Cage The Elephant’s expressive frontman, Matt Shultz, sits opposite me cross-legged and coolly composed.
Wearing a wafer-thin red polar neck with a bunch of gold chains glistening around his neck, I can just see the tops of Shultz’ eyelashes over his slim, black, rectangular-shaped sunglasses.
He shoots me a small smile when I explain that I’m from South Africa and am in fact not German, unlike all of the other media at Rock Im Park in Nuremberg.
“South Africa is one of those places I’ve always wanted to tour. It’s one of the holy grails of touring!” His declaration catches me totally off-guard and he can tell by my facial expression.
“A lot of bands don’t get the opportunity – Alaska and South Africa are the coveted places to tour,” he explains in a low and slow Kentucky-rooted drawl.
I ask how the band refocused their energy after some down time and collectively decided to get back into studio. Shultz begins to explain that, back in 2017, their label had suggested that they put out a Greatest Hits album. “To us, that felt like the end of a career and we feel like we’re just finding our feet, our path and our own voice in music. So we did a tour with strings and a choir and rerecorded all the tracks that they wanted us to put on the Greatest Hits record [Unpeeled]. And then recorded Social Cues.”
As for how he’s fairing being back on the road, Shultz couldn’t be more thrilled. “It’s really great getting back out. The last couple shows have given me a lot of peace, reaffirmed that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.”
“It was a really turbulent last few years and as we launched our record one of our best friends took his own life. So it was a really strange album launch because you wanted to celebrate the fact that we were releasing this thing – that also was a sentiment of confusion over trying to understand ununderstandable things that might be happening – and then for that to happen was really difficult, and yeah, yeah…” he trails off seemingly struggling to explain further.
I wonder if, taking into account his friend’s suicide and his divorce from his wife of four years, it’s cathartic to play the songs on Social Cues now – songs that were born out of grief and under a duress of sorts. He doesn’t even let me finish my question revealing, “It’s absolutely cathartic. I can literally feel the anxiety and heaviness and sadness being released out of every orifice.”
“Maybe not every orifice,” he laughs sneakily.
I tell him how obsessed I am with “Night Running” featuring Beck, which ultimately spawned a co-headlining tour across America with the lauded singer-songwriter. It’s got this sexy dub undertone to it and when I ask how the track became a cohesive whole, Shultz chuckles, “It happened over a voice memo.”
“We laid the structure in studio with our producer John [Hill]. It was honestly the one song where we disagreed with the vision of the song at large. We felt that a more free-form approach in the verse was going to work, something that might be interpreted as hip hop I supposed. But John had it in his mind that it needed to be more punk rock and I was struggling to find that character. I was like – I don’t understand this – but was able to kinda find it in the chorus. So it was sitting there and it was on the fence, almost falling to the way side – so Brad [Shultz, rhythm guitar] sent it to Beck because he had it in his mind that Beck would have the answer,” he laughs, shrugging.
“What’s funny is that Beck took on the type of approach that we wanted to do in the first place. But I mean, it’s Beck, so it’s amazing,” he grins, clasping his hands together.
I ask about the very visceral video for “Ready To Let Go”, the first single off Social Cues that was no doubt inspired by his marriage ending.
Directed by Shultz himself, who cited Darren Aronofsky as a chief influence, there’s a unapologetically raw way in which uncomfortable scenes are presented. Like the couple making out on a white marriage-bed-of-sorts while seemingly eating each other – and not in a good way.
“Much of the record is about how a lot of times we enter into relationships with a dream perspective about how we want this relationship to play out, and we fall in love with that perspective, and we forget to fall in love with the person. So we end up cannibalising the relationship. So the concept came to me around Christmas because I was seeing a lot of nativity scenes and I thought, that’s a perfect frame to tell these tableaus. So we took a series of tableaus and made them highly symbolic, which is funny because they’ve all been interpreted as a horror film. I guess some of it is dark, for certain. It’s honest, for sure.”
I tell him how I think the opening shot screams “sacrificial alter” to me.
He smiles, replying, “Yeah, like marriage.”