Dan Auerbach says of what makes The Arcs tick, “The relationship between everyone was born out of loving the studio and loving vinyl. Spinning records was a huge part of what we did and what we connected on. We would pull out the 45s, and we would flip through the records. We’d listen to old soul records and garage and Jamaican records. We’d listen to Joe Meek productions. We’d spin these records, we’d play ’em real loud and listen, and it would inspire us - endlessly.”
That brotherly bond of listening, playing, and recording culminates in The Arcs’ second album, the neo-psychedelic soul-rock odyssey Electrophonic Chronic, released on LP and CD and digitally by Auerbach’s label Easy Eye Sound.
The Arcs were founded out of sessions for what was initially envisioned as a new solo album by The Black Keys’ singer-songwriter-guitarist Auerbach, with Leon Michels, the mastermind behind the soulful El Michels Affair who was a member of the 2010 touring edition of The Black Keys, and his boyhood friends and longtime band mates Homer Steinweiss and Nick Movshon lending support. Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Richard Swift, noted for his work in The Shins and his production of such artists as Nathaniel Rateliff, Damien Jurado, and Valerie June, came on board to complete the lineup for what ultimately became a new band.
The 2015 release of the group’s debut album Yours, Dreamily, — which won praise from Rolling Stone, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, and NPR, among others — and a subsequent U.S. and European tour did not end The Arcs’ recording work.
Auerbach says, “Every time we would get together, we would be in the studio making music. Whether it was New York City or Nashville or L.A. or Swift’s hometown of Cottage Grove, Oregon, wherever we were, we would always be getting in the studio together. Always. It was our favorite thing to do. It’s rare that you meet a group of people that you click with like that, who you instantly bond with. And we didn’t have to think about making money, touring, anything. We were just having fun in the studio, making sounds, making music. It was an amazing time for me.”
Michels adds, “When we toured with The Arcs, even if we’d take a day off on the road, we’d always go in the studio. There are probably between 80 and 100 tracks that we laid down, because we just constantly recorded after we put out that record. It was so much fun to be in the studio once again, so we were just making music all the time. I think there was always a plan to make a follow-up record.”
Though a large pile of material was already in the can by the end of The Arcs’ tour, the release of a second album was put on the back burner.
“We all had day jobs,” Auerbach says. “We had to go back to our day jobs. There were Black Keys albums and touring. Leon was making El Michels records and producing other albums. Swift was doing the same thing — producing records. We had to go back to working on other stuff.”
He adds, “At the same time, Swift was going dark on us. He was starting to disappear, even before he was gone.”
Richard Swift died in hospice care in Tacoma, Washington, on July 3, 2018. His family acknowledged that his death was the result of the musician’s long battle with chronic alcoholism. It was a strong jolt for both Auerbach and Michels.
“What happened with Swift was pretty sudden,” Michels says. “Both of us didn’t really process it. He was one of our best friends. Dan and Richard were like brothers. Swift was one of those guys whose energy was so intense and so all-consuming that it basically became the core of the band. When he died, the whole thing died. I think all of us couldn’t really listen to the music, couldn’t really face it and try to finish it.”
The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the concurrent shutdown of most activity in the music business further slowed any attempts by Auerbach and Michels to address the unreleased music.
“I’d gone back to the tracks a couple of times,” Auerbach says, “but it wasn’t until May of 2021 when we went back to them. That was when Leon and I finally decided to go back and put together a record. This new album is all about honoring Swift. It’s a way for us to say goodbye to Swift, by revisiting him playing and laughing, singing. It was heavy at times, but I think it was really helpful to do it.”
Michels continues, “We got the courage to get together and say, ‘Let’s just look at these songs and see if we can put something together.’ The thing we shared with Swift so deeply was music, so the only way to get closure was to finish what we started. The idea that the stuff we made would sit on a shelf forever gutted me, and I wanted it to be out in the world, because it was the product of such a joyous time.”
Electrophonic Chronic was co-produced by Auerbach and Michels, and recorded at Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound in Nashville, Michels’ Diamond Mine in Queens, NY, and the legendary Electric Lady in New York City. It was mixed by Tchad Blake at Full Mongrel, Wales (Latin Playboys, Los Lobos, Soul Coughing, Richard Thompson, Bonnie Raitt, Neil Finn).
Electrophonic Chronic — comprising originals, written collectively by the band with Auerbach penning the lyrics, and “A Man Will Do Wrong,” a gender-swapped cover of Helene Smith’s 1967 soul ballad “A Woman Will Do Wrong” — reflect the same sizzling melding of soul, blues, funk, and rocking lysergic wildness originally heard on Yours, Dreamily.
Four singles drawn from Electrophonic Chronic are being issued in advance of the album’s January 2023 release. A series of animated videos for the singles are being directed by Robert “Roboshobo” Schober, who also helmed clips for Easy Eye Sound’s releases by Tony Joe White and Son House. The new clips are based on artwork created by the Southern California artist Omar “El Oms” Juarez, who created striking images on covers for both Yours, Dreamily, and Electrophonic Chronic and the dizzying graphics for the video for the first album’s “Put a Flower in Your Pocket.”
Auerbach says, “We’re staying true to that whole aesthetic for this release, too. El Oms did the artwork for the album, and a poster that will come inside that is dedicated to Swift. It’s really beautiful.
“We may do some select showings of those music videos along with spinning some 45s just for fun — make it a multi-media thing, and have it be a sort of ‘Richard Swift Appreciation Night’ situation, and do it in various cities, maybe in London, maybe in New York, maybe in L.A., with me and Leon. Just do like we used to do when we would all hang out.”