Interview: Cage The Elephant talk their new album, collaborating with Beck and more
Cage The Elephant have come a long way since they decided to leave behind Kentucky for East London in the late 2000s. Organically, with each record release, they have become a pillar of alternative music and their fifth album, Social Cues, marks another step in their evolution.
The recording process saw the band move back and forth between Nashville and Los Angeles, working in five different studios including L.A.’s famous Village Studio and the historic Sound Emporium Music City.
Far Out spoke to Cage The Elephant’s Brad Shultz from his Nashville home who explained the decision to switch up the recording process for their new album: “On every other record we’ve done it in primarily one place, every-time we kind of make it up and try to make it a bit uncomfortable for us to force us to grow a little bit,” he said in a glorious Southern twang.
Cage The Elephant’s desire to keep moving forward has been the bedrock of their ability to evolve and, on Social Cues, the band chose to make a switch in producer with the Grammy nominated John Hill replacing The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach who was at the helm on their last effort Tell Me, I’m Pretty who himself replaced Jay Joyce who produced their first three records. I asked Brad whether he believes it is important to mix up who you work to give each record a different feel and to keep things fresh, to which the guitarist promptly replied: “It depends on what you’re trying to achieve.”
“Our first three records were produced by Jay Joyce and we were very happy staying with him but we felt like we needed a change so we changed to Dan Auerbach and then we wanted to go in a different direction so we changed again to John Hill but I’m not opposed to staying with the same person, it’s just kind of whatever you’re feeling. Sometimes it’s a crap studio and you might go the wrong direction. For us, at least, it’s someone who is going to be able to facilitate and help better what you visioned your record to be.”
One particular high point on the new record is a moment when the Kentucky boys move into somewhat unknown territory, adding electro-pop ‘Night Running’ which sees them collaborate with the effortlessly cool Beck whose vocals—when contrasted with Matt Schulz’s dark tones—makes for a dreamy three-and-a-half minutes for the listener. The story behind the track is wild, over the last five years the song has led to massive arguments between Brad and his brother Matt. On numerous occasions they struggled to work out what to do with it and, in a moment of deliberation, it was almost given away a couple of times but the end result proves it was worth the wait as Beck poured his magic dust on the track.
“Oh It was the weirdest thing, I had that track for five years maybe a bit more, I wrote it off the back off Melophobia,” Shultz explained when I asked about the song’s origins. “Y’know we toured and then we were on an off cycle. I was working with Juliet Lewis from Juliet and The Licks and I showed her the song and she wanted to do it but then I told Matt and he was like ‘Oh Man, I would never give away a song, that could be a Cage song’,” he said while delivering a jokey impression of his brother that has been mastered over the years.
Shultz added: “She’s a good friend so I explained to her about it and it was all good. And then, Tell Me, I’m Pretty rolled around and for some reason the enthusiasm around that track was lost a bit so it didn’t make that record. I then started talking with John Gourley from Portugal. The Man about doing it and then Matt kinda pulled the same thing y’know [laughs] ‘I would never give away a Cage track’ He said while replicating the same impression as before.”
He continued: “So we dropped that conversation and then with this record, we recorded it as an instrumental and everyone in the band really loved it, it was probably one of our favourites and Matt just couldn’t find the right inspiration for the song for the melody or vocally. Then we kind of butted heads over that and honestly, I was pissed off. I had this song that I believed in for like five years and I saw the same pattern kind of happening again. We got into a big argument about it, then I kind of realised if it’s meant to be something it will, then once I let the pressure of that song developing go and I just began thinking of wild ideas.”
Then the missing ingredient came to Shultz and the rest is history, he explained: “I was chatting with our day-to-day manager and just trying to brainstorm ideas and I’d just met Beck probably three months prior to that and for some reason he just popped into my mind. So I just asked her to send the track to Beck on a whim then within 24-48 hours he came back with two verses and he has four more that we’ve never actually heard because we liked the two verses so much that we just immediately went down that path so there’s four more verses out there that are floating out there somewhere.
“It was just so weird how organically it came together once I let go and stopped trying to force the song, sometimes you get in your own way when you do that,” Brad added with a sense of pride as this idea he’s had floating around in his head for half a decade becomes more than he’d ever imagined.
That monster song has kicked off the start of something special between Cage and Beck as this summer sees them head out and play some huge outdoor gigs as part of a co-headline run in the States. “We had no idea that Beck would be into the tour but we were trying to put a cool bill together for our first headlining tour and one of was like ‘I wonder if Beck would co-headline with us’ so we put it out there to him and it developed the same way,” Brad explained.
The stage show has also evolved as has their sound, for this summer’s shows Brad revealed to Far Out that they’ve linked up with the team behind Kanye’s set-up over the last 12 years but June sees them return to their roots with some special, intimate shows in Britain described as “so fun because they’re so intimate that there’s not even a barrier in there so the crowd’s right against the stage and it’s as hot as hell in there and you can have some of the most special moments in that environment.” The tour sees the band return to the place which helped kick-start it for them over a decade ago when they made the bold move to London.
Coming from a small town in Kentucky and moving to one of the biggest cities in Europe was always going to be a culture shock. That said, the move proved to be an experience that made the band a brotherhood. “We’ve always kinda had this chip on our shoulder I guess in a sense, coming from Bowling Green there’s not a huge music scene to draw from so in some sense we grew up as kind of the outsiders. Our home town had maybe like 50,000 people and we moved to London, signed a record deal, moved there and ended up living really far East in a place called Leyton and there was nothing around in those days, it was before even like the stadium was up there or anything.”
“It’s always good to get outside of your comfort zone and I feel like we made strides musically in our growth and I think as people we made giant strides. It definitely helped bond that brotherhood between us.”
It takes a rare kind of act to be able to play to mix playing stadium shows with Beck as well as ripping-up sweatboxes and headlining festivals but Cage The Elephant somehow manage it. It’s clear that despite their huge successes they haven’t forgot about their roots of Bowling Green which still gives them the feel of being outsiders somehow and having something to prove despite being one of the biggest bands in the States over the last decade which is largely down to that fire in their belly which has led to their natural progression with each album that continues on Social Cues.
Social Cues is released today via Columbia Records and is available to stream, below: