Last month I had the chance to meet Cage The Elepant’s lead singer Matt Shultz. We talked about the latest album “Tell Me I’m Pretty” and about their upcoming plans.
Let’s talk about your new album first. What is the meaning and story behind the cover of your latest album “Tell Me I’m Pretty”?
It does have a meaning – we wanted to find someone who is a very physically beautiful person, but a kind of beauty that is in the eye of the beholder. As a second layer, we were looking for someone who had the right kind of experience in life to have a hidden humility. In the photo shoot we really tried not to interact with her so we could capture something that was real.
So, the name of the album is connected to the picture in a way?
Yeah, “Tell Me I’m Pretty” which means that we live in a world where you’re constantly curating your own representation of your life and trying to hide your flaws. So, we found a girl who was very beautiful, but I could sense that we had a similar experience in life that was really hard to hide. We just waited for the right moment and captured it.
What were the biggest challenges while writing the album?
I think that we had an idea to make a much more stripped-down record. In concept that sounded like the right thing to do but once we started doing it we realized that it meant having a lot of restraint doesn’t always feel good. That was probably the hardest thing; to manage the right level of restraint.
Why did you want to do a more stripped-down record?
Well, we believe that the energy we hold is there, it’s inherently there. It’s not something that needs to be overly projected. We felt that if we restrain ourselves, it’s more honest.
The album is produced by Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys). Did he contact you or what’s the story behind it?
We’ve done a couple tours together and became friends. On the first two tours we did with him we became rather close and on the third tour Dan invited us to his hotel room. I think our minds were in a similar place, he was probably curious in producing our record and in the same time we were corious in him producing our next record. We were in his room and showed him some ideas we were working on. A few moments after we left he texted me “I’m producing your record, you don’t have a choice”.
I read that with “Melophobia”, you guys went no-contact with eachother for a while before recording the album. Did you do anything similar with this album?
I think that with “Melophobia” we had been on tour for about five years. Then we spent a year off the road and went our seperate ways to a certain degree. We this time we formed our opinions about how we thought the album should be and then we came together. The challenge was “marrying” those sometimes completely opposite ideas of how the record should sound.
So this time was completely different?
Yes, it was way different. It was mostly written together on the road and then when we got home we put it all together. “Melophobia” was written in about a year and “Tell Me I’m Pretty” was written over a few months and then recorded in about two and a half weeks.
Do you think that changed your sound, being on the road?
Yes, absolutely. I was invited to play with Robby Krieger from The Doors at Bonnaroo Festival. The audience and some other artists that were involved responded so well, so I thought to myself “Wow, there’s a space in music that currently is not filled”. So I wanted to explore this area of something more raw, more organic.
Beside from the tour, what else gets you inspired?
I try to capture what happens in our lives, so the tour was a big part of that.
Do you have a song you really like, but never play live?
“Sweetie Little Jean” and “How are you true” would be those for myself. We don’t play them very often because there is just not enough time in the set. You get to a place, after several albums, where you just got limited time and then the collective has to choose a few songs to play.
I noticed, that your setlists often are very similar. Why don’t you mix it up more?
Because the bands that we look up to, like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, if you look up their history you see that they kept their setlists pretty consistent. And it makes sense to ourselves, because we want to know the songs we play live so well, so we can allow ourselves some spontaneity in our set. If you switch back and forth it kind of locks you in place because you don’t know the songs that well.
So how do you decide which songs get on the setlist?
We have to try them out, how they work at live shows. At the beginning of the tour the setlist was much different. Then after playing the songs, we see which ones work better. Some songs are great on the record but just don’t work live. We are actually going to do an acoustic tour, there we will be playing songs that aren’t currently on our setlists and also taking some songs we already play, but change them up. It’s all about the atmosphere and the venue. The tour is currently set to be in the States, because we want to record the songs and turn it into a record.
How did your writing change over the years?
With each record, we make a concious desicion to move in a different direction. Your likes and dislikes evolve over time and you learn new things and try to implicate them in a new record. Our writing changed quite a lot over the years. With “Tell Me I’m Pretty” we did more demos than we ever did before before recording with Dan. He has this amazing ability to keep you from getting in your own way or overthink thing. He would do this cool thing, after we cut a track he pulled everyone into the controll room and started to spin really weird records, like Chilean garage rock or something like that. And after we got into this different kind of vibe we would look at the song again and most of the times it would completely change the spirit of the song.
Are you still in contact with your former guitarist, Lincoln? He is a producer now, would you ever consider working with him again?
Ocasionally, I think he’s really busy with his new projects and we are very busy too, so we haven’t catched up in a while. I don’t think he will ever produce our music, just because it’s not the direction than we are trying to go.
Last but not least – Which is your favourite festival to play at/visit?
There are so many great ones, I can’t choose a favourite. Pinkpop, Reading/Leeds, Glastonbury, Rock en Seine, Lollapalooza Chicago, Lollapalooza South America (any of those), Coachella, Bonnaroo – there are so many I can’t stop listing them.