The members of Cage the Elephant have danced their way into the speakers and hearts of thousands of fans since the 2008 release of their self-titled debut album. The Kentucky natives are exemplified (still) by the introductory breakdown to that album’s opening track, “In One Ear.” Anticipatory drums, heavy-handed guitar riffs, and slap-strum acoustics come together in a party-friendly culmination of damn-fine music, and Matt Shultz’s unique voice is just the cherry on top.
Since that first release and amidst tireless touring, Cage the Elephant released Thank You, Happy Birthday, from which radio stations worldwide highlighted “Shake Me Down.” Two years after their breakout, fans found a refreshing wave of new Cage the Elephant that was consistent with the contained, chaotic progressions and lighthearted yet anthemic tone of their earlier work, and the band continued earning more well-deserved fans.
Promise of a new album has arrived in the pleasant package of “Come a Little Closer.” The new track has a darker instrumental foundation, and the band, which usually balances upbeat sounds with darker subject lines, has shed any inhibitions as the new song exhibits a raw, confident Cage the Elephant that has me more than excited for their new album, Melophobia.
First of all, congratulations on the new single. I really love it.
Matt: Oh, thank you so much.
Brad: The new single loves you. [LAUGHS]
So the new album’s about to come out, very exciting. What was the meaning behind the name Melophobia?
Matt: “Melophobia” actually means the fear of music. We thought it was fitting not because we have that fear of music, but because as writers, the goal is to overcome fear-based writing. To project an image rather than to communicate a thought or a feeling. To try to sound artistic, or poetic, or intellectual rather than just being honest and genuine in our writing.
It can come on the other side of trying to write a pop song, too — something that sounds commercial, something that sounds obscure for the sake of being obscure rather than just trying to communicate a genuine feeling. It’s more or less a fear of not staying true to your convictions.
So with this album you guys felt confident enough to be truly genuine and transparent?
Matt: We’re trying to.
Brad: Yeah, trying to. That’s the hard thing. I think there’s so much pressure, like Matt said, that’s put on songwriters and musicians to have that cool image and fit in with a crowd. It’s almost more about a popularity contest rather than songwriting.
Matt: Totally, yeah. It’s like running for president at your high school [LAUGHS], but the thing is, I don’t know if you can totally pin that on exterior forces. I think there are definitely internal draws to be accepted as well.
Brad: Yeah, definitely. It’s stuff like that that creates the fear within the music.
Matt: Back to your question about it being difficult. It’s an easy concept, but it’s a difficult thing to execute. The sentiment that I would love to capture is that moment when you have a loved one that’s on their deathbed and you’re able to say all the things you wished you’d said before. If you could put that into a song, I think that’s something that’s at least meaningful to yourself and hopefully to others.
I think music in its truest form was meant to communicate. It’s a communal thing; it brings people together. Whether it was a circle of people around a fire, banging on some drums and screaming about the qualms of life, or some guy in the Baroque period who’s composing a symphony, music’s meant to bring people together and hopefully communicate honest thoughts that will touch people and strike a chord.
A pivotal moment for me came through an Etta James song. I can’t remember the title of the song, but it’s about when she almost cheated on her husband. I don’t know if she wrote it or someone else did, but it goes through the whole scenario to where she almost lets herself totally fall into it, and then she catches a glimpse of her wedding ring on her finger. I was just like, “Wow, that honesty.” To write a song about almost cheating on your spouse…how many times can you even go home and just say that to someone?
Yeah, let alone sing a song to the world about it.
Brad: For me, the Dolly Parton song “Jolene” is like that, too.
Matt: Begging her not to steal her man.
Brad: Yeah, yeah.
Matt: That’s so vulnerable. It’s very difficult to do. It shouldn’t be. [LAUGHS]
You guys all write songs together. Having been on the road for so long, what did the songwriting process look like for this album?
Brad: Well, we just took a year off, so this was the first chance we had to get away from each other and write separately. It was interesting.
Matt: It was a totally different creative process this time. In the past we were around each other all the time; we were living on top of each other. With that, there’s a general awareness of where the music is moving and where everyone’s kind of going, so it’s an easy transition from concept to completion, but on this record, we had time to explore as individuals, like Brad was saying. When we got back together to record, we were all on polar opposites. It became almost a challenge to cohesively marry these different ideas. Everyone was struggling to find a place for their ideas within the whole project.
Brad: The struggle for our band usually is what kind of creates the magic. It all comes to a head and it kind of stirs, and out of that comes the good stuff.
Well, it’s definitely worked for you guys so far.
Matt: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
I saw that you created and curated a festival last year. It was one of the best lineups I think I’ve seen in a while. What was it like having your hands fully immersed in the creative process behind a festival as opposed to just playing one?
Matt: So fun.
Brad: So fun. This was the second year we got to do it.
Matt: We plan on doing it next year.
Brad: Yeah, we do. For us, we always love to discover new music and share that with people. That’s something Matt and I really enjoy doing, and it was really cool to go out and get some of these younger bands that we were really into to play and also bands that were more established who we were friends with from being on the road.
Matt: Or bands we wanted to become friends with.
Brad: Exactly. I think one of the coolest moments that we had so far as a band was at Starry Nights, and we were backing Daniel Johnston. It was so cool, and he hung out all night.
Matt: The whole concept of Starry Nights was that there used to be this place called the Pirate House in our hometown, and after we would play a show, we would all just sit there and play music for each other really late into the night. Basically the idea came from sharing records with each other and having breakfast in the morning, watching feel-good movies, like The Lion King. [LAUGHS]
Brad: At festivals, we’d go out just as festival goers. We do it just to have a good time, so that’s one thing that we wanted to do with the bands. We just wanted to encourage the bands to hang out and have a good time and actually enjoy the festival. We had a communal backstage where it wasn’t segmented or blocked off.
That’s awesome. So you guys are going to do that again next year?
Brad: Hopefully, yeah.
Well, I’ll definitely look forward to that.
KROQ’s Red Bull Sound Space is an intimate venue for any band, let alone a band as huge as Cage the Elephant. Though the sets are short, that just makes them more concentrated and explosive. For their performance, Cage the Elephant answered questions, exhibited some sweet dance moves, and then transitioned straight into the show. Small quarters in no way limited the group, who played so hard bassist Daniel Tichenor played himself right off the stage. Without missing a chord, the band kept on. With Tichenor’s back flat on the floor and his feet on the stage, the show went on.
Melophobia is available October 8th, but you can preorder it now!
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