Posted December 1, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes

The Arcs: Friends making music

The Arcs photo by Richard Swift
The Arcs photo by Richard Swift

A side project for Black Keys singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, the Arcs adopt a layered, atmospheric sound on their debut, Yours, Dreamily. The band, which also includes Shins and Black Keys touring bassist Richard Swift, Leon Michels, Homer Steinweiss, Nick Movshon, Kenny Vaughan, and the women of Mariachi Flor De Toloache, has also just issued a 10-inch that marks the start of a new series. Dubbed The Arcs vs. The Inventors Vol. I, it features the band along with guest guitarist David Hidalgo of Los Lobos/Latin Playboys fame.

I know you’ve put out a solo album in the past, but what’s it like having to take the lead on doing press? You must miss having [Black Keys drummer] Pat [Carney] around to pick up the slack.
It has its positives and its negatives.

You started out as guitarist. Early on, did you have some sense back then that you would get involved into production? Was that always an interest?
Yeah, that’s why Pat and I started. We liked to record tracks. That’s always been our thing. I’ve always done it, even before I knew what it was.

Has your method changed over time?
I probably sound like a politician but my core values have always stayed the same. I’m always being introduced to new things and hearing new things and working with new people and learning new techniques. It grows and evolves and changes. They all pose new challenges and it changes from day to day. You can have a great day with a band and then come in the next day and it all goes to shit.

How’d you end up meeting Dr. John?
Basically, I had to fucking track him down. He was really reluctant. I had to get in plane and fly to New Orleans. He was staying with some buddy of his who was an ex-convict. He was staying at his apartment. He was eating squirrel stew and stuff like that. He looked at me like I was trying to take all the money out of his pockets. He ended up relenting and I got him up to Nashville for two weeks and we did it.

What was the key?
I knew that I could make a great record with him. I knew that I had the right crew. People love old records, but I’m not trying to recreate old records. I’m not trying to look at him like an antiquity, but he’s a fireball on the Farfisa. It wasn’t hard. Some of my favorite musicians in a room with Dr. John. It was an incredible.

At what point did you begin thinking about the Arcs project? Was it originally supposed to be a solo album?
No. I’ve been making music with these guys for six years. I reached out to them. We’ve been friends ever since. We would produce records and do records for other people. We did Lana Del Rey and Dr. John and all kinds of stuff. The thing that remained was that we would try to get together whenever we could to make music. That’s what this is all about.

Arcs have been around for a while. This year is just the first time we started to share it with people.

Do these songs go back?
They’re actually all pretty fresh. A year ago Leon and I got together and we went through the catalog of songs we recorded. We would record them and put them away and record them and put them away. We started looking into it. We had 75 songs. At that moment, we agreed that we would put together an album. We gave the name the Arcs and that gave us the platform.

It was recorded over two weeks at the Sound Factory in Los Angeles, Electric Lady Studios in New York, Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville, and the Soundmine in New York. You and Michels co-produced the album, and Tchad Blake mixed it. What was the recording process like?
We work pretty quickly. The songs on the album took about two weeks to record. This wasn’t our main job. We could only get together when we were free. We weren’t ever all five of us all in the same town together at the same time ever. That hasn’t happened until recently. We would get together whenever we had some time in whatever city we happened to be in. That’s how it happened.

Talk about the decision to start the album with that snippet, “Once We Begin.”
For me, the record is kind of a collection of songs that feel like little daydreams and little scenes, I guess. Soundtracks. I heard a narrator bring us into the world of the Arcs. That was the idea, I guess. That’s Leon playing the organ.

“Everything You Do (You Do for You)” has some unique clicks and clacks. Talk about how that song was constructed.
It’s the most amazing drum machine that was ever invented, besides the 808. It’s called the Chamberlin Rhythmate Tape Loop Drum Machine. It was invented in the ’60s. It’s tape loops you can tape between. The drummer who plays on them was Hal Blaine from Gold Star, who played on all those Phil Spector albums. The main drums are from that Chamberlin. There’s extra percussion on it. It’s a drum machine but it’s a real drummer so it has a human feel. It’s like a Mellotron. It’s rare to hear about it. When I first heard it and saw it, my fucking jaw hit the floor. It’s also one of the greatest drummers of all time recorded amazingly well so you have these loops of amazing-sounding drums. It’s a really neat invention. Not very reliable.

The first track released from the album was “Stay in My Corner,” a song inspired by the May 2015 Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao boxing match. Talk about what you were going for with that song.
It wasn’t inspired by the fight. We were inspired to release it on the day of the fight because of the fight. It’s supposed to be the biggest fight of our lifetime and we happened to have two songs that have boxing references in them. It’s a love song but it’s called “Stay in My Corner.” “Put a Flower in Your Pocket” is about a boxer. They give boxers they know are going to lose that name. We had these two songs. I had met Omar Juarez and really liked his artwork. The boxing match was steadily approaching. I just threw it out there. That has become what the Arcs is all about. That was our first release. Those aren’t singles. Those aren’t radio singles. We released it on the day of a boxing match on vinyl only. From our first release we were putting out there what this whole project is all about.

The New York-based all-female mariachi band Mariachi Flor de Toloache performs backing vocals on several album tracks and the lead vocals on “Chains of Love.” How did you come across them?
Leon and I had this song and we wanted some mariachi for ten seconds. That’s it. We were in New York and Leon knew a guy who managed the band. They show up and it was an all-girl band. We didn’t know that. We were like, “That’s interesting.” They started playing and they were so fucking great. They nailed it. We tried them on another song. They picked it up really quickly. We put them on another song. And then we put them on another song and another song. We asked them if they could sing and they almost sing better than they play. We were like, “What the hell?” These things just happen.

We don’t plan any of these things. It all just happens in real time.

The Arcs vs. The Inventors Vol. I sounds like you took the weirder aspects of the full-length and expanded on them. Talk about the approach on it.
It’s the beginning of a series we’re doing. We’re reaching out to musicians who have inspired us, people we love who may not be big stars but are very influential. You could say unsung heroes but that sounds corny. This is the start of that series.  We invited David Hidalgo from Los Lobos into the studio.

What do you like about David Hidalgo as a musician?
He is amazing. Some people just have something really special. He’s got it. He walks in and he’s quiet and you can tell he knows something that you don’t know. He sits down and he’s the greatest. He sits down at the piano and he’s killing it. He sits down and plays the mandolin and he’s killing it. He’s the best conga player I’ve ever heard in my life. He’s a really creative person and great in the studio. He’s a really nice guy. The reason why I linked with Tchad Blake to mix the Black Keys’ albums is because I love the sound of the Latin Playboys’ albums that they made. They’re an American treasure but at the same time, they’re still kickass and very vital.

What’s it like for you to come back to Akron?
I don’t know. It’ll be the first time in years. When I’m not on tour, I’m at home and my parents have been coming down to Nashville to visit. I have no other reason to drive up there.

Upcoming 2015 Shows













Chicago, IL @ The Vic

Chicago, IL @ The Vic

Columbus, OH @ LC Pavilion

Detroit, MI @ The Fillmore Detroit

Akron, OH @ Akron Civic Theatre

New York, NY @ Terminal 5

Toronto, ON @ Massey Hall

Boston, MA @ Orpheum Theatre

Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club

Philadelphia, PA @ The Fillmore Philadelphia

Charlotte, NC @ Amos’ Southend

Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].