Ceramic Animal, the Doylestown, Pennsylvania-born rock band, are one of the latest groups to collaborate with The Black Keys’ frontman and guitarist, Dan Auerbach. The band – along with acts like The Velveteers and Yola – have enjoyed learning from and working with the Grammy-winning bluesman. And that means, of course, a focus on guitar work.
The band, who released their latest LP, Sweet Unknown, in March, deliver a sound that jives with Auerbach’s aesthetic and history. Throughout the album, Ceramic Animal blend Americana, rock and blues with buzzy six-string sounds and poignant lyricism.
Perhaps the biggest standouts on the new record are the propulsive I Can’t Wait and shadowy I Love a Stranger. But whatever your pleasure, each has Auerbach’s fingerprints all over them.
We caught up with Ceramic Animal’s guitarist and vocalist, Chris Regan, to ask him about the origins of the album, how Auerbach helped shape it and what guitars, amps, pedals and more were used for it.
How did Ceramic Animal first cross paths with Dan Auerbach and how did that lead to working together on your new LP?
“We were approached by Easy Eye Sound in 2020 by the label's GM, Tom Osborn. A few phone calls later and I flew out to Nashville to meet and write with Dan. I returned home and they offered us a deal a few days later. We all hit it off from the beginning, so it was just a damn good time throughout the whole thing.”
What was it like to have Dan in the studio, keying in on guitar sounds?
“Dan is great to work with. He works at a really productive pace, and we never hesitated on decisions or directions, which I think is imperative for a fluid and successful studio session. He works extremely hard, too – he's always working. I respect that aspect a lot. It really resonated with us because we've always carried that same mindset: figuring every aspect out for ourselves as best as we could. ”
How did you think about the guitars specifically on this new record?
“The mantra for the album was to be as direct and straightforward as possible and this came through with the guitars as well – we tried not to overthink it. Dan has spent a lot of time curating and setting up his studio so there was only some minor tweaking of the pre's and mic choices beforehand.
“I ended up using his 1960 Tele Deluxe on almost all of the record. We also had Tom Bukovac in there with us, so there was just so much damn tone to go around. Anthony ended up using some of Tom's guitars for the lead parts – I think a super-early Firebird and SG. Dan's legendary ‘59 Les Paul also made it on the record on the song Valerie.
“I pretty much stuck with '60 Tele from the get-go. It is just one of those guitars that has that extra magic. And I was vibing with Tom's Firebird for most of the record as well.
“We just set up great tones and let that do all the heavy lifting, had a little fun with effects and such on tracks like Long Day but kept it pretty straight up for the majority of the record. As far as guiding lights go, Dan and Tom were the ones holding the torches!”
Are there any pedals or amps that were especially significant in the making of the new album?
“We used Dan's old Marshall on some of the heavier tracks, but otherwise I was just running through a pre into a Vox AC30. The right preamps and settings can really change and shape things to get that extra sparkle and flavor.”
What was the genesis of the new record itself? How did its themes, ideas or rock sounds come about for you?
“The goal was to make a straightforward rock record that served as a foundation for things to build from moving forward. We stuck to good, honest, hardworking tones. Ceramic Animal has always been about writing and performing songs we want to hear, so we never feel too restricted by genre, and I think that comes through on this record as well. There is a lot of variety but it still manages to stay cohesive both sonically and style-wise. ”
What’s next for you in terms of your search for the perfect guitar song, sound or solo? Is that something playing live helps to shed light on, too?
“I would like to take the great base that we started with on Sweet Unknown and expand upon it a bit. To get a little more experimental on the lead tones but keep them tasteful. I have some great licks I have been sitting on since we recorded this album that I am excited to flesh out in full for the next one. I really want to go as big as possible, and I've been itching to get back in and start writing and recording again.”
What do you love most about guitar?
“I mean, there is so much to love. I love writing and recording new ideas and sounds. Experimenting as much as possible. I love making the worst sound I can create and trying to make it usable. I love that it has the power to knock you on your ass or make you cry.
“I love that it has six strings; I think that is important. You can work with it; you can fight against it and they both sound good. Make it scream, make it weep, make it boring, make it fun. It limits you just enough to stay on track, yet the possibilities always feel endless.”
- Sweet Unknown is out now via Easy Eye Sound.