Less than 24 hours after the Black Keys walked offstage at Governors Ball, Dan Auerbach unveiled his new side project, the Arcs, at Electric Lady Studios in New York's West Village. The group — whose debut LP Yours, Dreamily comes out on September 4th — consists of Auerbach and his longtime musician buddies Leon Michels, Richard Swift, Homer Steinweiss, Nick Movshon and Kenny Vaughan. "This is the culmination of all these years playing together," says Auerbach. "We just finally put a name to it and decided to put out an album."
Working outside of the confines of the two-man Keys gave Auerbach a much wider palette of sounds to work with. "These guys have equal input on all the songs," he says. "It's a completely different thing than the Black Keys, where I write the lyrics, the chords and most of the melodies. Every song on this record is co-written with the whole band. That's why I didn't call it my name. I love being able to sit back and let songs evolve without me. It's been a new experience."
The project also allows Auerbach to work free from all commercial considerations. "We worked without restraints," he says. "We weren't thinking about making songs for radio, obviously. I've spent enough time thinking about that with the Black Keys, not that we ever wrote songs just for radio. I just don't want to ever think about that stuff again. With the Arcs, we were just trying to make music that lives up to the kinds of standards that we love: old soul records, Captain Beefheart, newer hip-hop records. The songs are really experimental, but not over your head. I hate when people try to be so obviously out there."
Many of the musicians in the Arcs worked with Auerbach on records he produced in recent years for Ray LaMontagne, Lana Del Rey, Dr. John and many others. "We've done a ton of work together," says Auerbach. "At the same time, we've created this back catalog of songs we'd just record in our free time." The album was cut over just two weeks at studios in Los Angeles, Nashville, Manhattan and Queens. "When we get together, our output is kind of crazy," says Auerbach. "We have 75 songs. We had to keep telling ourselves to stop writing new songs so we could finish old ones."
The Arcs are joined by the Brooklyn-based, all-female mariachi band Mariachi Flor de Toloache on many tracks. "We wanted a mariachi band on one track and Leon [Michels] knew someone that managed them," says Auerbach. "They were great, and then I asked if they could sing, and when they did they sounded like teenage girls from Brooklyn that all listened to Aaliyah. It was perfect. They wound up singing on a bunch of songs on the record and when we tour they want to come along with us."
The track "Velvet Ditch" was inspired by a motorcycle trip that Auerbach took from Nashville to Clarksdale, Mississippi, last summer. "I heard someone use the nickname the Velvet Ditch to describe Mississippi," he said. "That's because once you cross the border, everything slows down and you might find yourself there for years. I just wrote a song about being a kid from Ohio that loves the blues and the feelings I had when I was younger."
"Stay in My Corner," was inspired the recent Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao fight. It was released online today, and is also available on a 7-inch vinyl single with "Tomato Can" as the B side. It is available exclusively at independent record stores.
Auerbach has select festival dates with the Black Keys throughout this summer and even a one-off in October, but after Yours, Dreamily hits in September he plans on launching a two-month North America and Europe tour with the Arcs that he says will hit "mid-size theaters." "We'll just see how it goes," he says. "And if we can stand each other for that long, we might keep it going."
When the tour is done, Auerbach has every intention of carrying on with the Arcs. "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't continue going," says Auerbach. "I haven't even thought about making a solo album since starting this. At some point in the future, we're going to eat some sort of Asian food and then record music. Those two things are a given."