Role Models: Dan Auerbach Reminds iogi Not to Overthink Things

The singer-songwriter loves The Arcs and his production work.

The first time I heard Dan Auerbach’s work was from a surprising source. While most listeners are familiar with his massively popular band The Black Keys, I was initially exposed to his talents through Nomad, the 2013 album by Bombino. After Auerbach saw a YouTube video of Bombino performing, he invited the Tuareg guitarist to his studio in Nashville; Auerbach’s production touch subsequently opened up Bombino’s sound and production, which brought his music to a wider audience than ever before.

When Nomad was released, I was 23 years old and playing in the Tel Aviv band Isaiah, fronted by singer Tomer Yeshayahu. Our self-titled album was heavily inspired from Bombino as well as 1970s folk. As a band, we loved Bombino and Nomad, which brought to us a new sound that we’d later dance to when Bombino’s tour reached Tel Aviv. Auerbach’s involvement with the record undoubtedly helped bring his beautiful music to my ears.

Several years later, I learned that Auerbach also produced Lana Del Rey’s 2014 album Ultraviolence, which I loved for its ability to create a world that never existed to my ears previously — a cinematic landscape that was dark, sad, sexy, and mysterious. After some time, I found a very clear line of relatability that connected these two albums, as well as the rest of Auerbach’s work as a musician and producer: an aesthetic I call “tamed freedom,” which represents the chutzpah to make musical choices that push against the artist’s instincts instead of working within their zone of comfort. 

I also associate this aesthetic with The Black Keys’ music, which I first heard on the radio. I don’t remember the year, the station, or where I was location-wise — but I was in a car, and I remember the feeling in my body when I heard the guitar line of “Lonely Boy,” as well as the incredible drums that come in a few seconds later. Even though I was hearing the song for the first time, it already felt like it was a part of my DNA. Needless to say, I was immediately hooked, and began exploring their incredible discography — especially the brilliant Brothers from 2010, a record that brought together a collection of incredible songs marked by Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s perfect collaborative harmony.

But I think that some of Auerbach’s truly best work as a songwriter, performer and producer has been as part of the psychedelic pop band The Arcs, which also features some of my favorite musicians working, including the late producer Richard Swift and Daptone affiliate Nick Movshon. When I first heard “Put a Flower In Your Pocket,” from the band’s 2015 album Yours, Dreamily, the way it made me feel was like nothing I had ever experienced. The groove sounds half-broken and the synths sound like they’re burning. In a way, it sounds like the song is falling apart, as it’s full of low frequencies that would normally be headache-inducing — but on this song, it all comes together perfectly. 

Yours, Dreamily truly changed my perspective on music, deepening my own questions about “right” and “wrong” sounds. When I work on my own music or produce for other musicians, sometimes I start worrying about whether I’m nailing down the right sound, or the right tempo. Then, I think to myself, What would Dan Auerbach do? Sometimes that thought exercise brings some creative fresh air to the recording space — and it removes some uncertainty from the process, too.  

Now, if you’ve listened to my music before, you probably couldn’t tell that Auerbach has had such an influence on me. After all, he’s a guy who hails from Akron, Ohio who inhaled all the blues and rock & roll that was around him, while I was born in the Israeli desert city of Be’er Sheva with basically no folk music — or even a music scene — to speak of. But the influence is much deeper than mere reference points, nor is it anything involving technical skills.

As a listener, I’ve watched Auerbach change hats with ease over the years—leading incredible bands like The Black Keys and The Arcs and recording his own beautiful solo records (Waiting On a Song from 2017 is a must-listen), and producing great albums for other artists—and his versatility has greatly inspired me. From a distance, it looks like he enjoys every bit of what he does, and it almost seems like whatever he wants to do at the moment, he will.

 I get the impression that Auerbach works without overthinking, and I wish for myself to embody that spirit when it comes to creating, especially when it comes to working with musicians across genre. He makes it all look easy, even though he’s obviously a hard-working musician, and I deeply respect him for that.

(Photo Credit: left, Michael Toypol)

iogi is a Tel Aviv-based singer-songwriter and producer. His latest record, we can be friends, is out October 2023 via Raw Tapes. 

(Photo Credit: Michael Toypol)