics before a crowd of several thousand young, adoring fans. Last summer, however, the Black Keys frontman took a decidedly different path.
On hiatus from his famous two-piece blues-rock band, the singer-guitarist opted to hunker down in his Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville and have an intense bonding session with some of the most talented musicians still working born circa-World War II.
“It was like heaven on Earth,” Auerbach says of writing and recording his second solo album, “Waiting on a Song,” with legendary musicians including John Prine, guitar legend Duane Eddy, bassist Dave Roe (who for 22 years backed Johnny Cash), and drummer Gene Chrisman and pianist Bobby Wood, both of whom played on hits by Dusty Springfield and Elvis Presley as part of Memphis’ American Sound Studios house band.
Auerbach moved to Nashville in 2010 and has produced acts there including Lana Del Rey and Ray LaMontagne. But when calling from Nashville, the 38-year-old says working with the group of iconic Music City veterans instantly “felt like we’d known each other forever.” It also revitalized him in ways previously unforeseen. “It’s made me realize strengths I had and really believe in myself more,” he says. Days in the studio last summer were loose and light: The windows were always open, early in the week Auerbach would write with Prine and David “Fergie” Ferguson (who engineered Cash’s American Recordings releases), and by week’s end they summoned the rest of the crew to record live.
“In this modern day and age it’s less and less common to record a bunch of musicians in a room together,” Auerbach notes with a hint of resignation in his voice. “It’s crazy to think that’s just sort of the way it used to always be. All the classic records from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s … it was just generally all these amazing people contributing. No wonder there were so many classic works.”
Some of the Black Keys’ most revered songs are dark and murky, but “Waiting on a Song” is Auerbach at his most effortless and carefree. “The record is a reflection of how we felt making it,” the guitarist says of the soul-flavored songs including “Malibu Man,” a tribute to producer Rick Rubin, the groovy “Livin’ In Sin” and “Shine on Me,” featuring guitar work from Mark Knopfler. Auerbach says “because these guys are who they are and are so open-minded, we can just go in any direction. Never having to worry about genre or anything like that is so liberating.”
Working with such an accomplished crew had him feeling not unlike a student, “but I’m also sort of cocky and I think I can do better,” Auerbach admits with a laugh. “I want to learn with them but I also want to try and do new stuff with them. It’s not just totally old-school.” Dan Hyman is a freelance writer.