Cage the Elephant
photographer / Roderick Trestrail
story / Adeline Tan
Cage the Elephant, the American rock band from Bowling Green, Kentucky have released their new single, Come a Little Closer from their latest album Melophobia (Released Oct. 8). Melophobia is the group’s latest installment since their acclaimed second album, Thank You Happy Birthday. The song Come a Little Closer debuted on Zane Lowe’s show on BBC Radio One and frontman Matthew Shultz scales back his typically gritty vocals for a more psychedelic croon. Melophobia means “fear of music” or “hatred of music” which you will learn from my interview with Shultz what that actually means from his point of view.
Being a fan of Cage the Elephant, getting to talk to Matthew Shultz was delightful! He comes off as genuine, warm and charming. Behind that outrageous stage persona and cross-dressing tendencies, Matt displays his honesty and true romantic nature. A truly shocking responsiveness for a rising rock star. I was a fan prior to our interview but this sincere conversation made me love the band even more! That’s one of the attractive aspects to their music, the absolute honesty projected into their lyrics.
The band’s name originated from those Animal Cracker boxes according to Matt, “There was this little plastic toy with metal beads inside that you have to roll around to get them into these different holes so you could cage the elephant,” Shultz says. The history of Cage the Elephant and how it came to be involved Matt’s brother (Brad Shultz) who plays rhythm guitar and Jared Champion (drummer) back when Matt was 15 and started the band Perfect Confusion in High School. “We did that straight into freshman and sophomore year of college and a couple of the guys quit the band to more heavily pursue school and that’s when we ended up getting Tichenor (bass, backing vocals) and Lincoln (Parish – lead guitar) to join the band and became Cage the Elephant.” They knew Daniel Tichenor since they were kids and their fathers used to play music together. Tichenor eventually travelled around with the band and was eager to play with them, so he joined the band at the young age of 15. Lincoln was so young when they moved to England that the band had to become his legal guardians. “We were Lincoln’s legal parents but it was really cool, I’d put him on time out and tell him to go to his room.”
Being in London for 2 years was a huge eye opening experience for Shultz because everything he knew to be considered honest music at that point was only the music heard on Classic Rock Radio. “In a small town like Bowling Green, you pretty much have Top 40 Pop and then Classic Rock. So, we had only been exposed to stuff like Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, which are all great bands but there was much we hadn’t been exposed to and when we moved to England, it was a massive influx of so much stuff and really the beginning of our musical journey, so to speak,” Shultz explains. “The Foals were an amazing band that we went on tour with and became good friends. But there was a band in particular that we opened up for, and it was one of those shows that you don’t expect, but we opened for this band called, Screaming Tea Party and it was a life changing experience!”
In the past the band has held true to the slogan “Read more than you write”, so they would listen to as much diverse music as possibly and pick different qualities and incorporate it into what they were doing. They would try to find pockets in music where they could do something a little different from what was being done. “Dylan (Bob Dylan) was saying one time, ‘If someone was making music that I am making now, I wouldn’t be making it’, in other words, he was listening to Woody Guthrie and soaking up all his stuff and kind of came up with his own thing,” Shultz says. “So that was the approach we were taking for the longest time and this year, as a group we had this revelation, just the uniqueness and anomaly of the human finger print that each person has characteristic and things about themselves that are uniquely their own and so we didn’t want to be so directly influenced by exterior influences.” Shultz almost stopped listening to musical recordings completely and mentions how the human mind will fill in sonic blinks with emotions that were attached to experiences. He got into Christmas music and allowed himself to listen to old Christmas music by Nat King Cole and Dean Martin.
The conversation carried into profound thoughts on Cage the Elephant’s music making process and censorship. “I’m not talking about vulgarity but censorship as in censoring ourselves, our personalities, our beliefs and being afraid to stand there “naked”, Shultz says. “There is this overwhelming pull to write music to create images and project these images of being artistic, poetic or being intellectual and then we lose sight of the whole purpose of creative works in the first place, which is communication. Like in the barest form, I think music is about communication whether you are entertaining or connecting with people, you are trying to express the moans and groans of the heart.”
With a winter riddled with advertisities, Shultz has no expectations for this record. The band was on the road for 5 years solid and he felt that for the first time in his adult life that he had his own place which he had spent decorating and working on “pointless tedious toils in vain and obsessing over it” but ended up moving from room to room with no purpose. “I kind of got into a place where it seemed like this cloud of imminent doom was just following me around. So, coming out with this record after the ‘pangs of childbirth’, whatever happens I’ll be happy with. The stuff that has happened so far has been a surprise to me,” Shultz says.
Shultz carries on about what inspired the music, and how he would lay on the pool table, close the blinds and try to imagine characters for each song. From a doo-wop girl based in the red light smoking a cigarette to a gaunt wizard. “There was one song that did inspire me for a song in the record! I started thinking about some of these songs that certain groups of people regard as being cheesy, just seeing the beauty in that and trying to take that super clean production and throw something ugly on top of it but I started getting obsessed with cheesy seventies sitcom theme songs,” Shultz explains. The TV show M.A.S.H.’s theme song from the 70s inspired the song “Cigarette Dreams” on their latest record.
If you ever wondered what Shultz’s perfect music festival would look like, it would comprise of Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Paul McCartney. Which leads to the story about their drummer’s appendix exploding and Shultz getting a phone call from Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) offering to jump in as drummer for 3 days. Some other fun moments on the road included playing in front of 5,000 people for the first time ever when opening for the Queens of Stone Age. Shultz told the story about how he swan dived into a crowd in Toronto and realized that everyone had beers in each hand, the next thing he knew was a hard hit to the ground which caused his shoes to fly off his feet!
Here is a little secret, Shultz may come off as psychotic at times (although there may be shades of truth to that) he is truly a sensitive soul who favors listening to Woody Guthrie, Gram Parsons and Gary Nelson. Shultz has a softer side that people don’t get to see and in reality writes more of the softer songs in Cage the Elephant.