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Issue Date: September 2009


Roots Music

The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach branches out.
Matt Tulis
Dan Auerbach attended a family reunion in Colorado in July, and each night, his family sat around and sang songs. For the 30-year-old singer and guitarist of the Akron-based duo the Black Keys, it was just like the days of his youth, when his father’s blues records blared throughout the house and his uncles taught him to play the guitar.

In a way, that reunion wasn’t so different from Auerbach’s solo album, Keep It Hid, which was released in February and has received critical acclaim throughout the country.

The album — a mix of country, folk, electric rock and psychedelic funk — was recorded in Auerbach’s studio, Akron Analog. On it, his uncle James Quine contributes vocal harmony and electric guitar on “Street Walkin.” Several other musicians and friends assisted in the recording and production, including Auerbach’s father, who wrote the song “Whispered Words.”

The first track, “Trouble Weighs A Ton,” mixes folk and blues. It’s sung softly but full of nuance. “Heartbroken, In Disrepair,” on the other hand, sounds like it could have come off any classic ’60s rock album.

“I had a bunch of songs and just recorded them,” Auerbach says as he drives up Interstate 77 from Akron to Cleveland. “That was pretty much it. I didn’t have a plan, but I thought, I’ve got eight songs recorded and they sound really good, so I’ll record a couple more and put out a record. I definitely didn’t make it for anybody but myself. I just wanted to make a record.”

Auerbach has been making music for 10 years with his lifelong friend Patrick Carney, the other half of the Black Keys. The two grew up in the same West Akron neighborhood. They went to Akron Firestone High School together. That’s when they started playing music.

Their sound evolved from what Auerbach calls Carney’s love of a Led Zeppelin-esque, bombastic kind of drumming and his own love of blues and anything raw and stripped down.

“We didn’t really have to search for a sound,” Auerbach says. “It was just there.”

Because the Akron music scene was underdeveloped, they had to make their own way — which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“There wasn’t anyone to hold your hand while you’re trying to figure out the music scene,” he says. “It’s difficult in that you’re all alone, but it’s also great because you’re all alone. You’re not bombarded by the newest trends all the time. It’s kind of like being in the wilderness.”

The Black Keys escaped that wilderness with five full-length, critically acclaimed albums. The music is wonderfully gritty, accessible and popping up all over the place. (“I’ll Be Your Man” is the theme song for the new HBO series Hung, and “Strange Times” appears on the soundtrack of the video game Grand Theft Auto IV.)

Now, though, it’s time for individual projects. Carney has formed the new band Drummer, which will release its first album, Feel Good Together, later this month. (They tour throughout October, including a stop at the Beachland Ballroom Oct. 24.)

Auerbach is on the road this fall in support of Keep It Hid, with a Cleveland stop at the House of Blues Dec. 9. He’ll be backed by the Texas-based band Hacienda and Patrick Hallahan of My Morning Jacket.

“It’s just six people on stage, playing music from the solo record,” Auerbach says. “It’s just a totally different experience than playing with the Black Keys. Everything changes.”
 
Dec. 9, House of Blues, (216) 523-2583, hob.com

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