After landing a deal with Jive Records and impressing crowds at SXSW and Bamboozle, Cage the Elephant has found chart success with its first single, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” and self-titled album. The latter debuted at No. 171 on the Billboard Hot 200 — it currently sits at No. 100 and has earned Heatseeker Graduate status — while the single has sold 59,000 downloads and is perched at No. 5 on the Modern Rock radio airplay chart.
Cage the Elephant was formed in 2005 by lead singer Matt Shultz and guitarist Brad Shultz in Bowling Green, Ky., where the brothers were only allowed to listen to religious music growing up. “We were really sheltered as far as listening to secular music,” says the frontman, who adds that it wasn’t until his parents divorced that he and his brother started sneaking rock music into the house. “The first record I ever had was ‘Jimi Hendrix: Live at Woodstock.’” The band’s influences range from Pixies and Chuck Berry to The Ramones, Nirvana and others.
To complete their lineup, the Shultz brothers recruited childhood friends: drummer Jared Champion, guitarist Lincoln Parrish and bassist Daniel Tichenor, who one day showed up to rehearsal with a bass and amp after the original bassist left to pursue education. After landing on the bill for Lollapalooza bill and opening for Queens of the Stone Age in 2007, Cage the Elephant left its small-town roots for the UK in the hopes of building more visibility in a smaller territory. The band has lived in Europe for a little under two years and first released its album in 2008 on British indie label Relentless, before its stateside release on May 19 of this year.
“Cage the Elephant” was produced by Jay Joyce (Patty Griffin, Rubyhorse), who Shultz says “was very involved in the creative process,” and the lyrics were co-written by all four band members, who Shultz says took turns writing parts of each song before everyone would shape the final result together. “It is not worth writing songs that are on the surface as far as exterior pleasures and stuff like that,” he says. Shultz cites his favorite songs on the album as “Tiny Little Robots,” “Back Against the Wall” and “Lotus,” which contains references to religion and war.
Though the band’s name also has political undertones, its live set — which has played a key role in its surge — is more visceral. “You wouldn’t think to go to one of our rock shows and walk away thinking, ‘That was a really great message,’” says Shultz. “Our rock shows tend to get pretty crazy.” Cage the Elephant’s current focus is touring and finishing its second album, and it hopes to one day collaborate with Bob Dylan or Iggy Pop.
“Hold on to what you love and don’t let yourself become jaded,” is Shultz’s advice for up and coming bands. “Just keep your eyes on what it is all about in the first place.”