“Screw Perfection!”DAN AUERBACH hates the music industry. And yet he became a star with the Black Keys. Here he explains why (Hint: soup helps).
Dan Auerbach has won seven Grammys and sold more than 2 million albums as part of blues-rock duo the Black Keys. Not bad when you consider he’s resolutely been ignoring the rules of the business for 14 years now. The musician writes old-fashioned songs, hates media attention and boycotts music online. What’s the secret of his success? “Don’t trust anyone who tells you to stick to the rules,” he says.
THE RED BULLETIN: The current Black Keys album, Turn Blue, reached No. 1 in the American charts last year. What does that feel like for a person who says he couldn’t care less about success?
DAN AUERBACH: [Laughs.] It feels good. But I still stand by what I said. I don’t make music for the fame. I feel like I’m in the wrong movie when I’m at awards ceremonies such as the Grammys.
Trend researchers would never pick your dirty, bluesy sound for success—it doesn’t conform to the modern zeitgeist.
Our albums are a reaction to what’s currently going on in the music industry. Everything is overstyled, calculated, horribly perfect. Our success shows that there are still people who want music to be made by real musicians. By musicians who play their asses off and put their hearts and souls into their music.
Don’t rock ’n’ roll and perfection go together?
I’m no virtuoso myself. I can’t read music. Technically speaking, my partner, Pat, is a bad drummer. But we compensate for that with abandon. And that’s what it’s all about—screw perfection! You’ve got to enjoy what
you do. And be completely devoted to it. That’s more important than making sure that everything’s flawless
or following the industry’s rules. Which is precisely why so much music sounds so boring and samey now. We deliberately counteract that.
Are you calling for a musical revolution?
Exactly. Do what we do, don’t trust anyone who tells you to stick to the rules.
Is it that attitude that has stopped you from offering your music to streaming services such as Spotify?
The trouble with streaming platforms is that it’s mostly the industry middlemen earning the money and not the musicians themselves. If your song is listened to 100,000 times on Spotify, you, as the artist, earn $20. I think that’s not OK. Streaming services make people think that music is just some free gimmick.
If you were a young musician today, would you give up on the industry with the direction it’s going?
No, I wouldn’t. The thing with real musicians is that they have no plan B. They’ll just carry on working and working. As the Black Keys, we’ve been on tour or in the studio since the start of our career. We don’t know any different.
How do you keep up that hectic schedule for 14 years?
We’ve never really thought about it, we’ve just got on with it. While other bands that started out at the same time as we did got rich and famous quickly, with us it was a very drawn-out process. We were really broke for a very long time. It wasn’t always easy, but it taught us a lot. It’s good to have staying power.
How do you manage to stay in shape?
When you’re on tour, the most important thing is eating right. I have a Vietnamese pho noodle soup every day. Whereas, say, Chinese food gets cooked once and then gets reheated, pho is always made fresh.
That sounds very sensible for a rocker.
I think that healthy eating is the cornerstone of everything. If you live on fast food, you just end up feeling bad. Then it affects your creativity and your drive and also your voice, if you’re out on tour. Old-school rock ’n’ rollers should be sure to remember that too. There’s a saying: You are what you eat.