Cage the Elephant’s Matt Shultz goes in-depth on new album ‘Social Cues’

Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant performs at Fair Grounds Race Course on May 5, 2018 in New Orleans, La.
Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant performs at Fair Grounds Race Course on May 5, 2018 in New Orleans, La. Erika Goldring/Getty Images

From singles like Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked to Shake Me Down, or Cigarette Daydreams to Mess Around, Cage the Elephant has had its fair share of hits since its inception in 2006.

Since its certified-platinum debut album was released in 2008, the Kentucky-based rockers have proven they’re a force to be reckoned with among the rest of the legendary alt. rock giants.

Within only the last decade, the six-piece group became a multi-million album-selling band. In 2016, Tell Me I’m Pretty won them their first-ever Grammy award for ‘Best Rock Album.’

Cage the Elephant released a brand new single, Ready to Let Go, on Jan. 31 — currently six weeks at No. 1 of the Canadian alternative rock charts. It was only then that their longstanding fans knew something tremendous was on its way.

Just days away from the release of their fifth album, Social Cues, the lads have released three additional singles — including Night Running and Goodbye  —and are now gearing up to take music lovers of the world once again by embarking on a massive North American summer tour with seven-time Grammy-winner, Beck.

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Cage the Elephant press photo
Cage the Elephant press photo. Sony Music Archives

READ MORE: Beck, Cage the Elephant pair up for North American tour, 1 Canadian date

Cage the Elephant will bring its co-headlining ‘Night Running’ tour to Canada for a single stop at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage on Aug. 11.

Ahead of the album’s release, frontman and co-founder Matt Shultz was kind enough to sit down with Global News to discuss the making of Social Cues, what it’s like to direct some of the Cage the Elephant’s videos and why the band chooses to perpetually experiment with the sonic elements of music.

Shultz, 35, also recollected the band’s early days, his history with Butoh dancing and how simple it really was to work with a musical prodigy such as Beck,

Global News: Thanks so much for taking the time to have a chat with us, Matt. Your fifth album, Social Cues, is coming out on April 19. Do you mind telling us about some of its lyrical themes?
Matt Shultz: For each of us, the writing always starts from a personal perspective, really. As a group, we are definitely observers. So a lot of that observation starts within ourselves and what’s going on in our lives. A lot of the record deals with adversity and with loss — there was a lot of loss over the last couple of years: family members, friends and relationships that didn’t work out, so it was just a time in our lives where collectively, we were going through various different stages of grief. We were really trying to find meaning in it all and ultimately just some hope.

Although each of your albums is completely different from the last, Social Cues seems to be a much darker approach for Cage the Elephant — and noticeably so. Was this just how it came out, or were you guys tapping back into that recurring experimental approach?
I think that each time we make a record we’re looking, first off, to find something in music to reignite the excitement and to get obsessed with it all again. You’re always looking to surprise yourself too, it seems, because if you’re not surprising yourself with the discoveries you’re finding, I really don’t know how you can be exciting for the audience. [Laughs] I think it definitely stems from your own personal experience with music.
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Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant performs on Lands End stage during the 2017 Outside Lands Music And Arts Festival at Golden Gate Park on Aug. 12, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif.
Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant performs on Lands End stage during the 2017 Outside Lands Music And Arts Festival at Golden Gate Park on Aug. 12, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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So you collaborated with Beck on a song called Night Running — how did this come about? Did you guys reach out to him?
Yeah, it was actually a track we had recorded several years ago and we were just waiting for the right body of work, or album, that it could find its place in. We had written the chorus, which always felt nice and complete, but we were kind of struggling to find the right personality for the verse and the overall delivery. David Campbell — who is Beck’s father — had composed most of the arrangements for the album, so after riffing through ideas of what to do with it — really at a loss — Brad [Shultz] just had this epiphany where he was like, ‘I feel like Beck would know.’ [Laughs] So we sent it off to Beck, who was somewhere in Asia — it might have been China, but I’m not sure — and two days later he sent back the song, fully completed, basically. [Laughs] We were like ‘Wow, what a talent.’
Is this what spawned the upcoming ‘Night Running tour’ with Beck then?
Yeah, I think once the song was finished we began talking about the possibility of joining each other on stage whenever the time was right, and then y’know, [Laughs] the opportune time came, we put the tour together and here we are.
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You also directed the music video for the first single Ready to Let Go, right?
Yeah, this is my third time directing a Cage the Elephant music video.

Have other forms of art always been part of this journey for you, then? On your Instagram page you throw it back to a lot of old films, art pieces or even some of your own art. Do you find that these go hand-in-hand with the music?
For sure. The group, at large, is very visual. So we’ve always leaned that way. I think we started making our own music videos just out of a desire to get more of what we wanted, in the same way we are of being more active when we’re in the studio. For years, I’d been helping with writing the treatments, then I kind of started directing them as trust was earned. [Laughs]
It’s obvious you can orchestrate a crowd and sing on stage, but what’s it like when you throw acting and directing into the mix?
I don’t know what it’s like to act. [Laughs] But directing is fun. So far it’s been a very great experience. [Laughs]
What about the choreography for this video? It’s astounding.
Oh, yeah! We had Butoh dancers for this shoot and what Butoh is, is a form of Japanese contemporary dance that was born in the ‘50s. It was created by a man named Hijikata [Tastsumi] and then, from there, evolved into what it is today. It’s become very much a global art form. But I’ve been studying that pretty intensely since October, so naturally it just kind of found its way into the video. My instructor, who’s a world class performer and award-winning choreographer in her own right, was actually one of the dancers in the video. She’s incredible.
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WATCH: Cage the Elephant’s Matt Shultz-directed music video, ‘Ready to Let Go’

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Cage the Elephant has always had such unique and captivating artwork too. What’s the story this time around?
First off, thank you. [Laughs] I’m actually the one in the cat suit. [Laughs] So the photographer’s a dear friend of mine and we’d been talking about doing some pre-conceptual thing for a while and basically just having fun. So we just thought it was pretty interesting to be able to wear something that was essentially created for a sex act, but that is would be widely accepted as something that’s art or even something popular and then to pair it with the title, Social Cues. We thought it was both very interesting and thought provoking.
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One of the album’s overall topics, is actually about living in a time where you’re always analyzing people’s micro movements or hints and actions just so that you know how to respond, or how to act around said people. I think much of the level of anxiety and depression in people nowadays could be attributed, in part, to that. It also just kind of reflects on how there are certain topics that are now seen as taboo to talk about. There should be more safe places to talk about these high pressure topics in social settings.

Social Cues is the first Cage the Elephant studio album in about three and a half years — which is the longest gap between any of your records. Was it the touring that put a hold on things, or did the process just keep you that busy?
We’re always sharing music together, whether that’s ideas, what we’re writing or just what we’ve been listening to in general. Like I said, we’re always trying to find something to keep that obsession and excitement with music alive. After we released Tell Me I’m Pretty, we were on the road for a good two years, if not, more. Right at the end of that tour we started the ‘Unpeeled’ tour, which we ended up recording and releasing as our next live album. That led to another full year of touring and throughout those years we were sharing ideas for what would eventually become Social Cues.

After the ‘Unpeeled’ tour we went into the studio with John Hill. The guys from Portugal, the Man — who we’re really good friends with — had him produce a bunch of the songs from their latest record, if not, most of them, including Feel it Still. After that, they suggested that we experiment with John just to see how it goes, so we did and it just came together. The first session felt really really great and John’s also an extreme talent, so it was a great experience working with him.

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As opposed to working with Jay Joyce or Dan Auerbach on the last four records, what were the major differences you noticed with John Hill?
Jay Joyce is particularly very instinctual. He very much likes to allow the first thing to happen and then he’s very hand on in shaping what the record’s ultimately going to sound like. Dan is very in the moment and I think that to a certain extent, he kind of likes being out of control. What I mean is, a lot of the songs from that record were only one take, so he seemed to be looking for something that was raw and unrefined. John is just a really nice blend between the two, where I think that he has a master vision, but very much like a painter, where you have the obsessive hand and the decisive hand, so we spent a lot of time experimenting and then a lot of time shaping the tracks and helping define their final personalities.

Matt Shultz (R) of Cage the Elephant performs during Metallica’s All Within My Hands Foundation’s Helping Hands Concert & Auction at The Masonic Auditorium on Nov. 3, 2018 in San Francisco, Calif.
Matt Shultz (R) of Cage the Elephant performs during Metallica’s All Within My Hands Foundation’s Helping Hands Concert & Auction at The Masonic Auditorium on Nov. 3, 2018 in San Francisco, Calif. Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

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Would you say that much like the music you like experimenting with new producers too?
Oh yeah, absolutely! Because with each producer you’re hoping to gleam something different right? Something which you can continue to bring along with you in any future projects.

Cage the Elephant has been together for nearly 13 years now. What’s it like working so closely with your brother in that length of time? Do the dynamics of the band ever change?
It has its ups and downs, yeah. [Laughs] With everyone in the band, we’re all extremely close and communication isn’t always the easiest thing. I think that when we were younger, we really struggled with communication and as a consequence probably fought a lot more, but in these days I think that we really take the time to try and understand and trust each other; so the fights are far more seldom. However, when they do happen, they’re usually great highlights within the process. [Laughs] But as a whole, it’s been really good.
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Before you guys released the self-titled debut record, you moved to England. What was the reasoning behind that decision? Do you find it did a lot for you collectively as a group?
For us, a lot of our heroes at that time — and still — had started in the U.K. by either being a band born there, or a band that had managed to find success during their travels over there. Being a country that has so much power as far as musical influence goes, as well as a place where people live in close enough proximity that word of mouth still spreads really well, England stood out to us, so we just thought it made a lot of sense for us to start there.

How have things changed for you personally since those early days?
A lot. I think when you’re young and you’re thrown into a situation that you’re not familiar with, there’s bound to be a fair amount of excitement, but there’s also gonna be a lot of confusion. We didn’t know that getting exactly what you wanted out of a creative situation was even possible back then. So I think just being able to mature over the years through trial and error makes you realize what can and can’t be done. I feel that we’re always maturing as creatives too, [Laughs] maybe. Hopefully.
(L-R) Beck and Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant, 2019.
(L-R) Beck and Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant, 2019. Sony Music Archives
What about when you go back and play the old tracks live. Do those attached memories or emotions still resonate with you the same way now?
They bring totally new feelings, I would say. Occasionally I might catch a little bit of nostalgia, but for the most part, I think the newness comes from the audience, to be honest. One thing that I think is pretty funny — and as an audience member I don’t think about this much — but as a performer, I’m watching the audience probably just as much as they’re watching me. [Laughs] I find the audience very interesting, so in that way, you can sort of tap into a newness by seeing people have moments with your music.
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With the ‘Night Running’ tour quickly approaching, what sort of material fans can expect this year? Will we get to hear much of the new stuff?
Yeah, we’ll do a lot from the new record. Usually, we try to make our sets heavy with new material. It’ll be interesting, though; it’s starting to feel like we have a lot to pull from in terms of our back-catalogue. We’ll see how it shapes up.

We’re so excited to come back to Toronto and in general just happy to be back for a full-on tour.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
Matthew Schultz of Cage the Elephant performs during Lollapalooza 2017 at Grant Park on Aug. 3, 2017 in Chicago, Ill.
Matthew Schultz of Cage the Elephant performs during Lollapalooza 2017 at Grant Park on Aug. 3, 2017 in Chicago, Ill. Josh Brasted/FilmMagic

READ MORE: In light of the Ticketmaster investigation, are there other ways to get tickets?

Social Cues will be available worldwide through RCA Records on April 19. You can save or pre-order the album on the official Cage the Elephant website.

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Tickets for the ‘Night Running’ tour with Beck and Spoon are now available. They can be found here.

‘The Night Running’ tour dates 2019

** Toronto show has been bolded **

July 11 – Ridgefield, Wash. @ Sunlight Supply Amphitheater *^
July 13 – George, Wash. @ The Gorge *^
July 16 – Mountain View, Calif. @ Shoreline Amphitheater *^
July 17 – Irvine, Calif. @ Five Point Amphitheater *^
July 19 – Las Vegas, Nev. @ Park Theater *^
July 20 – Chula Vista, Calif. @ North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre *^
July 21 – Phoenix, Ariz. @ Ak-Chin Pavilion *^
July 23 – Denver, Colo. @ Fiddler’s Green Amphitheater *^
July 26 – Austin, Tex. @ Austin 360 Amphitheater *#
July 27 – Dallas, Tex. @ The Dos Equis Pavilion *#
July 28 – Houston, Tex. @ Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion *#
July 30 – St. Louis, Mo. @ Hollywood Casino Amphitheater *#
July 31 – Chicago, Ill. @ Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island *#
Aug. 2 – Cincinnati, Ohio @ Riverbend Music Center *#
Aug. 3 – Detroit, Mich. @ DTE Energy Music Theater *#
Aug. 4 – Indianapolis, Ind. @ Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center *#
Aug. 11 – Toronto, Ont. @ Budweiser Stage *&
Aug. 12 – Saratoga Springs, N.Y. @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center *&
Aug. 13 – Darien Center, N.Y. @ Darien Lake Amphitheater *&
Aug. 15 – Mansfield, Mass. @ Xfinity Center *&
Aug. 16 – Gilford, N.H. @ Bank of New Hampshire *&
Aug. 17 – New York, N.Y. at Forest Hill Stadium *
Aug. 20 – Holmdel, N.J. at PNC Bank Arts Center *&
Aug. 21 – Camden, N.J. at BB&T Pavilion *&
Aug. 22 – Columbia, Md. @ Merriweather Post Pavilion *&
Aug. 24 – Raleigh, N.C. @ Coastal Credit Union Music Park *&
Aug. 25 – Charlotte, N.C. @ PNC Music Pavilion *&
Aug. 27 – Birmingham, Ala. @ Oak Mountain Amphitheatre *&
Aug. 29 – Tampa, Fla. @ MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre *&
Aug. 30 – West Palm Beach, Fla. @ Coral Sky Amphitheatre *&

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* = w/ Spoon
^ = w/ Starcrawler
# = w/ Wild Belle
& = w/ Sunflower Bean