Confronting the elephant in the room
With a highly anticipated return to Liverpool coming this February, CAGE THE ELEPHANT are gearing up for a triumphant start to the new year. Following in the wake of their fourth album Tell Me I’m Pretty, produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and released late last December, the Kentucky four-piece continue to garner praise and acclaim for their diverse range of musical styles and their now notoriously energetic performances.
Throughout their career they’ve been known to channel elements of funk, punk, blues and alt. rock through their music. Now experimenting with elements of psychedelia and garage rock, the band are extending their repertoire even further. The album’s closing track, Portuguese Knife Fight, even shows a particularly prevalent Iggy & the Stooges influence which, of course, is never a bad thing.
Due to unrelenting high demand, Cage The Elephant’s tour stop in Liverpool on 18th February has been upgraded to the O2 Academy’s main room. Catching up over the phone, Christopher Carr talks to the band’s lead vocalist Matthew Shultz about inspiration, honesty and proving yourself.
Bido Lito!: So, how has the reception to the new record been so far?
Matthew Shultz: It’s been pretty overwhelming so far. It feels pretty good. For one thing, the fans haven’t turned on us yet, so, that’s a good thing.
BL!: Over the four records you’ve released you’ve displayed an eclectic range of styles and sounds. Was it always a plan for the band to branch across styles or does the change occur naturally during the writing process?
MS: I think it’s a bit of both. When we were younger, I think I put a lot of stock in pursuing a persona, or a character-based, style. And I think, as we’ve grown older and evolved, we’ve now begun to rely more on transparency and losing those character styles. Now we focus more on concentrating on the song and what it lends itself to be. We really try to not restrict ourselves too much when it comes to the writing aspect. We are always trying to reimagine our sound and with this record that’s the approach that we tried to take.
BL!: So as far as the writing process goes, what is your personal inspiration for writing lyrics?
MS: A lot of it is deeply personal, you know, and I try to put a lot of myself into it so that it can be relatable to listen to. I don’t want it to ever sound disingenuous. I want it to feel real and for it communicate in a real way. I also try to focus on the purpose of what I’m saying. It has to have purpose. You know, there’s a lot of noise in the world so what you say carries a lot of responsibility with it and, unfortunately, a lot of the everyday conversations we have can be very haphazard, so, I’m always really intent on just trying to say something when I have something to say. Transparency is also very important to me.
BL!: Is the music that you listen to for writing inspiration as eclectic and diverse as the music that you write as a band?
MS: There’s so much stuff that we listen to all the time and we’re constantly trying to discover new artists as well. I’ve been listening to a lot of Devandra Banhart recently, and more specifically his record Mala, which I think is genius. We also listen to a lot of Rodrigo Amarante, Mile High Club, Wolf Alice, Fly Golden Eagle, Clear Plastic Masks, a lot of different stuff.
BL!: How did the pairing between you guys and Dan Auerbach come about?
MS: Well, years ago we opened for them [The Black Keys] when they were supporting their record Brothers and it was cool to kinda witness them as they blew up. We just kinda became friends on that tour and stayed in touch. A couple of years later they were touring for Turn Blue and they asked us to come back out with them cos we were out supporting our record at the time. It was a really fun tour to be out with them and while we were out we’d go and hang in Dan’s hotel room and just play around ideas and talk about which direction we were going in. We just had a really good hang, like, one of those conversations when everyone is on the same page and there’s just this synergy in the room. We were just excited to share ideas and show each other bands to listen to. At the end of the tour he actually said to us that he wants to produce the next record and, you know, it just made sense for us. We were moving in a direction where we wanted to strip things down and make a record about restraint.
BL!: Your upcoming Liverpool show has been upgraded to a bigger venue due to high demand for tickets. Does that make you more excited or more nervous to play the show?
MS: Yeah! Both. We’re so happy to be out again and heading back over there on a headlining tour. For a couple of years our management had lobbied for us to focus on branching out at home and touring in America, so, I think now the plan is to make England and Europe a huge part of the focus. Yeah, so, I’m really excited to be back, since, we actually lived over there for a while. England is like a second home to us. I can’t even remember how many nights we spent in kebab shops at two or three in the morning.
BL!: There’s been a Pledgemusic campaign set up for pre-orders of the new record. How important has social networking been for maintaining a connection with your fans?
MS: It’s been hugely important. You know, I was kinda skeptical about, you know, taking advantage of that just because, since the whole social media thing has surfaced there have been a lot of people who have used it really irresponsibly. I think that, if you use it as an interface to connect with people and use it as a platform then in that way it’s incredible and it’s definitely become a bigger part of what we’re doing.
BL!: I read in an interview recently that you said you’d felt “extreme conviction to leave” your hometown with the first record. Now that you have four albums under your belt and you’re about to leave home for an international tour, do you still feel as though you have as much to prove?
MS: Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, every single day. I try not to think of it as having as much to prove these days as much as it’s…. how can I say it? I think when you’re younger it’s like it’s you versus the world. And as you move forward and grow older it becomes more like it’s you versus yourself. You grow in so many different ways, and growth is definitely not measured with a straight line. I think it’s shaped more like a tree trunk [laughs]. But yeah, there’s definitely more to prove to myself. Well actually, I wouldn’t say prove, I would say overcome.
Tell Me I’m Pretty is out now on RCA Records.