As the cliché goes, music is the soundtrack of our lives. But how does that play out for musicians, who put everything they have into actually creating the music we all know and love? In this series, CBC Music speaks with influential musicians and asks them to pick just five songs they worked on that changed their lives completely. A soundtrack to their professional life, as written by them.
Dan Auerbach makes a strong case for being one of the busiest musicians in rock. When he’s not fronting the Grammy Award-winning Black Keys — in which he is the guitarist and principal songwriter — he’s releasing music with his side project, the Arcs, who released the excellent and underrated Yours, Dreamily in 2015. Since 2012, he’s also produced albums by Dr. John, Ray LaMontagne, Lana Del Rey, Lee Fields and Cage the Elephant, among many others.
Below, we asked Auerbach to reflect on five songs he was involved with, either as performer or producer, that changed his life as an artist.
'Set You Free,' the Black Keys
"I don’t think we would really be here if it hadn’t been for those first couple of syncs we got ['Set You Free' appeared in the 2003 film School of Rock]. They really helped propel us, keep us moving, when we weren’t making any money, we were touring around the globe making no money, so it was really welcome income. Especially for a band that wasn’t writing pop songs or radio songs, we were just making records. It was really great for us."
'Locked Down,' Dr. John
Locked Down (2012)
Auerbach produced and played guitar
"That was a dream come true for me and all the musicians there because we were such huge fans. But at the same time, we didn’t just want to make an old-sounding record, because that’s corny. We wanted it to be real and alive, just like Dr. John, because that mutherf--ker can play. He is sharp and still does amazing stuff on the keyboard. We just tried to live up to the legacy that he laid down. It was really eye-opening being around him, watching him work, seeing his process, watching him play, seeing how he does overdubs. You get a sense of all those amazing old records that had a feel, it came from musicians, real people, you can’t fake it. Everything was real and at people’s fingertips. He is such a genuine spirit and such a representation of his city, New Orleans, the absolute mix of all that weird American stuff."
'Tighten Up,' the Black Keys
"This was the first song we ever had played on radio. It was also the first time we had tried to write something catchy. Before that, we were just trying to entertain ourselves and make stuff that we thought sounded cool. We had never once thought about the idea of being catchy. It wasn’t overnight, but 'Tighten Up' changed things. When you get played on the radio, it’s a very different universe that you are entering.”
'The Baddest Man Alive,' the Black Keys and Rza
The Man with the Iron Fists soundtrack (2012)
"The Rza’s certainly an influence, it was amazing. He’s just the absolute creative person, total artist, real outsider artist. All self-taught. Everything he does is just because he has an idea and then he tries it. It’s like he’ll bang on a guitar, not like a guitar player would play it, but like he wants it to be played, then takes a four-second sample of it and starts to craft a song out of it. It is amazing to watch."
'Brooklyn Baby,' Lana Del Rey
Produced by Auerbach
"Big moments for me are moments that are just personally satisfying. So a song like 'Put a Flower in Your Pocket,' the Arcs song, is personally satisfying because it’s such a mixture of all the personalities that were recording. It’s such an interesting result for me. Also, a song like 'Brooklyn Baby' by Lana. What we were able to do with the production there. How we transformed it, gave it that feeling. The song was great to begin with but I really loved how they turned out. It’s just satisfying moments. It’s the whole reason I do this, just for that."