Ready To Let Go: Cage The Elephant Interviewed

Ready To Let Go: Cage The Elephant Interviewed

Brad Shultz on their highly personal new album, working with Beck, and finding a connection...

“I think you just go through so much shit that there has to be an end of the tunnel sometimes and thank god the end is now, it seems like we are at the end of it anyway,” Brad Shultz says with a glimmer of hope and sigh of relief in his voice.

“A few of our good friends passed away within three months of each other after we had already recorded ‘Social Cues’. We were scheduled to release the song ‘Goodbye’ and our close friend passed away four days before we were scheduled to release the song, so it took on a whole different meaning and really had an impact on me that I did not expect. The record is very therapeutic and it’s kind of evolved throughout these hard times.”

“But things seem to be on the up and hopefully all the tragedy is behind us. Hopefully the record can help those who are in similar situations.”

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The road to Cage The Elephant’s poignantly personal fifth album ‘Social Cues’ has been one strewn with pitfalls and personal tragedy – enough to throw one into freefall and abandon faith in a brighter future. A tremendous amount of respect goes to the Kentucky collective for going through hell and coming out fighting fit and full of hope the other end.

“I think that I don’t know how you actually get through it, there’s a lot of stress and anxiety. Even the night before the funeral we thought it would be a good idea to blow off some steam and have a few drinks, but then it all kind of came to a head – me and our guitar player Nick ended up getting in this huge fight, literally over nothing, it was just that we were under so much stress and anxiety that we started to project that onto each other.”

“Matt was going through the loss of his relationship as well. ‘Goodbye’ was a particularly hard song for Matt to record - during the middle of recording that song, he laid on the floor and sang the vocals and got up after doing one take and then left the studio, we didn’t talk to him for like two days. It’s strange going from that point, where doing the song was so difficult, to performing it on a nightly basis. But I think that just speaks to how therapeutic this record was. Sometimes the tougher things to do are the things that are going to help you the most.”

Cage have a history of storm chasing across various musical terrains, keeping fans on their toes as they eagerly await the band’s next move. The band have a propensity for viscous and scuzzy, hard hitting ferocity on their records, with each album possessing their own respective touch of organised chaos.

Given the climate in which ‘Social Cues’ was conceived, an understandable veil of gravity and sobering reality cloaks the album, creating something far more subdued and deliberate than previous works.

“We didn’t really know what ‘Social Cues’ was going to be. We did this record in different sessions this time and we knew that whatever the aesthetic was going to be, we just wanted the parts to be very intentional and to focus on certain emotions, as well as try to reflect the lyrics of the song and support those lyrics – we wanted to make the listeners feel the same emotions or to help them to feel the same emotions that we were feeling.”

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“We didn’t really figure out the sound of the record until maybe our third session. We were doing sessions that were two weeks on and then we would take five weeks off and then we would do two weeks back on again and so on which is why it took us over two years to release this record.”

“If you look at all our records, from the first one to now, you can really hear that throughout every record we’ve never really stuck to one genre. We hopefully haven’t pigeonholed ourselves. I think when we first started writing music one of the problems was that we really thought of ourselves as rock and roll.”

“We had all these songs we were writing during that time that were really good, and we were almost cutting our nose off to spite our face because we weren’t using those songs as they didn’t fit with what we considered our band to be. Then we really realised that we can’t or we shouldn’t, at least in our opinion, try to mould ourselves to fit into any sort of category and the record will be what the record is supposed to be.”

“We feel like we naturally gravitate towards the song the we feel most passionately about and those songs make the record and whatever those songs may be, that’s what the record is. For us, the past few records have been the most honest interpretation of where we are musically and the changes in our lives and the twists and turns that life is.”

Going where the wind blows them, Cage combined their ad hoc approach to the record with their adamant thinking outside the box to fashion the collaboration with Beck for ‘Night Running’.

“Musically everyone in the band was really excited about it. Matt had the chorus done but was having trouble finding inspiration for a vocal part – I think he was kind of paranoid that he wasn’t going to do the verses justice and that he was going to disappoint everybody else in the band.”

“We had met Beck three months before that and for whatever reason I was just like: Let’s send this song to Beck and see what he can do. We’d only met Beck once so it was literally on a whim. I had our manager send him an email which I’m sure was the most random email ever.”

“Beck was touring in Asia at the time so he probably just did this on his tour bus, but within 48 hours he sent us back two verses and said that he had four more verses on track – that speaks volumes to how much of an artist he is and how creative he is. We were so happy with the first two verses that he sent over, that we never even listened to the other four verses.”

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As for their live performances with this particularly intimate record, it is a welcomed remedy for Cage and a chance for reflection. The harrowing memories woven into the very fabric of the record, albeit painful, are harnessed to their advantage as a continued therapy for the band and fans alike.

“The songs take on a whole new life when you tour. You get lost in the music, for me at least I get lost in it more. I think Matt uses it to really dive into a state of mind to the period in which he wrote the lyrics so he can create a very honest performance on stage.”

“We played 'Shaky Knees' recently and there was a major thunder storm right as our set was starting and it poured rain the whole time and people, even though the songs are new and it was the first time we’d played them live, people stayed in the rain for over an hour and you saw people singing all the lyrics to all the new songs. That was really inspiring and makes us want to play more shows and hopefully share those levels with more people.”

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'Social Cues' is out now.

Words: Yasmin Cowan
Photo Credit: Neil Krug

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