I spoke with Cage the Elephant for the first time at Spin magazine’s SXSW 2009 party. They were slated to open for Silversun Pickups at Antone’s later that evening, but I wasn’t sure if Matt Schultz’s vocal cords were up for it after the workout they received from the three shows earlier that week. They sounded brittle, like cooked spaghetti that had hardened. I almost asked him to stop talking, but my tape recorder wanted him to continue. He waxed on about his family’s involvement with a religious commune in Kentucky’s hinterland and how it expanded his definition of “weird.”
“I don’t know what weird is,” Shultz said. “It’s all in the eye of the beholder. There’s a lot of weird crap in the world, but it shapes you as a person. Had my past not happened, I would not be the person I am today.”
Dressed in a tie-dyed shirt and oversized pink vintage sunglasses, he looked very much like the offspring of a hippie-turned-Jesus-freak that their MySpace bio claimed him to be. But apparently, all of it is hearsay.
“That bio came from different pieces of an article that was blown up. My dad was already off the farm when I was born, but Daniel Tichenor, our bass player was still there,” Matt’s brother, Brad Shultz, said during a follow-up phone interview. “It wasn’t like a bunch of people on acid running around worshiping God but more like a bunch of ex-hippies that were getting off that shit. A lot of people over in England really like that extreme religion stuff. ‘Oh my God! Hippies! Acid! Farm!’ It was overplayed.”
EMI Records signed Cage the Elephant after their 2007 SXSW showcase at the Chuggin’ Monkey. Shortly after signing, the band moved 4,000 miles from Bowling Green, Kentucky, to Leighton, a borough in east London. The plan was for Cage to build a solid European fanbase before trying to make it in America. Numbers show that everything is on schedule. Their single, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” from their eponymous debut album made it to No. 32 on the UK singles chart in 2008. However, it was just recently that Americans started hearing the single on the radio. Cage the Elephant is still relatively unknown in the US. “In London, we have a double decker with six bunks,” guitarist Lincoln Parish said during the SXSW interview. “But over here, we have a van.”
Here are five facts about Cage the Elephant served straight up by guitarist Brad Shultz:
The brothers did not grow up on a hippie compound but in a small two-bedroom apartment. We didn’t have a lot of money, so there were four boys in one room, and our parents in the other.”
They love fast food. In England, we’ll be touring and we play a game called “What Would You Eat” because the food there is not so great. We’d be like, ‘We’re about to pull into Taco Bell everybody,” and we’d pretend that we’re about to order. Boom, “I’ll have a seven-layer burrito, half steak.” It’s kind of sad, but it’s pretty fun and it kills some time. “And now we’re pulling up to Wendy’s. Boom, I’ll have the spicy chicken sandwich, extra tomato.”
Matt has always wanted to be a singer. He burned his hand with an iron when he was three years old because he thought it was a microphone.
They get pretty irate if you compare them to Jet. I don’t hear it. Their stuff is a little bit straightforward. Either they didn’t listen to the CD, or they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.
Matt doesn’t mind breaking bones in the name of rock. We had to cancel a whole USA tour last summer because Matt tore a cartilage in his knee after stage diving. It’s actually on YouTube. We did a cover of “Killing in the Name of” and he crowd-surfed to the back and climbed up a balcony 15 feet up and then jumped into a crowd of people. This beer bottle stabbed into his ribs.