Cage The Elephant is a Grammy-nominated alternative rock outfit that started in 2006 as little more than a garage band from Bowling Green, Kentucky. The group’s latest album Tell Me I’m Pretty, featuring the hit single 'Mess Around', is the fourth installment of Cage’s hugely successful discography that stretches back to their eponymous 2008 debut that included contemporary classics such as 'In One Ear' and 'Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked'.
Consisting of frontman Matt Shultz, his brother Brad on guitar, and their high school friends Daniel Tichenor and Jared Champion, Cage The Elephant began their career by playing bars in Bowling Green on weeknights and other cities all over Kentucky and Tennessee on weekends. They spent a year fine-tuning their sound and perfecting their performing skills, as Matt honed his now signature Jagger swagger onstage. This led to them getting discovered and signed at a show in Nashville.
Shortly thereafter, they relocated to England in what Matt calls “the dark days of London,” referencing how they lived in a rough part of town on very little money. Now Nashville-based, has come a long way since then. Their 2013 album Melophobia was nominated for a Grammy, and Brad Shultz and Jared Champion both recently became parents, a milestone that Matt says has inspired the band and improved their ability to focus.
These days, they continue to push the limits of what they can do musically. When recording Tell Me I’m Pretty, released last December, the band employed a different creative process that was completely new to them – spending a lot more time preparing prior to recording, and hardly any time in the studio. Pretty features a unique hybrid sound fans of both older and more contemporary alternative music will appreciate.
Life wasn’t always this glamorous for the Shultz brothers, though. “When we were kids, we lived in this low-budget housing complex. One of the kids in the neighborhood, his favorite pastime was to dive in dumpsters. It doesn’t sound that glamorous, but it’s the truth,” Matt laughed. “One time, we found a drum kit in a dumpster. We couldn’t believe that we found it, so we dug it out and took it back home. My mother was mortified. She was like, ‘That’s disgusting.’
"My dad came home, and he was so excited. He was so happy," he continued to recount nostalgically. “We set it up in our room. We had a bass drum, a floor tom, and two mounted toms, but we didn’t have any of the hardware; it was just the shells with heads. So we used couch cushions to prop the two toms on top of the bass drum, and we played with coat hangers. We were freaking horrible. Like, I didn’t know anything about the technical approach to playing the drums, but my dad thought that was great. He was kind of like, ‘If you can get really good at being really bad, then you’ll just be really original.’ That’s kind of been his whole mantra of how he encouraged us musically. He taught us maybe three or four chords in our entire life, and, from there on out, he just encouraged us to find our own way.”
Unfortunately, the fellow students the Shultz brothers encountered at school were not as encouraging. “Kids can be really mean,” Matt said with a nominal amount of residual horror in his voice. “When Brad was in elementary school, kids used to literally, almost like in a movie, circle him and chant ‘poor boy.’ I have memories of Brad being home and crying, not wanting to go to school because all of our clothes had holes and stuff, which wasn’t stylish,” he said, letting out a loud chuckle.
You’d think Matt and Brad would be sick of each other after being together for so many years, but that’s not the case. “It’s always been a spoonful of rivalry and a spoonful of encouragement,” Matt explained. “Nothing like some of the other brother horror stories you hear about in music. If one of us writes a song that’s really great and compelling, it definitely draws the other do the same. We’ve had moments in the studio where we’ve blown up on each other, for sure. During Melophobia, me and Brad got into a fight where he pushed me through a glass table but it always ends in hugs and stuff.”
As it should.
Check out Cage the Elephant's full spread in Rogue's Issue 2
Story by Cody Fitzpatrick
Photography by Ira Chernova