By: Dennis Cook
Keep It Hid (released February 10 on Nonesuch), the solo debut from The Black Keys' guitarist-singer Dan Auerbach carries great grumbling echoes of older rock 'n' roll – pre-60s rock, '50s stuff still filthy with its country and ghetto roots – transmuted into a personal, immediate, thoroughly non-musty sound that initially engenders an emotional response more than an intellectual one – a good sign one's onto the real deal.
"Just don't start crying [laughs]. That [music period] is it for me. That's my pinnacle, man, the late-50s Memphis sound. No matter what I do, no matter where I go, that's going to be a part of me because that's what I listened to when I was learning how to play. So, it's sort of my foundation," says Auerbach. "What attracted me to the sound of early electric Memphis is how primal it was, how raw it was and how sort of simple it was, but deceptively so. It's totally unlike Chicago or Mississippi blues; it's its own thing. It was a mixture of all those rockabilly guys, R&B guys and gospel musicians, all electrified, and often electrified improperly. It's a beautiful thing."
"Like I said, it's so deceptively simple. You have to have a good guitar and a little guitar amp that's turned up a bit too loud. Everybody wants to mimic that sound using computers or plug-ins but it's totally unnecessary and sort of can't be done that way," continues Auerbach, who fully gets how pushing things into the red can produce a hellaciously satisfying noise. "For anything I listen to I like it to have a bit of that feeling in it, whether it's jazz or soul or country music; a little bit of that really makes it for me."
Keep It Hid steadfastly refuses the gussied up sound prevalent today. There's dirt in the gears and hellhounds at the studio door, grime on the tape heads and ghosts in the machinery.
"Certainly with computers it's SO easy for people to get lost in the details, where they start to mic up every fucking instrument and it ruins everything, for me anyway. I try to use as few mics as possible and I try to use the right microphones and good musicians," laughs Auerbach, a man who understands the importance of nailing fundamentals. "You can't do better than the basics. It's never unsatisfying. No amount of Pro-Tools edits will ever be as satisfying as a good band being recorded in a room altogether. That energy is the heart and soul of any kind of good music."
"I've always recorded like this, in one form or another. With Pat [Carney, his drummer partner in crime in The Black Keys] and I, we've always been in the same room. We might put the guitar amp in another room but he and I are playing as live as we can," continues Auerbach, who recorded his solo album in his new home recording facility. "It's a studio I had built from the ground up. So, a big part of the sound of the record is the room. Like any kind of classic record, the room has a lot to do with it. One of the tricks of a lot of great old albums is they didn't necessarily mic the drums. The drums bled through the vocal and guitar mics, a room drum sound, and there's a lot of that going on in this album. I was listening to so much Norman Petty recordings while we were making the record that it's crazy. He's a genius. He was making records on the most rudimentary equipment, and the shit he recorded in the '60s sounds right up there with Abbey Road and the best studios in the world, all done at his little fuckin' studio in Clovis, New Mexico."
|Dan Auerbach by Veronica Vaillancourt|
"I built the studio and I needed to get a recording console, and I figured I'd get this new console built in this old school manner but it's got a lot of bells & whistles people would expect from a modern console. If somebody brings their Pro-Tools files, we can mix on it like that. Then, I had it for a couple months and I thought, 'This sucks! This is not what I want to do. The records I love were never made on this console or anything like it.' So, I sold it and stripped it down so it's now bare bones, and I think it's better off, way better off," says Auerbach. "It's not able to accommodate the demands of modern production but I don't want anything that ever comes out of my studio to sound like the shit that's on the radio nowadays. And it's not because I want things to sound old – I want them to sound timeless."
Albums like Buddy Holly's That'll Be The Day, Ike & Tina's Workin' Together and Otis Redding's Pain In My Heart (all identifiable ancestors to Keep It Hid) don't wear out over the years. Some core indestructibility keeps them fresh for future generations, and there's a kindred feel to what Auerbach is laying down. It's long been there in the backdrop of The Black Keys but one hears it more fully realized on his solo set.
"If you listen to a Hollies record or The Zombies, you don't necessarily think, 'This sounds like the sixties.' I think, 'Listen to how awesome his voice sounds! Listen to how amazing these guys sound!' There was a time in the late-60s where they got into all that psychedelic stuff but just before that they recorded bands in a really pure way, and I think it's just completely the most beautiful, timeless sound ever," observes Auerbach. "A lot of it had to do with the idea of being a band being in a room playing together live. For the most part, those records, with the exception of some overdubs, are the bands playing together. You get that good feel, and the people in charge of recording have a classically trained ear and mind. So, they aren't trying to make things sound far out. They make things sound really good and really true, so you can get that good depth. I could nerd out on this stuff all day."
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