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Future Blues.

The Black Keys Dan Auerbach indulges his love of killer fuzz and timeless song structures to create the soul-swinging and super-infectious new LP Brothers.
InTERvIEW by cHARlES SAUflEy PHoToGRAPHy by JoHn PEETS
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FEATURE

Dan Auerbach (right) wields his ancient three-pickup Supro (note the six on/off switches) while he and drummer Patrick Carney lay down tracks for the new Black Keys LP Brothers. ,

escribing his approach to producing Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the legendary David Briggs once declared The more you think, the more you stink! Its a priceless observation that might as well be painted on the door of every rehearsal space or studio where rock and roll is made. And its a beautiful reminder that, while theres plenty of room for the cerebral in great music, rock is fundamentally a thing better felt than pondered. Since they began brewing their funky, wicked stew of blues, garage punk, and soul in Akron, Ohio, in 2001, the Black Keysguitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carneyhave been steadfast in their commitment to feel, instinct, and the magic of a killer tune. They also work tirelessly. Through 2008, they toured behind six LP releasesincluding gigs opening for Radiohead, Beck, and Pearl Jamand crisscrossed America and Europe on their own.
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The last two years have been more prolific still, even by the Keys own lofty standards. Auerbach released an impressive solo slab of swampy, gorgeous rock and soul balladry called Keep It Hid and built a studio in his Akron home, where he continues to produce up-and-coming bands like Radio Moscow and the Buffalo Killers. He and Carney also decamped for two weeks to New York to help produce and serve as a backing band on Blakroc, a deeply funky collaboration between the Keys, producer Damon Dash, and hip-hop heavies such as Mos Def, RZA, Q-Tip, and Raekwon that may be the most realized, organic, and promising synthesis of rock and hip-hop ever attempted. This past May also saw the release of Brothers, the Keys seventh and most colorful and varied release. Reflecting the experiences of Keep It Hid and Blakroc, it features less of the savage garage riffery that defined their last half-dozen

releases. But its bursting with hooks, delicious riffs, economical rhythm work, and some of the gnarliest, most stinging fuzz leads this side of Satisfaction. Brothers was mixed by famed engineer Tchad Blake (Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Los Lobos, Bonnie Raitt, Latin Playboys, Phish, Tracy Chapman) and it marks Auerbachs maturation into one of the most versatile guitarplaying songsmiths in the business. He weaves his expressive, rough-and-tender voice around licks and lines that evoke everyone from Steve Cropper, Jimmy Page, and Cream-era Clapton to Ethiopian jazz great Mulatu Astatke, Ernest Ranglin, and Curtis Mayfield in songs that are fresh, infectious, funky, and timeless. On the day of the new albums release, Auerbach very generously took time to talk to Premier Guitar about oddball gear, production, influences, why simplicity and economy rule, and why the song is always kingno matter how hot the player.
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The new Brothers cover reminds me of This Is Howlin Wolfs New Album (the psychedelically tinged late-60s album that Wolf himself despised), and the sound reflects that period where psychedelic, soul, and blues were all colliding. Did that LP or Muddy Waters Electric Mud influence this record? Oh yeah. We love that stuff. But those records didnt necessarily change my guitar sound or playing. How those bands play as an ensemble was more important to us. Were more into the arrangements as a whole and how the guitar fits in that mix. The guitars almost take a backseat on some songs, but they seem much more varied in terms of texture. Did the songs call for that, or were you working from new influences? Actually, I just started to worry about guitar a lot less and just concentrated on playing. I was less concerned about the perfect guitar or pedal for a song. Ive realized that when I play guitar, it just sounds like me. But the songs were really what affected the way I played more than a specific guitar or pedal. They were built around heavy bass and keyboard lines, and it wouldnt have been right to jump in there with a super bassy, heavy fuzz-tone guitar like I do a lot of the time. That wouldve been kind of stupid in the context of these songs. So it was fun to play the kind of thin, buzzy lead tones that were coming out of my Supro when I plugged it in. The record also sounds influenced by more obscure late-60s and early-70s funk and soul. Did you discover any new players from that period that moved you? I was listening to a lot of this band called Invinciblestheyre kind of like the Impressions mixed with Stax, but less Chicago and more Memphis. I got really into finding obscure soul and stuff. My soul collection must have quadrupled over the last year. I also got way into Electric Mud and the electric Howlin Wolf stuff we were just talking about. Thats how I am, though. I do a lot of research and get way into things and players, and I digand then dig deeper. So yeah, I was listening to a lot of soul. I did the same thing when I first got into the blues. My dad played me Robert Johnson and Son House and from there I started listening to Skip James and Fred McDowellgetting further into the country-blues stuff. Theres still so much out there that hasnt been played, and its so exciting to keep digging and finding inspiration. 110 P R E M I E R G U I T A R A U G U S T 2 0 1 0

Auerbach and his Bigsby-equipped, three-pickup Harmony H77 onstage with drummer Patrick Carney.

A lot of the guitar parts on the new album sound like horn lines. Well, I was thinking much more like a team player than a soloist this time around. I really started thinking about what was better for the song. So sometimes I would be playing fuzz bass like a trombone. [Laughs.] And the shot of you with the Rickenbacker 4001 on the gatefold reinforces the idea

that fuzz bass was an important part of what was going on. Well, theres a ton of clean bass, too. But yeah, we worked from a lot of bass grooves. I was playing all those bass parts through a little silverface Fender Musicmaster Bass amp with a 12" speaker. Theres just a volume and a tone knob on the thing. I used it a lot for both guitar and bass.

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FEATURE
Its cool to see you using Rickenbacker guitars outside their typical context. Rickenbackers are the unsung heroes of rock n roll. Theyre still made exactly the same way they always have been. Theyre built just great, and theyre one of the only companies that only builds stuff here in the States anymore. And they play so wellso much better than most new guitars I check out that its just sick. Theyre so smooth. A lot more early rock n roll records than you might think were made with Ricks. The idea that theyre just for jangling is pure nonsense. Those single-coils are fantastic and have a lot of character. They may not be quite as hot as DeArmonds, but theyre hot enough. You can do anything you want with a Rickenbackeranything.
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Scott Asheton from the Stooges [told me] A carpenter cant blame bad work on his tools. So I dont think about the ways that gearor the fact that its just Pat and me working on a songlimit what we do.
pickupit just sounds so weird. I used that for the solo on Howlin for You. That solo buzzes like a mosquito. I couldnt figure out how you got that tone. Its just that weird Supro pickup through a little Magnatone with a 10" speaker. You put that sound on top of a big Rickenbacker bass and a fuzz bass, along with some organall holding down the bottom endperfect! Its heavy without being too much, yknow? Theres still some space in the mix, but its really heavy! Theres a lot of Jimmy Pages loud little amp-style ambience on Brothers. Small amps are all Ive ever played, honestly, apart from live stuff. Ive only played

What other guitars made it onto this record?


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I used my white-and-black Supro a lot. Its got two DeArmond single-coils that look like humbuckers, and its got a weird bridge pickup thats supposed to sound almost like an acoustic

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little amps in the studio, before I even knew thats what so many of those old guys did. I was always trying to make my guitars sound like Willie Johnson from Howlin Wolfs early electric stuff. And I think you gravitate toward that sound if you like those old blues records, because thats typically what they were usingthose little tweeds that were just exploding! The fuzz on Next Girl and elsewhere on the album has a very glam feelvery fat, with a lot of low end and buzz. Did you double those lines with a bass or did you use some kind of octave pedal? Theres no octave pedal on the album. Its generally doubling, tripling, or quadrupling a guitar line in unison with the bass. Did you use many pedals for the albums various textures? Ive got shelves of pedalssick amounts of pedals. But I swear, I use the same pedals Ive always played. I bought an early-1970s Ibanez Standard Fuzz pedalthe octave fuzz with the two sliders. Ive been using it since the first record, and I cannot top it. Its got two basic tones, bassy or trebly, and I use it on bass and guitar. Its just wild. I also use those green Sovtek Big Muffs on the road. Theyre fun for blasting a bigger amp. But when you want to get character out of a little amp, you really cant beat those little Japanese fuzzes like the ones from Shin-ei. Those are my favoritethe absolute best. No matter what size amp I use, Im generally trying to find that sweet spot where the overdrivethe tube or speaker or combination of bothis constant but it still reacts well to pedalsfuzz especially. If theres too much overdrive, the fuzz pedal farts out, and if theres not enough the clean sound is too wimpy. Do you have a preferred amplifier rig for live shows? Right now, Im using a Fender Quad Reverb along with a Marshall JTM45 and a vintage Marshall 8x10 cab. Earlier you mentioned being more of a team player. And the rhythm on The Only One, for instance, is very inventive, but unobtrusive and deceptively simple. It reminds me of Steve Cropper playing in one of those Cambodian psychedelic bands. 112 P R E M I E R G U I T A R A U G U S T 2 0 1 0
Donning cans and a biker jacket, Auerbach takes to the studio to wrangle riffs out of his Harmony H77 .

[Laughs.] We actually felt like we were going for a Mulatu Astatke feel for that song. The super funky drums, the really tight bass, and the cheesy organ were the meat of the song, so I wanted to keep it simple but melodic on the guitar. It just needed to propel the song and not get in the way. How does the open environment of guitar and drums affect the way you approach guitardo you need to be more disciplined?

I dont ever practice, if thats what you mean by disciplined! [Laughs.] We just do whats best for the record. I guess thinking more about the song is the discipline. I mean, were spending just as much time thinking about tambourine and handclaps, and then I let that guide the guitar playing. You cant think about that stuff too much. You really just need to play and feel it. I was working with Scott Asheton from the Stooges he was coming to my studio to hang outso I asked him what kind of drums he needed. He
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told me he stopped caring about that stuff a long time ago. He said A carpenter cant blame bad work on his tools. So I dont think about the ways that gear or the fact that its just Pat and me working on a song limit what we do. Your new studio figures significantly into the production of this record. How did you configure it, and what sound were you going for? Ive already learned a ton from recording bands in other studios. And more than anything else, Ive learned the value of keeping it simple. Brothers doesnt have a single song with any more than 12 tracks. All the drums are in monoliterally mixed to one channelor sometimes we put the kick drum on its own channel. Then wed put the bass on there, a couple of tracks of keyboards, the vocal, and the guitar. Its super simple, and it always sounds bigger than when you mess with more tracks. That seems to be common knowledge, but its a philosophy few have the courage to adhere to.

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No matter what size Martin Huss D-18 amp I use, Im generand Dalton Collings AuthCustomTD-M D1A entic ally trying to find that sweet spot where the overdrivethe tube or speaker or combination of bothis constant but The nest new Mahogany and it still reacts well to Adirondack Dreadnoughts on earth! pedalsfuzz especially. Lou If theres too much overRusso drive, the fuzz pedal farts out, and if theres not enough the clean 629 Forest Ave. Staten Island, NY 10310 mandoweb 718-981-8585 mandolin mandoweb.com .com sound is too wimpy.
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I think the 80s really twisted peoples heads. Folks sold a lot of records back then. But not too many of them will stand the test of time. I want to make records that are timeless, that you can play whether youre 80 years old or 25. That simplicity helps that happenit gives you a more solid foundation. It must have been different working in a hip-hop environment on the Blakroc record. What did that teach you about other possible roles for guitar in production? The approach we took on Blakroc was really influential on Brothers. We started most of those tracks with bass and drums, which carried over to this record. That influenced the overall sound of the record and the way the guitars went on. I dont think any hip-hop record has been made that way. We started writing the songs in the morning, finished them in the afternoon, and the rappers came in at night. Theyd spend a couple of hours working on lyrics, cut the lyrics, and that was it. Song done. Hip-hop is so aliveand it comes alive even more in that kind of environment. Watching [Wu-Tang Clan MC] Raekwon who could essentially write a film treatment in 45 minutes and then put it to a really raw backing trackfelt like what it must have been like to hang out with Dylan or something. You once mentioned learning a lot from watching videos in your early days. Yeah, I used to get videos from the libraryblues and bluegrass guys and just watch how they did it. Watch their hands, pause it, rewind, replay, over and over again for hours. I remember getting [Les Blanks 1967 documentary film] The Blues Accordin to Lightnin Hopkins, and watching it was just humongous for me.
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Outside the realm of soul and blues, which guitarists turn you on? Marc Ribot. I got way into the Prosthetic Cubans record he did with Los Cubanos PostizosI played along with it all the time. So it was a thrill when I was able to have him come in and play on Attack and Release. Some of the tones on Brothers evoke the Latin Playboys records which had some of the coolest, most oddball guitar sounds ever. Thats why I got in touch with Tchad, because I loved those Latin Playboys records. Musically, theyre just blues and tejano, but when you add those sounds and guitar tones and a mix by Tchad, they become future music. Its future and past combined into something timeless, and its beautiful. Tchad would call just to tell me how excited he was to be mixing our album. I dont think he had gotten anything that minimal in years. It sounds like that future-past thing has become a guiding philosophy for you. Yeah, but I would never try to replicate the past or record someone stuck in the past. You have to have some individual sense of what you are and what you want to do. Its cool to pull from those old sounds, because theyre timeless. But, again, one of the beautiful things about keeping the production simple is that it leaves plenty of room for your own ideas.

Dan Auerbachs Gearbox


Guitars
Harmony H77 with Bigsby, Harmony Heath TG-46, Supro Martinique, Rickenbacker 360, Ibanez lawsuit era SG copy, Gibson Firebird VII

Amplifiers
Silverface Fender Musicmaster Bass amp, Ampeg Gemini II, Marshall JTM45, Fender Twin Reverb

Effects
Ibanez Standard Fuzz, Sovtek Big Muff, Fulltone Tape Echo, Tubeplex tape delay, Boss TR-2 Tremolo

Strings
.011-.052

Picks
Dunlop Tortex .73mm

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