Dan Auerbach recently hosted an old-fashioned weenie roast for the all-star cast of musicians who played on his upcoming solo project, an upbeat, happy record that the Black Keys singer/guitarist says will result in a lot of speeding tickets. Due in the spring, it's a drive-fast album.
American songwriting icon John Prine co-wrote one track, the bouncy "Waiting on a Song," and rockabilly guitar pioneer Duane Eddy turns up throughout. As the pair roast hot dogs in the parking lot of Auerbach's studio, the host keeps an eye on the fire and mingles with his guests – Rolling Stone included – eager to unveil his new album for the friends who helped make it. It's a decidedly Nashville record, he says. "It's my Nashville."
Here are 10 things we learned from hanging out with Auerbach.
1. Auerbach draws inspiration from Fifties teen idol Fabian.
A photo of the singer-actor, whom Auerbach considers the epitome of cool, sits prominently atop the console in his Easy Eye Sound studio, next to a row of tarot cards. "Everything I do has to measure up to that," he says, nodding at Fabian.
2. He transformed Easy Eye Sound from a nine-to-five dungeon into a musical time capsule.
"It used to be a windowless call center," Auerbach says of the building just south of downtown Nashville, which is now stocked with vintage instruments and an assortment of pop-culture memorabilia, from a silhouette shooting target to a neon sign for local gospel station WNAH. It also boasts a high-end coffee bar – Auerbach is a java connoisseur.
3. He relishes his friendship with Prine, whom he met through Johnny Cash engineer David "Fergie" Ferguson.
"I met Prine through Fergie. And we've been buddies ever since. We go and get hot dogs together," says Auerbach. Their favorite local joint is special to Prine: It used to be his writing room when he first moved to Nashville. "I just enjoy being around him," says Prine of Auerbach. "It took me a couple times around him to get used to him, because he's kind of quiet at first. But once I got to know him, he's just a plain good guy who loves music."
4. Auerbach hosts picking parties at his house in Nashville.
A recent get-together featured bluegrass greats the McCourys, Marty Stuart guitarist Kenny Vaughan and American Sound Studio alumni Bobby Wood and Gene Christmas, as well as Auerbach's family. "My uncles were there. The guys who taught me how to play and sing are singing with all my friends from Nashville. Three generations of McCourys, two generations of my family, all playing songs," recalls Auerbach. "It was a special moment. I never had a feeling quite like that."
5. He knows to leave the drumming to his Black Keys partner Pat Carney.
Dobro master Jerry Douglas recruited Auerbach to play drums on his bluegrass album with the Earls of Leicester. "I'm like, 'You know I'm the guitar player, right?' He's like, 'Yeah, so what? We already got guitar,'" says Auerbach. "I just had to play a train beat. Then we did a [faster] one and I could barely do it. I looked like a fool."
6. Auerbach is not a fan of "retro" albums.
"They don't feel sincere. It's like a Vegas show. You can only love it to a point – you can't ever really get deep with it," he says of records made to evoke another time period. Auerbach steered clear of that temptation when producing Dr. John's 2012 album Locked Down. "I didn't treat him like an antiquity. He's a fucking fireball, and if you know how to bottle that, it can be special."
7. He wrote the funky "Malibu Man" on his new album about Rick Rubin.
"It's basically a love song about Rick Rubin. We're just patting him on the back the whole song," says Auerbach, who plays to unveil the funky jam for the in-demand producer. "Next time we go to L.A., I'm going to play it for him. We're just kind of poking fun at our buddy."
8. Auerbach can be a taskmaster in the studio.
Even with legends like Eddy, Wood and bassist David Roe in the studio, Auerbach wasn't afraid to tell them what, how and when to play. "They can't just phone it in and read a numbers chart. It ain't one of those union sessions. You come in here and you gotta show me something," he laughs. "I don't mind benching you. 'Hit the showers!'"
9. For the new song "Shine on Me," Auerbach recruited Mark Knopfler – with a simple email.
"I sent him an email with the song saying, 'I thought of you. If you'd like to contribute, here it is,'" recalls Auerbach, who asked the Dire Straits founder-guitarist for just some simple rhythm playing. "A day and a half later, he sent me audio files. He was home in London, and has a studio there. I called him to thank him."
10. He and Carney knew it was time for the Black Keys to take a break.
"We'd do a record, tour, record, tour … nonstop, for four years solid. You can't just keep doing it, because it'll suck your brain dry," he says. While nothing is concrete for the Keys, Auerbach hints that a return to the studio may be on the horizon. "We have some stuff in the books, but no set plans. We've just been taking it easy and enjoying time off."