Ceramic Animal ventures into the ‘Sweet Unknown’

The band visits Big Room Bar for a Sunday concert in the run-up to its debut on Easy Eye Sound, a label founded by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Ceramic Animal

On “Sweet Unknown,” the title track and emotional centerpiece off Ceramic Animal's new album, due March 4 on Easy Eye Sound, the band members usher in darkness, confronting the fragile nature of existence and what might follow after. “I got a new question that’s been on my mind,” sings guitarist Chris Regan, who is joined in the band by his brothers, Erik and Elliott, along with childhood friend Anthony Marchione and Dallas Hosey. “What would be left when we run out of time?”

These heavier thoughts surface throughout the record, Regan singing: “How did we get here and where do we go now?”; “Standing in the rain to hide the tears that trickle down”; “Please stay until I am stronger.”

Despite these lingering clouds, Sweet Unknown is far from a dour affair, the musicians moving from the stately slow burn of the title track to songs that dabble in everything from raucous, 1970s rock (“Valerie”) to elegant psychedelia (“I Love a Stranger,” which recalls Broken Bells). The band’s wide-ranging, throwback sound can be traced to the record collection belonging to Regan’s father, which included the likes of David Bowie, the Rolling Stones and Mott the Hoople, as can the new album’s more sorrowful posture, with the full-length arriving nearly four years after the elder’s death.

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“When he died, everyone was like, ‘You guys need to keep playing music,’ and that was the one thing everyone was saying, and it was weird that everyone said it,” said Chris Regan, 29, who will join his bandmates in concert at Big Room Bar on Sunday, Feb. 27. “But we absolutely have carried on. It’s just a shame because we started getting some good breaks right after he died, where we had some good opening spots that he would have loved, and now we have this whole situation that he’s never going to see.”

The “whole situation” in question includes Ceramic Animal’s new deal with Easy Eye — a record label founded by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who also produced Sweet Unknown, inviting Chris Regan to his home in Nashville for writing sessions in the weeks leading to the recording, a process the singer credited with helping him approach songs more directly this time around.

“Historically, on the earlier stuff, I would communicate more through metaphors for a couple of reasons, one being that it takes the emotional burden off,” said Regan, who adopted a less filtered approach for this record. “I kind of have this stance on art where … you can have a goal of what you want to write about, but when you're working toward that goal, everything you’ve experienced in your life comes out. If you let yourself go, you naturally tell stories about what you’ve been through and where you’ve been.”

Prior to decamping to Nashville, the band members spent years woodshedding in their hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a location that allowed them ample distance from the limelight while also affording the musicians proximity to Philadelphia (an hour away by van) and New York City (less than two hours). “It helped us not get too caught up in scenes,” Regan said. “We kind of just wanted to do what we wanted to do. … Up until we signed with Easy Eye, we were doing everything ourselves. I would be writing, recording and mixing everything. Erik would be managing everything. And Elliott would handle the legal work. We just tried to figure out as much for ourselves as we could.”

With a label now ready to assist on the business end, the band has been able to turn more of its attention to the music, as well as to the healing process that unfolds throughout Sweet Unknown, where bruises gradually fade, giving way to the sentiment that “goodbyes don’t always mean forever.”

Indeed, Regan said he has seen more of his father emerge within himself in the years since the elder died, including certain traits that became more pronounced in the weeks and months following his passing. “Almost as if I was taking on some of his mannerisms as a way to perpetuate him, perhaps,” he explained. 

“I don’t know how specific I could get,” Regan continued. “But it was almost the way I would view things, or the way I would respond to situations. It’s almost like a deja vu, where I would get this epiphany, like, wow, that was really like him. He would have done that. And they’re fleeting little things, but it’s still a nice reminder sometimes.”