One might expect an album produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach to rock faces off like his own uber-heavy guitar-and-drums-duo. But Letters in the Deep, Cadillac Sky’s new album born under the guidance of Auerbach, plays out more like an acoustic symphony. In the vein of Chris Thile’s Punch Brothers, Cadillac Sky utilizes traditional bluegrass instrumentation behind a visionary approach to writing songs.
Formed in Ft. Worth but now largely based in Nashville, Cadillac Sky released two albums prior to Letters, the second on traditional bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs’ label. Cadillac Sky guitarist David Mayfield passed those albums onto Auerbach during an opening gig for the Black Keys.
“Dan has a love for roots music, and parts of our record he liked, but the main part he didn’t like was how it was recorded,” says Cadillac Sky lead singer and songwriter Bryan Simpson. “He thought we had lost some of the spirit of the band live and encouraged us to come up to his place and make a record that was no-holds-barred, sitting around a mic and not using the studio as a sixth member.”
With no rules beyond Auerbach’s mantra of “Be who you are right now,” the band laid down Letters in live takes, even recording harmonies simultaneously around one mic. With pride and traditional roles put aside, the quintet shuffled through instruments, each member taking turns that pushed their comfort levels to new places. That habit has translated into their live show, which makes for “hell on our soundman,” Simpson admits, but it keeps the audience constantly tuned into who will next bow the fiddle, sit down behind the piano, or grab the glockenspiel.
“Our goal was to really flesh out the personality of each song, letting the music decide the instrumentation or how we sang it, rather than letting a desire to fall into a certain genre be the deciding factor of how we perform a song,” says Simpson. “It’s very human. It’s very imperfect. But it’s us. Dan says it’s our first record. It has this sincerity, and it’s who we are.”