"We wanted to contrast between high life and low life" - hmv.com talks to Cage The Elephant
Kentucky indie firebrands Cage The Elephant are changing it up for new record Social Cues. Last time out, on 2015’s Tell Me I’m Pretty, they worked with The Black Keys’ mainman Dan Auerbach, embracing raw, earthy production and coming out with a rollicking rock and roll record.
Social Cues is a very different beast. Produced by John Hill, who has worked with Charli XCX, Shakira, Bleachers and helped Portugal. The Man create monster hit ‘Feel It Still’, it finds the band in experimental form, embracing diverse sounds and productions for an inquisitive and challenging record.
As the album arrives on shelves, we spoke to frontman Matt Shultz about how they made the record, their collaboration with Beck and that interesting front cover...
It’s been four years since your last LP Tell Me I’m Pretty, what have you been up to in the years in between?
“On the last record we did a lot of touring, more than we’ve ever done before, and that had consequences. As well as that we had finished our contract with RCA and they had called in the option for a ‘Greatest Hits’. We didn’t want to do that, we really felt like it didn’t represent where we were, and, in all kinds of ways, we feel like we’re just getting started as a band. So we asked them if we could do something else.”
What did you want to do instead?
“We asked to do new versions of some of our songs, we stripped them down and added string arrangements. Then we did a big tour with a string section and a choir. We recorded all that and we choose the big versions for the Unpeeled live album. That was about a year in all. And recording for this record took its time.”
What was it about the idea of a ‘Greatest Hits’ that you hated so much?
“I see a ‘Greatest Hits’ as a sign that things are wrapping up. Whether that’s the band or with a label and we re-signed with RCA, we love those folks. And we do really feel like we’re just getting started. For all of us, Melophobia feels like our debut, even though it’s our third record. I still feel like we’re getting into our stride.”
With this new album, did you have a sense of how you wanted to do things differently?
“To a degree. Each time you record you glean something from it and you always want to take what you’ve learned from past records into a new one and cohesively marry it all together. But you don’t want to cut yourself off from your impulses. You need to learn new things.”
You did the record with John Hills, what was it about him that attracted you to the process?
“He has worked with such a vast amount of artists and in so many different genres. He really goes all over the map and he’s not tied down to one sound. We love how he played the studio. He wasn’t tethered to genre rules, he’ll try anything.”
Last time you worked with Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys, which must have been a very different experience to working with someone who has worked with Charli XCX and Shakira…
“That wide array of artists is what we wanted. He’s worked with Santigold, Portugal. The Man, Nas, Tune-Yards, artists we love. Those records all play the studio. Bands these days get pigeonholed so quickly now. Listeners have evolved past that thinking. The new generation is a playlist generation, people listen to everything, I listen to everything and working with someone who does it all reflects that.”
You’ve got an appearance from Beck on the album, how did that come about?
“We played a show together in Los Angeles and he invited us to come and meet him afterwards. He was great, such a good guy. A few weeks later he was passing through Nashville on tour and we hooked up again. Then his father David Campbell actually wound up doing all our string arrangements, so Beck was at the forefront of our minds."
"We’d been working on ‘Night Running’ for a little while and we were happy with the chorus, but couldn’t quite figure out the verse. Brad (Schultz, guitars) said we should get him involved and we sent the track. He responded insanely quickly. He was on tour in Asia, but within two days, he’d sent over two verses for us.”
What kind of record is this lyrically? Is there a theme to the album?
“The theme is rooted in personal experience and observations. In the past, we’ve experimented with character-based work, we’ve tried to create a personality and a persona for the record and we’ve really focused on that this time.”
When did you settle on the title?
“We thought it was very fitting for the record. We live in a time where there’s a hyper state of social paranoia. We’re all watching each other all the time and creating a weird social norm. That was a lot of the subject matter for the record.”
And where did you find that cover? It’s quite something...
“The photographer is a dear friend and we’d been talking through different concepts. We wanted to contrast between high life and low life. That was an overall approach we wanted to take. We wanted to use a costume that was created for things of a sexual nature and something that represented an idea that was unsafe to talk about.”
You’ve got five records now, what will end up getting cut from your live set? You can’t play everything anymore...
“It’s an exciting thing and a sad thing. I would actually love to play this new record front to back and see what else we can fit in, but it might not work out like that. We’ll be back in the UK in fall so you can find out.”
Cage The Elephant’s new album Social Cues is out now in hmv stores.