Cage The Elephant on Muse, their fans and the future
Cage The Elephant is a fast rising indie pop band out of Bowling Green, Ky. Their first two albums have garnered much critical acclaim, and have landed them on some of the biggest tours over the past few years, including opening slots for such mainstream icons as the Stone Temple Pilots and Muse, in addition to numerous large festivals all around the world. Their third full-length release, Melophobia, was released on Oct. 8, with even more praise from critics and widespread fanfare. Recently their lead singer and lyric writer, Matt Schultz – who has famously been compared to Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain on many occasions – spoke with me about their recent tour, the new record, and upcoming plans for their own headlining tour.
Graffiti: Cage The Elephant just got off of the road from a tour with Muse. How was that for you guys?
Schultz: It was awesome. It’s totally different when you’re opening for a huge band like Muse. Most of the audience isn’t familiar with your material.
Graffiti: So, how did the crowds respond?
Schultz: Great, actually. There’s a challenge to win over the crowd, but once you start gaining momentum it feels like it just erupts. It all kind of makes it better, really. It’s different than having a headlining show, but it is really cool. They were such great guys, as well, and the crowds were awesome.
Graffiti: Were you able to give them a real Cage The Elephant show? Did the fans get a good representation?
Schultz: Oh, yeah. Well, for us it doesn’t matter if there’s 20,000 people or just a room, you give honest performances that hopefully connect with people and resonate.
Graffiti: I’m sure it was a huge experience for you guys. Whose idea was it for you to go out with Muse? Did they approach you or was it something that you guys pursued?
Schultz: They asked and invited us to go on tour, and we were happy to oblige … and we were flattered.
Graffiti: Did playing an arena have any effect on the energy of the band? Especially at this stage in your career.
Schultz: Not on a conscious level, I don’t think. It’s more about the chemistry of the audience from night to night rather than the circumstances of the size of the venue that we’re playing. But it was great. We’ve done a couple of other arena tours, with Stone Temple Pilots, the Black Keys, and Foo Fighters, and I love them. They’re great. I really do enjoy the challenge of winning the crowds over almost as much as playing for a crowd that knows the material. There’s that breaking point, when everything starts turning. The stars align, and it’s just really special.
Graffiti: To watch people that aren’t necessarily familiar with the music become engaged and start to respond by dancing to the music, or however they turn around and really enjoy what you’re doing, it’s got to be the best feeling in the world.
Schultz: Absolutely. And a lot of these tours have people who travel from city to city and every single night they stand there in the front row. They really take to you, and you know that you’ve made a connection and hopefully that’s a life-long connection. But when you make a connection, it’s pretty sweet. And we’ve made a lot of connections like that over the years.
Graffiti: You guys are getting ready to go out again on a headlining tour to support Melophobia, correct? Where are you going to go? What are your traveling plans in terms of hitting the States and the rest of the world?
Schultz: I’m kind of in the dark when it comes to that right now [laughs]. You know, a big part of what’s going on right now is promotion for the record, so we’re doing a lot of that. We’ll probably be doing small gigs up through the holidays, but for the most part we’ll wait until after the first of the year before we go out and do headlining tours.
Graffiti: Do you have any festivals lined up in the interim?
Schultz: I know that there’s a lot of stuff in the works, so it should be a busy year.
Graffiti: OK. Well, that’s good for you guys then.
Schultz: Yeah, a busy next couple of years, hopefully [laughs].
Graffiti: So you plan on promoting Melophobia for the next couple of years then?
Schultz: Well, it just seems like every other time we’ve gone out on the road for an extended period of time … we were out for five years [laughs] … Jesus Christ. And we came home for Christmas, and during Christmas we recorded another record and then we put out another record shortly after, and continued to tour. So, we were basically out on tour for five years straight, which was pretty crazy.
Graffiti: So what’s that like with the family lives? Do you guys have wives, girlfriends, even children? How does that take its toll?
Schultz: Uh, well, a lot of that’s super personal, but you adapt to a lifestyle that you live in, you know?
Graffiti: Of course. I’m sure that takes some getting used to. Especially being gone all of the time.
Schultz: Absolutely, but it becomes pretty normal. It becomes super normal after a while. We’ve been very blessed. And our families, first off, support us fully. And then relationships that have been made outside of immediate family as far as girlfriends and wives and stuff have all been really, well, not all, but for the most part, have all been really good.
Graffiti: OK, let’s talk about the new record, Melophobia. What influenced the writing on the new album? With the host of songs that are on there, what was the influence?
Schultz: Honestly, on this record, personally, I kind of made an effort to not be, um, nearly directly externally influenced as in the past. In fact, while we were writing the record, I almost quit listening to recordings entirely, except for maybe Christmas music [laughs].
Graffiti: Well, that’s a good way to preserve the originality, and make it more organic, I would imagine.
Schultz: It’s kind of like, you know, when you listen to something and it becomes part of you, and a part of the make-up of your being. It’s only natural that that stuff will come through. I didn’t want it to be so direct. It was kind of comparable to drawing a childhood friend from memory; not necessarily knowing where those elements are coming from.
Graffiti: Obviously you take things as they come, but were there any surprises for you while writing and recording Melophobia?
Schultz: Absolutely, on every single record there are. I have strong opinions, as a person in general, so it’s always really nice when you’re proved wrong and something even better happens. Everyone in the band writes, so it’s incredible, the level of contribution that happens in the band. So when everyone’s contributing, it’s really cool to see it take shape and shape-shift and be fully realized.
Graffiti: So, with everyone writing, did you hold on to the lyrical duties this time?
Schultz: Oh yeah, I wrote all of the lyrics, except for the lines that Alison Mosshart (The Kills, The Dead Weather) did in “It’s Just Forever.” She made a huge contribution there, which made the song really cool.
Graffiti: What is it that’s at the heart of Cage The Elephant? The ‘essence’, if you will.
Graffiti: I’ve never been asked that question before. I think we’re definitely a band where the sum is greater than the parts. I think it’s about the chemistry we have together as a collective, with everyone’s musical skills combined. There’s no doubt in my mind that every person could go out and do things and make music that at least I would consider to be really cool. But as a band, I feel like we just work really well together. There’s just this unspoken thing that we all know when something really special is happening.