Tripping On Acid With John Wayne: A Conversation With Cage the Elephant
  • WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 09, 2015

  • Posted by: Don Saas

Every year, somebody tries to say that rock and roll is dead. Pop music is killing it. EDM is killing it. Major labels are killing it. And every year, a group of rock bands arrive to prove, once again, that these doomsayers need a new hobby. Ever since they arrived on the scene in 2008 with their self-titled debut, few bands have done more to prove that rock and roll is indeed very much alive than Kentucky blues/psych/garage rockers Cage the Elephant.

"...a child has no reason to be persuaded to like a certain [type of] music; they just love what they love because, you know, they dig it."



Brad Shultz, a founding member of Cage the Elephant and the band's keyboardist and rhythm guitarist, is acutely aware of the diversity of the band's legacy. Cage the Elephant is always experimenting and pushing the boundaries of their music. The heavier garage and blues of their first two records gave way to more psychedelic influences of Melophobia, and although the band's fourth record, Tell Me I'm Pretty, isn't out til December 18th (via RCA Records), we've had the chance to hear it, and we can report that it not only doubles down on the psychedelia of the band's most recent music, it also finds room for late 60s/early 70s rock ala the Stones. Brad explicitly name dropped Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Pixies, and the Beatles as major influences on the new record although it was his statement on the overall mood of the record that caught our eye the most.

"...my whole mindset is I wanted to the record to sort of sound like John Wayne taking acid."

And between that and Spaghetti western influences that Shultz also referenced, it's clear that Tell Me I'm Pretty succeeded. If you were to drop acid and put on a Sergio Leone movie and then imagine what a contemporary rock band would sound like adapting that type of imagery, Tell Me I'm Pretty is it. But Cage the Elephant have always done more than just indulge in nostalgia for retro sounds although Brad Shultz admits he doesn't have the secret about how to manage that balancing act.



"I'm still trying to figure that one out myself. Like I said, you kind of want to take it back to when you were a child, and you just like certain stuff because you really like it. It's not because you...feel like you have some sort of obligation to fit into a certain hole or something like that. For us, if we write, and we're sort of digging in...like it's a really special song, we want to do everything we can to keep that song honest...the lyrics...you start to write from personal experience...It seems like a constant battle to keep yourself in check to make sure that...you're being as honest as you possibly can."

Considering the band's intensely loyal fans and the live following they've built over the years, it's clear their commitment to emotional honesty paid off. But making a great record is more than honesty. It's craft. Cage the Elephant have always had their craft under control, but by bringing on the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach as producer for the new record, the band made it clear how important it was for them to make sure this record was as tightly crafted as they could muster.

"He's a creative guy. He's very passionate about what he does and sometimes it takes really getting out of your comfort zone to grow and come out of your shell a little bit, so it was really refreshing working with Dan. The approach he takes I think is very.catching the vibe with things in the studio... I think Dan has very keen senses and also very keen awareness in catching that vibe. That was the main, most important thing....sometimes the most perfect performance is a little more stale and not as lively, so it was really refreshing."

Shultz also made it clear that Dan Auerbach's pool of references for classic music also helped shape the production process in a host of ways.

There are few bands where the expression "the sky's the limit" is totally accurate, but for Cage the Elephant, it's true. They've become mainstays on the American festival circuit and they've gone on sold out national tours both as headliners and supporting bands like the Black Keys. And by expanding their sonic palette as much as they do on Tell Me I'm Pretty, they should only continue to grow from here.

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