To say Cage the Elephant's performance at Bonnaroo in 2009 was jaw-dropping would be an understatement. The Kentucky-based band hit the stage and tore off into its set as singer Matt Shultz, clad in a red, spandex bodysuit, sang in his laid-back style while simply, well, freaking the fuck out. He's been compared to a Tasmanian devil when performing and to say he is taken over by emotion doesn't even begin to describe it. It looks like an epileptic fit. It's unique to say the least, but it's all emotion and letting himself get lost in the music.
"Most of the time, it's something that happens pretty naturally," Shultz says of his onstage antics. "You always have your off days. There might be one or two people in the crowd that kind of ruin it for you. It's one of those things that you try not to analyze. You don't want to sit in a corner of a room somewhere some day and trying to figure out what the equation of entertainment is. I'd rather just do it instinctually."
Guitarist Lincoln Parish once said in an interview that he simply tries to "stay the hell out of Shultz's way." Shultz often throws himself around the stage, into objects, into his bandmates, into the crowd or wherever he can. It's no surprise that he's had more than a handful of injuries.
"Yes, I always ... well, not always, but it most certainly contributes to injuries," he says with a laugh. "I've broken ribs, separated my rib cage from my sternum ... I jumped off the balcony into a crowd one time and broke the fourth metatarsal in my left foot ... I recently broke my pinky and it looks really weird now. I've gotten stitches before during shows. Luckily, most of these injuries have happened near the end of shows.
"At Bonnaroo, I got electrocuted. That was pretty intense. I was climbing up one of the light scaffolds and I felt a weird tingle in my calf muscles, then I put the mic in my mouth," he says with the raspy laugh of someone who screams too much. "It was exciting. It wasn't so much that it caused any injury; it just changed the taste in my mouth."
The band's live show is just one way they're getting attention -- after all, if you don't have good music to back it up, people will never pay attention for long.
Shultz's lyrics are poetic, often truthful stories that are masked behind a series of metaphors or analogies that might require a little more thought. He even talks that way when answering the simplest of questions. The band has been touring behind its debut, self-titled album for two years. When asked if it feels like forever ago since the album was released, Shultz, on the phone from his Kentucky home, says, "For sure, it does feel that way, but life is short and life is long."
The band is ready to release its sophomore album, which should be out this summer. They finished recording it in September, which has led to the performance of new songs live, much to the chagrin of management. "[They hate when music gets released beforehand] and we always love to play it before it comes out," Shultz says. "We've probably written three albums worth of material since this record that is currently out. The stuff that's on the new record is stuff that was written probably around March of last year. We went into the studio for about a month around that time period and then went back in in September to finish it up. A lot of it was pieces that were written on the road and stuff, but we completed it when we got back home. We secluded ourselves out in a cabin in the middle of nowhere."
Shultz says the new album aims to capture a bit more of the band's onstage energy -- the tracks were recorded live in the studio as a group instead of overdubs and separating the band members. Meanwhile, the songs on the band's debut have undergone a natural transformation and evolution after years of playing them live. Those singles you hear on the radio -- "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked," "Back Against the Wall" or "In One Ear" have more energy, as expected.
Cage the Elephant was originally called Perfect Confusion, but changed names after acquiring two new band members and deciding the name they came up with in high school was "too trippy." Matt's brother, Brad, is also in the band, along with Parish, Jared Champion and Daniel Tichenor. After a 2007 showcase at SXSW, the band signed to EMI and moved to England for two years.
"The label that originally signed us was based in England," Shultz says. "They offered us 100 percent creative control and a lot of our favorite bands started in the U.K. and then came back to the States. We just decided to sign with that label and moved over there. How it impacted us ...? I don't know. It's another one of those things that's really hard to analyze when you're on the inside of it."
The band went back to England last May for the first time since moving back home to Kentucky and sold out the entire tour simply by word-of-mouth. When asked if it's tough to go around this country, or another, to try and win over new fans who haven't heard them before, another bit of wisdom in Shultz's own creative way comes out.
"It doesn't really bother me," he says. "We're old and we're young, if you know what I mean. If you're talking about a public perspective, new is just whenever they're exposed to something. There are so many old bands that are new bands. It's been great to see reactions from people who come to the shows. Then again, some of the best shows we've ever had were done just for the bartender."
Cage the Elephant will perform at Amos' Southend on Feb. 21 with As Tall As Lions and Morning Teleportation. Tickets are $13 in advance and $15 on the day of the show. Doors open at 7 p.m.