Matt Shultz of Cage The Elephant
After being swooped up by a UK label after playing SXSW, Cage the Elephant (Matt Shultz on vocals, Brad Shultz on guitar, Daniel Tichenor on bass, Lincoln Parish on guitar and Jared Champion on drums) spent two years building a name for themselves before coming back to the US. The time was well-spent; their debut album burst onto the scene and was one of the year’s top indie records. Their first single, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” seems to be everywhere, and if you’ve watched tv this year you’ve no doubt heard it.
The band’s notoriously raucous live show is felt throughout the record, as is lead singer Matt Schulz’ frustration with society. Much has been made of these southern punk-funk rockers’ background, but Cage the Elephant is clearly only looking ahead.
TheyWillRockYou.com recently caught up with Matt while the band was on their way to get the best barbecue in the world (or at least in Austin, TX).
Interviewed by: Laura DiBetta | December 2009
You were initially signed by a UK label, Relentless, and the band moved to England. Was there any hesitation in moving across the Atlantic?
No. No, because the label…there were several labels that were kind of interested at the time, and this was the only one that offered 100% creative control and that was so important to us that once they offered that we didn’t care what it took to start things out as long as we were able to maintain that.
How did the UK audiences compare to what you had experienced in the US?
Well, we hadn’t experienced much honestly in the US. We didn’t have anything to base it on. We basically went and played a show in Nashville and this guy was there and he picked us up and we did a production deal with him. It happened so fast. Three months after we signed the production deal with him we went down to SXSW after we just finished our record and played that and then a couple months later we were living in the UK. So it happened really fast. We did a tour with Queens of the Stone Age and that was amazing but that wasn’t our crowd you know. It was kind of funny because we were all so pumped after doing that tour, it was the first tour we’d ever done, so when we got to England we were kind of expecting more than what there was going to be. We just got off tour playing to 5000 people a night and then we started playing shows over there to like 2 or 3 people a night. And a couple of those people were bartenders.
How did you end up back in the US with Jive Records?
Well we just set up residency in the UK. We lived there for about 2 years and just kept touring and touring and touring and started to build up a fan base on that and then about a year into it radio picked up on “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” and we started to pick up over there and then some of the US labels that at first weren’t ready to give us creative control changed their minds and that’s kind of how that happened. We actually got new management and a couple of months later we were with Jive.
Anytime a new artist emerges, the tendency is to make a lot comparisons to other modern artists. But the album seems to me have a lot of older influences. Who would you say have been your biggest musical influences?
For the record or now?
Well is there someone you can’t get enough of right now?
Yeah, The Pixies. They are my favorite band right now. When we were doing that record we were listening to a lot of The Stooges and the Ramones, Rage Against the Machine, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, Chuck Berry. But here lately we’ve been listening to a lot of punk: Black Flag, Bad Brains, Butthole Surfers, Violent Femmes.
So can we expect any new music to have a lot more of a punk edge?
The new record is a lot different. We just finished it. We’re going to be mixing it in the next couple of months. It is a lot different. It’s not all punk, but definitely comes from that place.
A lot has been made of your background, coming from a religious family in a small, southern town. How much does your upbringing influence your music?
I don’t know, it’s much more of a subconscious kind of influence. You’re a product of your environment. Like everything that we go through in life, a lot of that stuff takes effect on you but you’re not consciously aware of what it does to you. I’m sure it has an effect on me but I don’t see any direct effect it had on me.
You just played a show in your hometown of Bowling Green, KY. Was that the first time you’ve played there since “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” and “Back Against the Wall” made it big?
Yeah it was. It was really, really…it was good to be back home. The show was a sold out show. It was funny…the place where we played, the Capitol Arts, was a place that when we were kids we always talked about playing. It’s impossible to sell out and when we did it was really, really nice.
Some pretty cool things have happened to you in the last year…you played on Letterman…you played Lollapalooza. I feel like every time I turn on the tv I hear one of your songs…the World Series, video game commercials. Was there a moment when you thought, I can’t believe this is happening?
I feel that way all the time. Every single day. We’re very, very fortunate. I have a lot of friends in a lot of really great bands that for whatever reason haven’t experienced the kind of success that we have yet, not that they won’t, but we are in a very fortunate place for sure. There are a lot of bands out there that are amazing that never even get to put out records…just circumstances. There are so many things that could’ve torn our band apart because we went through a lot of hard stuff when we moved to England…a lot of really dark times. And we also got caught into some really messed up business stuff in the beginning that could’ve easily torn our band apart. So that fact that we’re still a band is really good.
Switching to songwriting…Matt, your songs are often autobiographical or the result of a specific incident. Is there ever a time when you think something is maybe too personal to put out there?
Sometimes, but most of the time everything I write is pretty personal. I just write it in code…make it really cryptic so it doesn’t hurt the people that are around me or expose myself too much.
Once the music is written, how does the music flow from that? Is everyone involved?
We all write. Whether we have a more completed idea or it’s something that we’ve just started, we bring it to the band and everyone adds to it and comes up with their own parts. We write as a band. There’s no certain writer in the band, everyone writes.
I’ve never seen you live and I’ve read some interesting reviews of your live shows. What should someone going to see you for the first time expect?
Expect to be disappointed. It’s hard to say. The thing about our live shows is that the energy of our live shows is reflective of the energy of the music. I doubt that our performance would be the way it is if we were sitting around playing a bunch of folk songs.
My 10-year-old nephew is just getting into music and apparently loves “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” When you think about when you first started to really get into music and the bands that made you get into it, what does it feel like to know that for some kids today, Cage the Elephant is that band? It’s gotta be pretty cool.
It is cool. I feel sorry for those kids though. I’m not much of a role model.
What’s the next big move for you guys? When is the new album coming out?
I guess it’s releasing the record and we’re hopefully releasing it will this summer. Hopefully early summer but probably more like late in the summer. For us the only goal we have is to continue putting out records we love and to have our record label pay for it and not have it come out of our own pocket (laughs).
It’s funny because we were a little hesitant to sign with Jive. I was a little skittish because of some of the acts that were on Jive, but come to find out a lot of those people worked at Geffen records back when Nirvana and a lot of those bands were on Geffen and they’ve said they’ve been dying to work with a band again and have been nothing but great. Just the way the music industry is today, you wouldn’t think a label would be that way but they’ve been really good as far as creative control and allowing us to just spend as much time in the studio as possible. I guess we’re just happy to be making records, that’s kind of where our mind is. We just finished the second record and now we’re thinking, well, what are we going to do about the third?
If you had to pick a personal theme song, not one of your own tunes, what would it be and why?
(Matt spends some time trying to remember a song that goes, “Send me an angel, right now.”)
What’s that song, (sings) (drum sounds) “I can see it coming in the air tonight, hold on.” And I would pick that just because it would be hilarious if they played that every time I walked in the door.
Or if it was “Eye of the Tiger” (sings musical intro), can you imagine if that was going through your mind all the time how much it would change your behavior?
No, seriously though, my theme song would probably be “Hey” by The Pixies just because there’s a lot of truth in it. It’s the way I feel. I love that song.
Any parting words for the fans?
Is there any way I could give some shout outs, some bands that people should be listening to but aren’t really known though?
Let’s Wrestle, Screaming Tea Party, Wavves, Crocodiles, The Vivian Girls, Idle Times, Crystal Steels, The Shackletons, Morning Teleportation, Manchester Orchestra, Bleached Whale.
So those are all some newer bands that are really great that people should be checking out.
Cage the Elephant Press Photos used courtesy of Jive Records/Photographer: Danny Clinch
Catch Cage the Elephant live at these upcoming shows:
December 8, 2009 Phoenix, AZ
December 9, 2009 Tucson, AZ
December 12, 2009 Las Vegas, NV
December 13, 2009 Los Angeles, CA
December 15, 2009 Winnipeg, MB
December 16, 2009 Saskatoon, SK
December 18, 2009 Edmonton, AB
December 19, 2009 Calgary, AB