INTERVIEW: Cage The Elephant | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Kentucky alt. rockers Cage The Elephant’s fourth studio album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, hints that the group have polished up a little since the raw punk concept which launched them in 2008. Upon repeated listens however, it’s obvious that the anarchy never died, it’s just not screaming in your face anymore.

For the band’s new release, they worked alongside The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach on production duties, and discovered that the processes of the modern music wonder were particularly conducive to their rebellious streak, although the new record was approached with an emotional and more sentimental outlook, as frontman Matt Schultz explains. “Working with Dan was very different. With Jay [Joyce, the band’s producer for previous records], he spent very little time prior to you going in the studio. He spent a lot of time, especially with Melaphobia, putting all the songs under a microscope.” Whilst Auerbach’s technique seems to differ. “On this record we spent more time focussing on the sonic scape of the record and creating a classic sound, Dan has his finger on the pulse with that.”

Matt insists that Tell Me I’m Pretty is an album of discovery and exploration. “A lot of the record was focussed on intensity, but intensity that was restrained. In everyday life we’re constantly restraining ourselves and our true feelings and where we are.”

Instrumentally, tracks such as Cry Baby and Too Late To Say Goodbye hold an unmistakable Auerbach influence; a magical concoction of astounding percussion, lush guitar and dreamy vocals. “Dan has a really special gift at keeping you from overthinking things and standing in your own way, he was great at helping us strip things back. I think on this record it was more focussed on trying to be honest, but not only honest in content but also honest in the way that you might present it when having a conversation with somebody.”

Critically, the album has also been noted as being nostalgic. “I think on this record it was about looking back and trying to spend time with things that are less than desirable.

“In the world of creativity there’s a suspension of disbelief, you’re given this opportunity to be as outrageous as you feel on the inside, but it can be a dangerous allowance…”

I asked Schultz what it is within him that makes him feel the need to create. “We’re already thinking about the next album, we’re probably just going to repeat the cycle and make more albums until we don’t have that drive in us anymore.” He says. “I’ve been super obsessed with Rodrigo Amarante and Devendra Banhart. There’s so many artists I look at now and they make me wish when I was younger I hadn’t put so much stock in persona. Over the years I kind of smelled the bullshit. When you’re writing just to be considered artistic or poetic, you kill everything that’s great about the creative process. I’m just glad we survived the years, and now we’ve had the opportunity to do something that’s a little more honest for ourselves and our audience.”

Music has been instilled in Schultz from an early age, despite a somewhat unusual upbringing growing up on a commune. “It was just a little community, not this whole ‘drink the magic Kool­aid’ type of deal.” He says, admitting that his upbringing offered experiences that most suburban kids wouldn’t encounter. “We really struggled financially, one of the things the kids in the neighbourhood liked to do was to dig around the trash. We found a drum kit one day in the garbage, we couldn’t believe it! We took it upstairs, my mom was mortified but my dad was like ‘awwwesome!’ We just had the bass drum, no snare or anything and we played with coat hangers. I was terrible! My dad never wanted me to get lessons, he thought that if I could get really good at technically being really bad then I’d be really original. He would always encourage us to figure things out on our own.”

Despite a less than normal upbringing, it’s clear that Schultz’ musical flair and his band’s drive for success has produced a well-rounded and forward-thinking talent. So if he could go back to his younger self, what would he tell him now? “Stop being an asshole!” He states in an assertive tone. “But then, I’ll probably think the same thing in ten years. I see more and more of how much I was led by my idea of how a person is supposed to be, and even today how people stereotype themselves and live their entire life under a haircut. It’s no way to live at all.”

Cage The Elephant play Newcastle’s Riverside on Monday 15th February.

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