Photo of Cage the Elephant by Ira Chernova
With the release of Cage the Elephant's second album in as many years, frontman Matt Shultz says the newly released Tell Me I'm Pretty is the result of giving into musical instincts and not second-guessing themselves, some of which he credits to The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, who produced the album.
"Part of what makes Dan so great as a producer is that he helps keep you out of that headspace," Shultz says, speaking with Variance ahead of the arrival of the album, the band's fourth studio full-length. "I definitely had times where I would wonder if we were making the record that says what we needed to say.
Shultz says it "made a lot of sense" to work with Auerbach because Cage the Elephant loves "well-crafted, catchy songs," a strength of the Black Keys musician, who also "really strives for things to be reactionary and to not be overthought and keep you from second-guessing yourself."
Cage the Elephant in studio with Dan Auerbach, by Pooneh Ghana
According to the Kentucky-born singer, the band's relationship with Auerbach goes back several years of touring together, even if it took much longer to finally collaborate.
"It started with soccer," Shultz recalls. "On the first tour we did with the Black Keys, we played soccer with Dan just about every other day. So we became good friends. Then we did a couple other tours together and one night he invited us to his hotel room and we just started sharing ideas. We left his hotel room and I got a text message from him that said, ‘Hey, I’m making your next record.’"
While the Shultz-Auerbach friendship began years ago, Tell Me I'm Pretty stems from Shultz's performance last year alongside The Doors’ Robby Krieger during the Bonnaroo SuperJam, something he calls "a pivotal moment."
"I don’t feel any responsibility to save a genre of music ... we don’t consider ourselves to be a rock and roll band or an alternative band."
"It made me realize how much rock and roll was missing from music today," Shultz says, explaining that the band wanted to "pay homage to that, to the music we love so much and cut our teeth on." He admits, however, that he's not trying to save rock and roll.
"I don’t feel any responsibility to save a genre of music," he clarifies. "It was just a personal mission after noticing that energy was missing. We don’t consider ourselves to be a rock and roll band or an alternative band. We just allow our experiences to shape our music ... I would venture to say that some of the greatest rock bands that ever existed wouldn’t have coined themselves as purely rock and roll bands either. Genres aren't that important."
At a time when streaming versus purchasing is very much an important topic in the music industry, Shultz actually credits streaming platforms with helping positively shape listeners' musical preferences.
Cage the Elephant's Matt Shultz performing in Los Angeles in 2015, by Pooneh Ghana
"Many [streaming services] offer a ‘discovery’ option or ways to learn about new artists or artists other than the ones they already like," he says. "And I think listeners are becoming way more informed and have a much broader palette because of that."
Although he's a fan of how streaming is introducing a new generation to different types of music, Shultz says Cage the Elephant's new record—of which several of the tracks were recorded in one take—also runs counter to the current culture in some ways.
"We live in a world where we can make everything very polished," he explains, specifically pointing to social media. "This is the Instagram generation, where we curate our lives. We present only what we want presented. It’s a dishonest, fictitious world we live in. And I’m not accusing anyone of anything; we’re all part of it ... But it was nice to be a part of something opposite of that, where less is more."