When the Arcs, the Nashville rock band fronted by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, were scheduling a Paris date for their European tour last month, they could have played in either of two 1,500-capacity venues.
"Our French promoter said, 'I had you playing at Bataclan for a while,' " Auerbach, talking on the phone from his home in Nashville, recalls as he prepares for the Arcs' first American tour, which comes to the Fillmore on Wednesday. " 'But then I switched you,' he said. 'The two venues are basically the same. I don't know why I chose to put you in one and [Eagles of Death Metal] in the other.' "
The Eagles of Death Metal, of course, were the band on stage at the Bataclan on Nov. 13 during the terror attacks in Paris, when three men with assault rifles opened fire on the room full of rock fans, killing 89 people.
As the carnage was taking place, the Arcs were across town, playing a show in support of their album Yours, Dreamily on stage at Paris' identically sized theater Le Trianon.
Auerbach says the scene was crazy: "We didn't know until we got off stage. Then the news started to trickle in, and they locked down the whole building. We heard sirens whizzing outside. Helicopters. It got very intense very fast. After the ultimate high of coming off stage, it was a real roller coaster."
The guitarist had played Bataclan before with the Black Keys, the blues-rockers whose second member is drummer Patrick Carney. In those shows, the Keys were accompanied by sax player Leon Michels and bassist Nick Movson, who are in the Arcs.
Also with Auerbach that night in Paris were Arcs Richard Swift, a multi-instrumentalist; drummer Homer Steinwess; and the all-female New York band Mariachi Flor de Toloache, who will open for and play with the Arcs at the Fillmore.
"We stayed on lockdown for a couple of hours," says the singer and guitarist, who won a producer of the year Grammy in 2013 for his work with Dr. John, Bombino, and others. "We were all upstairs in one room. We had a balcony and a good vantage point of the city out in front of us. It was tense. And then at midnight, our tour manager decided we were all going to jump on a tour bus and get out of town as quickly as possible."
Thirteen hours later, relieved "but shell-shocked," the band was in Milan, where the Arcs played the last show of their tour.
The experience gave the Akron, Ohio, native pause, to say the least.
"Any time you face tragedy like that, the natural reaction is to have a reflective moment," says Auerbach, 36. His second cousin was the late Robert Quine, guitarist for Richard Hell and Lou Reed. "Look at your life, double-check to make sure you're doing the [stuff ]that you love."
For Auerbach, who married his second wife, Jen Goodall, in September, those questions were answered affirmatively. Along with the success he enjoys with the Keys, who broke through big time with Brothers in 2010, he says the Arcs "have been making recordings together as a unit for six years."
That includes older unreleased cuts and songs on the warm, expansive Yours, Dreamily like the boxing-theme love song "Stay in My Corner" and Philly soul-vibing "Chains of Love." Plus there are appearances by artists Auerbach has produced, including noir chanteuse Lana Del Rey, Nashville rockers Jeff the Brotherhood, and honky-tonkstress Nikki Lane.
"These guys are my favorite record-makers," Auerbach says of the Arcs. "And they're some of my best friends. I'm surrounded by people I love, doing the things I want to do. So I felt pretty good, actually. That helped three days later, when we had to play a final show. We were still nervous, but it turned out great. I think everyone there needed it."
Auerbach says he's enjoying playing midsize venues with the Arcs after having long since moved up to arenas with the Keys. He's maintaining his busy producer's schedule - he helmed the album Tell Me I'm Pretty by hard rockers Cage the Elephant, which comes out Friday - "and I've finished a couple of other things I can't talk about yet."
Auerbach attributes his productivity to parsimoniousness. "I think I've learned how to use my time efficiently," he says. "All the records I do take two weeks, tops. That comes from not being able to afford studios, so you had to be really quick about it." It also comes, he jokes, from being cheap.
It's likely there'll be another Arcs album before a follow-up to the Keys' psychedelic-flavored Turn Blue of 2014. "Probably," Auerbach says. "Because the next Arcs records is almost done. And Pat and I are taking a break. We just finished four years of straight touring. This is our extended vacation."
The Arcs shows, Auerbach says, "are an expression of the natural chemistry we have as a group. It's really just exploring that in a live setting. There are five singers on stage. It's a different feeling, a different pace."
So the set list at the Fillmore will be songs from Yours, Dreamily and an EP titled The Arcs vs. The Inventors, which features Dr. John and Los Lobos' David Hidalgo. There won't be any Black Keys songs.
"Please don't come if that's what you want," Auerbach asks politely. "I've used my name as little as possible in the advertising, because if we have any success, it would have to be the right way. I don't want to cheapen anything about the Arcs. It really feels special to me on its own. It always has. So I want to treat it like that."
The Arcs, with Mariachi Flor de Toloache