"It's my friends and we were doing this anyway—but now this thing that we were always doing has an identity."

Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

Dan Auerbach may have just wrapped a massive, year-plus tour with the Black Keys in support of the band’s eighth album Turn Blue, but he’s not resting just yet. Next week the singer-guitarist releases Yours, Dreamily, the debut album from his latest project The Arcs. Auerbach recorded the breezy record, which is stuffed with sensual psychedelia, blues-rock riffs, and mariachi-tinged backing vocals, over the past year with some of his music industry pals—and even for a performer known for loose jams, the final product sounds relaxed.

“This Arcs thing has taken on a life of its own,” Auerbach tells EW by phone as the band rehearses in New York City for their upcoming fall tour. “It’s my friends and we were doing this anyway—but now this thing that we were always doing has an identity. The focus has gotten stronger from everyone. It’s exciting.”

Auerbach’s crew includes veterans like drummer Homer Steinweiss, whose beats you know from recent records by St. Vincent and Bruno Mars, and Flor De Toloache, an all-female mariachi band from New York. Leon Michels, a seasoned producer and instrumentalist who’s worked with artists ranging from Aloe Blacc and Dr. John to Jay Z and Ludacris, co-produced Yours, Dreamily with Auerbach. For the Black Keys frontman, who’s known for minimalist garage grooves, it’s a deep bench.

Auerbach caught up with EW about how mariachi music and boxing influenced Yours, Dreamily (streaming below via NPR), his love of the Grateful Dead, and his brief cameo on this year’s A$AP Rocky record.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the Arcs come about?

DAN AUERBACH: The Arcs are some of my oldest friends, some of the guys that I’ve been making records with the longest and people that I met in the studio or met on the stage. Over the years we’ve recorded for ourselves when we had free time, and it was those recordings that were kind of like the birthplace of The Arcs. But we didn’t officially give it a name until earlier this year when we decided we should finally start sharing some of this music with people.

How far back do these songs date?

All the songs are new, from the last year. About seven months ago Leon and I got together and for the hell of it we wanted to get on the computer and see how many songs we had, because we always just get together, stock them away on the hard drive, and forget about them. We started adding them up and we had like 70 songs. That was the moment when we said to ourselves, “What are we doing? We should start sharing this.” We didn’t take those songs and try to put them on a record—it was a wake up call, that we’ve got something we need to focus more on.

Can you tell me about working with Leon?

Leon owns Truth and Soul Records—he’s a record man. We met because when the Black Keys were recording Brothers, I was listening to a record Leon made called My World by Lee Fields [and the Expressions]. I was listening to that record every day while I was making Brothers. We were down in Muscle Shoals and I was driving around in the rental car bumping it. When we had to take Brothers on tour, we needed a couple extra musicians. The first person that I called to play keyboards was Leon, and he said yes. That’s how we met, but before I met him he was an influence on me.

There’s a ton of horns on Yours, Dreamily, which is a bit of a new flavor for your music. Tell me about incorporating those.

I love horns on music, when they’re done right and Leon is a great horn player—plays baritone really well. I love baritone. Whatever feels appropriate for the song, that’s what this Arcs thing is about. We go into the studio every morning and we have nothing. We don’t write anything ahead of time and then we just create in the studio. Whatever feels right is what ends up sticking on the track.

How did that loose approach reinvigorate your creative process?

That loose approach is everything to me. I’m militant about the loose approach, if that makes any sense. I don’t like formality in anything, and especially not in my f—ing music. But these guys that I get to play with, they’re my favorite musicians. I have nothing but like the utmost confidence in them. It’s an absolute joy to go into the studio and create with these guys. For me it’s just exciting. I get to sit back and see what these guys dream up—and it’s always interesting and fun.

You’ve mentioned the Grateful Dead’s influence on this record. What can you tell me about that? Were there any other artists that influenced the record?

What I was saying was more that we were influenced by that time period in record-making, where it was very experimental and kind of anything goes and songs aren’t two-and-a-half minutes and it’s an album, there’s an A side and B side. It was that whole thing. I love the Grateful Dead—that was the first show I ever went to in my life, my dad took me to see the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia, everybody, the whole crew. The OG Grateful Dead at Richfield Coliseum [in Richfield, Ohio]. That had a big impact on me. Growing up my dad always played Grateful Dead albums. That kind of experimentation makes me feel at home, when you have little segues and interludes on a record, not just a song and then a song and then a song. To me there’s something interesting happening. It makes it feel more personal.

What influence did boxing have on the Yours, Dreamily?

It’s funny how just things that you’re into can influence the other parts of your life. I was getting into boxing for the last couple years. My cousin moved to Nashville and he’d been boxing since he was like 12. He started teaching me and I got into it. Then this artist’s artwork caught my eye, Omar Juarez. He had a boxer that he drew and the boxer had a bandage and was missing a hand. His body was cut off at the midsection and he was a werewolf. [laughs] Something about it I loved and then I started to see stories in my head. The boxer was born and one of the other characters Omar draws, Rosie, she was born and now we have the video [for “Put a Flower In Your Pocket”] with the boxer.

On top of that, when we were going to release our first song, the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight was coming up. We had two songs loosely based around boxing: One was “Stay In My Corner,” which is a love song and then “Tomato Can,” which is a hard-luck boxing tale. We thought it would just be fun to release a 45 on the day of the big fight, the fight of the century! That’s what we did and we used Omar’s artwork as the cover. Now we’ve started this relationship with Omar and the artwork is kind of melting into the music and vice versa. We went to East L.A., to Omar’s hood, and played the first Arcs show three weeks ago. The inspiration for Rosie was there, standing front row. It was just so weird, it was like the artwork was coming to life and then The Arcs were coming to life at the same time. It was so surreal.

The video for “Put a Flower In Your Pocket” really adds to the song.

I love it so much. It’s so handmade. I love the story. I’m really proud of Omar, that was his first video he’s ever made. He never tried to animate his artwork before. This was his first attempt. It just blows my mind.

I saw your name in the liner notes for this year’s A$AP Rocky album on “Everyday.” How did that come about?

That was just hanging out in New York City. Those things can happen. [laughs] Rocky’s a cool dude. He’s real nice. He’s a pretty down to earth guy, believe it or not.

Get exclusive details about fall’s buzziest albums in Entertainment Weekly Issue #1379, on stands Aug. 27.