In the past few years, whenever he hasn’t been busy selling out arenas with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, Dan Auerbach has booked informal jam sessions with a loose group of friends including Menahan Street Band saxophonist Leon Michels. “These guys are my oldest musical buddies besides Pat,” says the singer-guitarist. “We just record shit for fun and sock it away.” This year, Auerbach and Michels combed through those tracks to assemble Yours, Dreamily — out September 4th — the debut of the band they dubbed the Arcs. Auerbach, 36, says he’s looking forward to their first tour this fall: “With these guys, we can try absolutely anything. Honestly, I have no idea how it’s going to go, but I’m so excited.”
The Arcs album sounds like some lost psychedelic LP that you might find buried in a used-records bin. Are you a big crate-digger?
That’s really what we are: record nerds. The last real job I had was at a record store, Quonset Hut in Akron, Ohio. I was maybe 20. I had graduated high school and completely immersed myself in blues music, but I was exposed to things there that I never would have heard otherwise. I remember this Frank Black and the Catholics album came out, and I fucking loved it. It was really fun. We had a whole section that was for throwing darts — dart nerds would come in and get custom wings. We also sold a lot of Deadhead merchandise.
Did this album let you tap into your own Deadhead side?
Yeah, definitely. The Arcs scratch that itch for me — and when we play live, it’s going to be magnified. These guys are so crazy-capable. We all got together and played recently, and it was so fucking exciting. There was a lot of improvisation, which is new for me.
Did you watch any of the Dead’s farewell shows this summer?
I didn’t, but I was happy for ’em. It’s crazy in this day and age, with album sales in the shitter, to see their staying power. That’s really cool. I wonder if 20, 30, 40 years from now, anybody is going to be able to touch that many people.
The Black Keys are one of the last big rock & roll bands left. How do you like being the keepers of that flame?
When we tell people that we can’t believe we’re headlining Coachella or whatever, we mean it. We are not the people that you would normally associate with being at the top of a pop food chain — generally to do that, you’ve got to have some star charisma. And we’re, again, literally two record-store nerds. Pat worked at Quonset Hut too. It was a different location, though.
“When we tell people that we can’t believe we’re headlining Coachella or whatever, we mean it.”
You had to cancel some Keys dates recently when Pat hurt his shoulder. Is he better now?
He’s doing great. We played some shows, and he hasn’t had any pain the next morning or anything. He can’t raise his arm above a certain level, but he doesn’t actually need to, the way he plays.