Cage The Elephant first bounced on to the scene in early 2008, with their southern blues tinged garage rock sound, in fitting with the Black Keys and early Kings of Leon. Cage The Elephant may have dropped off the UK’s radar slightly over the past year or so, but they are well and truly back, with new album Melophobia and a summer of touring and festival dates.
Now, just a few weeks before they go on tour with Foals in the UK and after a year of heavy touring, we speak to lead singer Matt Schultz about their new record, the burgeoning Nashville music scene and a very believable, if not slightly inconsistent tale regarding the origin of the band’s name…
Hi Matt! How are you and where are you today? Set the scene!
I’m standing in the stairwell of my house and it’s a lovely afternoon, it’s nice out.
You’re about to go out on tour with Foals, which city are you looking forward to playing in?
I’m horrible at looking at schedules and stuff, I’m just very anxious to get out on tour and get back to the UK. It’s been about two years since we’ve been to the UK. When we first started out we started in the UK, we lived in London for two years and gigged around the UK so it’s kind of a home away from home. And also Foals are one of the first bands we befriended when we moved to the UK and we toured with them. It will be nice to tour with them again, they’re great guys.
Whereabouts in London did you live?
We lived in Leyton… I’ve heard that it’s a much better part of town now since they built the Olympic Stadium but it was not a good place at the time, we lived not too far from a place called ‘Murder Mile’… so yeah!
What or who would you say are the main influences for the sound of Melophobia?
It’s kind of hard to pinpoint really. Definitely in the past we reached for influences that were connected to artists we loved, it’s hard to say who because it’s always changing. For this record we cut ourselves off from musical recordings almost completely. We didn’t want to be so directly externally influenced, we wanted the process to be more comparable to drawing a childhood friend from memory. Each record we make is like a battle against fear based writing as human beings we constantly project these images of self, it’s strange because the creative works that we make become this thing of projecting pre-meditated images of self. You wanna portray yourself as artistic or poetic or intellectual or, god forbid, genius – these are all elitist titles created to separate people to say: ‘You Sir, are not creative and I AM creative, I am an artist and you are not, I am poetic and you are not,” and all human beings have intellect all are creative, you know? To come back full circle we try to stay away, at least now in current days, we try to stay away for being so directly influenced because there’s an overwhelming pressure to create music that sounds like music that is already deemed socially acceptable or cool or intellectual which I think is one of the reasons why the technologically world is advancing at such a fast rate yet our creative world seems to be dragging it’s feet. We’ve idolised our heroes and rather than enjoying their music we worship them and were afraid to move out of their shadow.
Have you approached this record differently to previous records?
No this is absolutely different. The very first record we were very much in that place of emulating or imitating our heroes and the second record was the first fruits of trying to step outside of that. This record it was a complete abandonment or rejection of how we tried to create music in the past.
How do you feel about the success of ‘Come a Little Closer’?
I feel good about it! Especially seeing it was the songs that almost didn’t make the record. We fought for it to not be on the record! All those things that you read about it in rock and roll fairy-tales.
So you’re about music being honest and true to yourself, how do you overcome artistic differences within the band?
You just have to be humbled by recognising when you’re wrong. It’s interesting because my favourite records are ones I don’t fully understand on first listen and it has to grow on me. On this record we spent several months apart before we got together to write collectively, so we had pretty solid idea of what we wanted the record to sound like as individuals. When we came together it was difficult task to cohesively marry these polar opposites and the interesting thing is with this record I had the opportunity to make the record but then fall in love with some of the songs that I didn’t immediately understand, to see myself be proven wrong. It really was quite an experience.
So it’s not a compromise as such, more a learning curve?
No I’d still call it a compromise [laughing]. When you walk away from it you have to accept in sense you’re not this totalitarian dictator, it’s so much better that way. Any human who has ever accomplished really great things doesn’t usually do it on their own, you surround yourself with people you trust and can work with, not that we’ve done anything that great, but whatever.
You spoke about technological advancements, loads of artists are talking about Spotify, how do you think streaming services impacts on music?
I don’t know if it affects the creation process but ti definitely makes listening to music more accessible. The only thing that is disheartening is the fact that you don’t have a solid copy of the album, there isn’t as much attention to detail. Friends who are a little older tell me stories about how when in the 90s they would light a candle and bring a couple of records in and put them on and nobodies allowed to talk until the entire records finished and then they all discussed what they lided or didn’t like, they had incredible love and respect for music, I feel like nowadays people listen to music, this is a general statement, it almost feels like music is listened to with peoples fashion sense rather than their ears or their hearts, it’s like an accessory to your outfit.
On the subject of new music what new bands are you excited by at the moment?
Well actually at the moment there’s a thriving scene here in Nashville which started kind of emerging several years back. There’s kind of this feeling of electricity and excitement that’s contiuinf to gain momentum and energy. It’s just incredible, seriously. There’s a band called Fly Golden Eagle, Ranch Ghost, Clear Plastic Masks, Plastic Visions, Jeff The Brotherhood. It’s really great.
What’s next for you as a band after the Foals tour, have you got any UK festivals lined up?
We are in the midst of putting together a UK festival schedule, I don’t know what it is yet but they are doing that. Hopefully tour this record then make a new record and tour that
How did you come up with the band name?
Well actually I had this weird dream with all this symbolism, there was an old lady that was shovelling gram crackers and marshmallows and there was a guy that had a golden thimble on his finger and he only had three teeth, and then there was an elephant, it was super skinny and it had really long almost kind of spider legs and it jumped over the moon, and it felt like the legs were gonna touch me and I remember feeling really gross, and after it called past the man with two teeth said ‘it’s name is Cage’.
Did this involve any hallucinogenics at all?
[laughing] No, I wish it did!
Would you like to pick three songs for our monthly radio show?
1. Queens of the Stone Age – Smooth Sailing
2. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – So Good at Being in Trouble
3. Fly Golden Eagle – Psyche’s Dagger
Thanks Matt, good luck with the tour and album!