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Dan Auerbach: Black Keys singer goes solo and gets primal

March 12, 2009 |  8:00 am

If Akron, Ohio’s Dan Auerbach sounds particularly groggy during a recent phone interview, it’s for good reason. The Black Keys singer/guitarist just survived a 30-hour drive straight through from Minneapolis to Seattle for a gig on his current solo tour, which hits L.A. at the El Rey on Saturday night.

“Man, I felt like we were in Montana for-ever, he mutters woefully. “We had to get a second bus driver, because we’d already burnt out the first one on this tour, and the guy deserved a break."

Auerbach is touring in support of his recently released solo turn, “Keep it Hid." Instead of moving away from the organic Midwestern blues that marks his day job, with drummer Patrick Carney, in the Black Keys, Auerbach has expanded on the template, creating an album that explores the outer reaches of classic rock and vintage blues.

At what point did you decide to do a solo album and tour?

I just had this block of free time and a bunch of songs I’d recorded, so I decided to just go for it. It’s really nothing deeper than that.

I’m intrigued by the album title of “Keep it Hid.” It has an underground, almost outsider feel.

Part of me just thought it was a cool title. But also, I’ve been recording on my own without Pat since I was 15. I’ve just never had the opportunity to release anything. I’ve thankfully been too busy writing, recording and touring with the Black Keys. It definitely took over, so in a lot of ways a lot of these songs and ideas have literally been hidden.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had two different women mention how much they like your solo album. Do you think there’s a sensual quality to your solo work that might not be so apparent in the Black Keys?

We definitely did it for the ladies (laughs). I don’t know, man. I’m definitely attracted to music that I think could be considered sexually motivating. I’m in love with that primal beat and wild-man sound. Songs like “The Prowl” and “I Want Some More” are so jungle and completely primal. It’s the same reason I’ve always loved artists like Junior Kimbrough and Alice Coltrane. Music that’s circular and hypnotic.

You did some really interesting things when sequencing “Keep it Hid.” It sounds like you were going for a classic album feel.

Absolutely, yeah. I thought about it once we had all of the songs together. I really wanted it to flow. The idea was for it to be a headphone album. I don’t find many new records where the songs flow like a movie. It’s not even like I’m especially fond of old records just because they’re old. I gravitate towards music that sounds timeless.

A common thread through many of the live reviews on this solo tour is how much fun you and your backing band (San Antonio’s Hacienda and My Morning Jacket’s Patrick Hallahan on percussion) are having on stage.

Yeah, it’s a blast. It’s insanely fun. With the album, I wanted the songs combined to equal something greater than its parts. It’s sort of like that on stage. Together, we’re creating something bigger than ourselves, and it’s just really great. Everyone is completely into it.

What’s it like being on a big tour without Patrick?

I’ve never done a tour without Pat. So this is a totally new experience for me. There are six people on stage. Everybody is such a great musician, and we can re-create every little sound from the record. I’ve never been the kind of person that wants to perform a record note for note. I usually find that boring. But with these guys with me, we can capture all of the subtle nuances.

What do you have planned once this U.S. tour is finished?

This band is going to tour Australia and Europe. I’ll come home for a couple of months, and then Pat and I go into the studio to start the next Black Keys record. We’ve got some festival dates this summer, both solo and with the Black Keys.

It doesn’t sound like you do very well with down-time.

Well, yeah. It’s a blessing and a curse. I don’t know what it is, man. I pretty much think about making music constantly, so why not just do it? I’m sure there will be a day when I wake up not wanting to play music. But until then, I’m just going to keep plugging away.

--Scott T. Sterling

Photo credit: Nonesuch

Dan Auerbach with special guests Hacienda and Those Darlins perform at the El Rey, 5515 Wilshire Blvd., on Saturday, March 14. Doors are at 8PM. Tickets available via Ticketmaster, and are $20, not including surcharges.