Lead singer Matt Shultz from the famed American Indie Rock band, Cage the Elephant, talks to The Mancunion
In a dingy backroom of the O2 Ritz, Kentucky-born Matt Shultz sits across from me playing with his thumbs. Dressed in a knitted turtle neck and a deep navy pea coat, he seems a world away from his ecstatic Iggy Pop-like stage performances. He’s quiet, reserved, contemplative and effortlessly suave. With his slicked back hair and hooped golden earrings you could almost imagine him as a sailor somewhere off the Ivory Coast.
Shultz is the front man for the ten-year-old American indie rock band, Cage the Elephant. After a long wait they’ve been touring this side of the pond with their new album Tell me I’m Pretty. When I ask Shultz what is favourite song is. He starts off with one—‘Cry Baby’—then seemingly without realising, he lists near every song on the album as his “highlights”. While their latest album, produced by The Black Key’s Dan Auerbach, has got a bit of stick for straying a way from what some critics see as the band’s distinctive sound, truth be told the album’s still brilliant—more mature and perhaps more heartfelt than their past work.
I ask Shultz if Dan Auerbach was a tough taskmaster or not: “You know, I learned a lot from him about stripping things back and simplifying things. He has a wonderful concept of the timeless. I’ve had a great after time. I mean I’ve always had a terrible recording experience, mainly because you’re always fighting to make sure the albums honest and true. And that’s tough to do. At least for me.
“There’s always the urge to hide yourself. The rest of the guys would say the recording time was brilliant. But for me, writing the lyrics, it was a struggle. You’re constantly second guessing yourself. Or maybe you hide yourself, then you peel back another layer and you hide yourself again. I didn’t really know how much learned, and how much I was connected to the material until after the process.”
Hoping he might develop this a bit I ask: “You’re not old at all, you’ve barely hit 30, but your band’s been together for a while, do you see yourself and your music as getting more mature, addressing more difficult themes?”
“For sure. When I was younger I put a lot of stock in persona. And just trying to live up to a lot of those clichés that have been lionised and had proven to be successful before. Not necessarily in the albums. But more the persona. The rock and roll persona. Or any cliché like that. I think that hinders your music’s honesty. I think at the time I was being honest to my convictions, it’s just my convictions were a little off centre! Yeah, so I think we’ve matured. We’ve tried to strip back and loose style and loose characters or any safeguards.”
“You’ve toured with everyone: Foo Fighters, Foals, The Black Keys, Muse, Queens of the Stone Age—then Dave Grohl was in your band for a bit, who’s been your favourite?” I ask.
“The Queens of the Stone Age were awesome,” replies Matt, “we were touring with them when we didn’t even have a record label, and they just treated us so kindly I’ve never forgotten it. But all the others were cool as well, the Foals are really good friends of ours as well.”
“I’m so glad to be back on the road,” Matt continues, “I find it so difficult staying in the same place.”
I reply: “Yeah, I was scrolling through your tour list and it just goes on for bloody ever, you’ve seen the whole world! Any recommendations?”
Matt replies emphatically: “Japan’s pretty crazy dude! I don’t know if we have much of a fan base there, but we’ve done festivals there. But when we were in Tokyo, it was a massive culture shock, like they’re on a whole different plane. It’s so futuristic. Have you ever seen the movie Bill and Ted’s Bogus Adventure? It feels like that. They’re very ahead of their time. Or, Brazil, Argentina and Chile—they were all great!”
Noticing a silver ring on his wedding finger I push the boat out a little: “So you’re obviously really glad to get back on tour, but what’s it like keeping a relationship going on tour, it must be quite difficult?”
“I mean…” Matt looks down for a moment, then looks back up at me, “I mean, man… you just do it however you have to.”