Cage The Elephant may be musically adventurous and profusely intuitive, but safely within the limits of orderly constructed folk-rock-blues schemes. At the core, they maintain cohesive song structures while avoiding wasteful jamming and distended solos. It’ll be interesting to see how these Christian-schooled Bluegrass State natives make out in the long haul and which musical directions lie ahead.
Recently, Cage The Elephant headed back to the studio to begin work on a second long-player. Matt claims, “We’ve progressed as people. The newer songs are more melody-driven and have a positive vibe. We feel better about them.”
I spoke to the 25-year-old Matt and guitarist Lincoln Parish inside Giants Stadium while music blared in the parking lots’ collapsible stages during May ‘09’s Bamboozle Festival.
How did Cage The Elephant come together?
Matt Schultz: Me, Brad, and Jared were in a high school band. After graduation, the lead guitarist and bassist quit to pursue college. Lincoln came along to jam and our bassist, Dan, just showed up at practice with a bass and amp before he even knew how to play.
You seem to write about sad characters a lot.
Matt Schultz: I write about people because I’m around them a lot. Bob Dylan’s a big inspiration, as well as John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, and Frank Black. A lot of times people want to blame the state of society on the government. They control groups of people looking at themselves for a lack of self-control—manipulation. A lot of our songs are written about people ‘close to decay.’ We tend to make them into riddles more than straightforward stories.
‘Judas’ seems to rip apart greedy Satan-like gunslingers. And I notice it’s presciently followed by the knife-wielding ‘Back Stabbin’ Betty.’
Matt Schultz: ‘Judas’ isn’t about any particular person. It’s more about the mentality of someone who loves money more than anything else and will pursue it at all costs. ‘Betty’s’ a personal story.
Are you ripping on Generation X on ‘In One Ear?’
Matt Schultz: No. I wouldn’t be ripping on them. It’s about people who live in the shadows talking behind people’s backs—like Chinese Whispers.
Your rap flow on ‘Tiny Little Robots’ reminded me of Everlast.
Matt Schultz: Many people ask about my raps and where they come from. It’s more Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ —‘mom’s in the basement / mixing up the medicine / I’m on the pavement / thinkin’ ‘bout the government.’ That’s where the rhythmic flow comes from. I’ve never been a huge hip-hop fan. I like some of it though.
Some of your nifty song ideas remind me of the band Cake. And the mini-improvisations could be informed by Phish.
Matt Schultz: I love Cake. I’m not a huge Phish fan, but I respect what they’re doing. They’re phenomenal musicians. I’ve always been more of a songwriting musician like the Beatles, Pixies, and Nirvana. They were terrific writers. I could always respect people who have a gift or talent for improvisation, but I like a well-crafted song. And Dylan’s one of the greatest songwriters of all time.
Lincoln, who were you influenced by?
Lincoln Parish: Growing up in Bowling Green, we weren’t exposed to a lot of different music, just Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, James Brown. But when we moved to England, we got into Gang Of Four and the Pixies. I really like old Delta Blues—Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson.
How do the arrangements for Cage The Elphant’s songs usually come to fruition?
Lincoln Parish: We’ll basically take inspiration from everywhere. Sometimes I’ll write something, bring in a guitar part. I try to work a melody in. Every song is different. Some songs take time. Others, like ‘Back Stabbin’ Betty,’ we recorded that song in one take on the first day. That was one of the rare songs we wrote with everyone there. The thing we always loved about great art was the element of surprise. Being able to take it to different places and create landscapes, textures, and tones. There’s so much input going into each of our songs from constant individual inspiration.
Catch Cage The Elephant on the Letterman Show on July 30 and at the All Points West Festival in Jersey City, NJ, on Aug. 1. For more info, visit myspace.com/cagetheelephant.