Q&A: Brad Shultz Of Cage The Elephant
Early on in the band’s career you guys actually left the U.S. and moved to London. That’s a pretty interesting move for a young band. You really don’t see a lot of people leaving the comfort of their stomping ground anymore to start from scratch somewhere new. Can you tell me a bit about that period for you guys and how that decision factored into your success?
Well it really all started stirring up for us after South By South West in 2006 or 2007 I think. We had some interest from a few labels and one of them happened to be an indie label in the UK. It was a group of different things that led to us living out there, but for starters that particular UK label wanted to give us residency which was really enticing because not only were we a young band but we we’re also a band from a small town.
We grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which is fifty or sixty thousand people, so getting out of there was a really big deal. Then you start to think about all of the bands and the history. Everyone from Jimi Hendrix to the Ramones and Iggy Pop, all of these people that we’ve looked up to made their careers by starting out in England, so we just kind of jumped in both feet at once, and we lived there for almost 2 years.
It was definitely something I wouldn’t change. Not only did it help us grow as songwriters, being exposed to all kinds of different music we hadn’t been exposed to before, but it also really helped us grow as people. It was a really life changing thing.
After the release of your self-titled debut album, you guys spent 5 or 6 years bouncing back and forth between the studio and being out on the road without ever really taking a break. It wasn’t until prior to your most recent record, Melophobia, that you finally took a year off to recuperate and write individually, correct?
Yeah, it was kind of weird because as you said, we hadn’t been away from each other for 5 or 6 years, so initially when we first took time off, none of us even really hung out for the first few months. It wasn’t that we were mad at each other or anything, it’s when you live in a bus for that long and you’re literally 6 inches from someone at all times, you just have to take some time by yourself to unwind and get your head straight again.
This album presented a unique opportunity for us to just get away from each other and start writing as individuals, which was not how we wrote our previous records. But honestly, at first when we came back together it was kind of rough because we all had totally different ideas of what the album should be. It wasn’t until we started to really work at it and marry some of the ideas that it took on this really cool dynamic. Being apart turned out to really be a blessing in the end.
Melophobia really is pretty explorative sound wise, were you listening to anything particular during your time off?
Yeah, on this record I was really inspired by a lot of the underground music coming out of Nashville. Bands like Bad Cop, Ranch Ghost, Plastic Visions. God, there are so many young bands that are starting to come to light in the Nashville picture, even Diarrhea Planet who have been getting a lot of love on blogs like Pitchfork, and then there’s JEFF the Brotherhood. There’s just a real fire out there right now, and that was really inspiring.
I want to talk a bit about honesty in songwriting. I think that can sometimes be hard to maintain or even figure out how to get back to once a band reaches a certain level of success. You guys really took to that on this record, particularly with regards to the lyrics.
Well what happened was that Matt was struggling with some lyrics and he was talking to one of our friends, Tiger Merritt, from a band called Morning Teleportation. He was having a hard time finding something that he was really in love with so Tiger told him to stop trying to write poetically and just write how he speaks. I think at first Matt was a little taken back by it and maybe even a little offended, but the more he thought about it, the more it made sense, and he really got on this big kick trying to learn to write in that way. In hindsight that was actually more poetic.
I think we really ended up doing that musically as well without even thinking about it. I mean, you know when you have a riff that you just really love and that connects with you, and I think we were hypersensitive to that on this record. We didn’t want to worry about whether or not we were creating a style that people would expect from our band, we just wanted to write songs that we were in love with and lyrics that really translated for people. We used to get all caught up in trying to do stuff like that, and the songs just end up becoming less honest and a little more contrived.
I think at the end of the day, especially today, you have to write those riffs, and songs, and lyrics that you connect with first…
Absolutely, and it all just ties into the album title, Melophobia, which is about being afraid of music. Not necessarily in the literal sense, but in terms of outside pressures or even from within your own mind. We all want to be accepted you know? And, acceptance means something different to everybody in this world.
I think there is this invisible pressure that is put onto bands and artists these days, whether it’s for critical acclaim or even selling records, and we just didn’t want to fall victim to any of those fears. We really worked at digging this time around and it’s hard. It’s difficult to break down your own subconscious thinking and re-evaluate the way you write songs, so that was kind of a big break through for us on this record.
Once again you guys recorded this album with long time producer, Jay Joyce. What is it about working together and your relationship with Jay that keeps you coming back?
I think for us it’s just a level of comfort. Jay got with us when we were young and he did our first record, so we’ve always kind of looked at him as a mentor. Jay can talk to us like we’re family, like we’re his little brothers. He really doesn’t step on our toes as far as songwriting, but he makes sure we’re not settling either.
If we’re working on a part and it’s just not turning his gears, he’ll let us know that it’s not taking anyone on a journey and it’s just kind of regurgitated information. Even if we’re pissed at him and we think its bullshit in the moment, 99% of the time, he’s right. On this last record alone, I think everybody had a day in the studio where they were furious with Jay, but then we’d come back the next day and lo and behold something great would come out of this mediocre piece of song. He definitely pulls something out of us that we wouldn’t if he wasn’t there.