The Black Keys are streaming their eighth album Turn Blue and are about to head out on a huge tour, but frontman Dan Auerbach has also been keeping busy with his second career as a producer. After winning the Producer of the Year Grammy for his work with the Keys, Hacienda and Dr. John, Auerbach switched gears for a more unlikely collaboration, producing Lana Del Rey’s upcoming album Ultraviolence.
“She’s a true eccentric, and, you know, extremely talented” says Auerbach, hanging in the lounge of his Nashville studio. “She has a definite vision of what she is and what she wants to be, musically and visually, which is cool. [Drummer Patrick Carney] and I have always just been, like, ‘You can take our photo, I guess,’ but she just like looks at this whole thing as this big art project that she gets to do, which is great.”
Auerbach met the singer through his friend Tom Elmhirst while the duo were in New York mixing Ray Lamontagne’s latest record. “We went out one night with some people, some friends of Tom’s and she was there hanging out, and I had never met her before,” says Auerbach. “She didn’t really know my music, I didn’t really know her music, to be honest. I knew about her because, you know, she’s in the press so much. But we just hung out and we like talked about music and realized we had things in common.” Del Rey mentioned she was going to be in Nashville soon, so Auerbach invited her to his studio, Easy Eye. “What started off as ‘Let’s get together for a couple days with some musicians’ turned into two weeks doing an album.”
Auerbach admits he didn’t have to do much to the songs: “Her demos were so good, her songs were so strong that I wanted to get my musicians in who I love and get my sound that I get here with her songs and that’s it. I didn’t want to mess it up. She sang live with a seven-piece band. That’s the whole record – a seven-piece band with her singing live. It was crazy.”
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Turn Blue is the Keys’ most personal album ever, recorded as Auerbach was going through a brutal divorce, and he credits Del Rey with influencing him to open up in his songs. “I learned a lot recording with other people and watching them sing about personal experiences,” he says. “Even Lana, watching her record these songs that are extremely personal and make me uncomfortable, there’s something great about that.”
Del Rey was was criticized when she first hit the national stage with a high-profile appearance on Saturday Night Live in early 2012. But with singles like “Video Games” and “Summertime Sadness,” her LP Born to Die went on to go multi-platinum and become one of the biggest albums of the year. “I know she like got shit for SNL,” says Auerbach. “ I can’t imagine being in the position she was in – like being relatively unknown to being thrust onto that world stage. I remember the first time we played Conan, we were so nervous and we were just playing a rock & roll song. She’s, like, wearing a fucking gown under a spotlight. It must have been insane. But she sang live and there are no edits. It was awesome. She impressed everybody.”