You probably first heard the name “Cage the Elephant” when the mellow hit Shake Me Down played on the radio daily in early 2011. It was around this time that Cage the Elephant became a commonplace band, trademark of the indie genre as one of the only indie bands to play regularly on the radio at the time. But the band had a much more down to earth start than their current fame would suggest. Brothers Brad and Matthew Shultz, Cage the Elephant’s rhythm guitarist and lead singer respectively, grew up with drummer Jared Champion in Kentucky’s small college town of Bowling Green. Bassist Daniel Tichenor, also from Bowling Green, was a few years ahead of the three in school, and originally turned the group down when they approached him to join their band. He eventually conceded, and the growing crew went on to search for the perfect lead guitarist.
“[Lincoln Parish’s] mom was like, ‘You are just gonna love him. He’s going to be amazing. I know it’,” Brad Shultz laughed as he described the screening process on the way to picking up a guitarist. Parish was 15 years old at the time, and the band was skeptical. But a teenaged Lincoln Parish blew them off their feet, and has been with the band since.
Though Cage the Elephant has been the face of indie music for the pop crowd since Shake Me Down became a popular hit, Shultz describes their sound as changing drastically over the years since their creation. “We really want to be a band that’s not pigeonholed,” he explains. The band started out their career with an album heavily shaped by the classic rock that their Kentucky home was famous for. They later spent two years living and writing in London, where their Kentucky roots were joined by sounds from England’s distinctive punk scene. Shultz himself names several influences that have changed the way he has played guitar over the years, including Gang of Four, Souls, and Anecdotes. “We’re a band that embraces the change,” he says with pride. Shultz still considers the band’s Bowling Green home to be a strong influence in their music. In fact, Champion still lives in Bowling Green, and the band visits regularly. During the group’s semi-regular migration to Bowling Green bar Tidballs, staff will sometimes play an entire playlist of Cage the Elephant’s music to welcome (or embarrass) the group. “It’s like, make this more awkward for me please,” Shultz laughs. Despite his discomfort hearing his own music at home, Shultz describes listening to it as it comes on the radio as, “a moment to reflect.”
Despite Cage the Elephant’s stupendous success over the years, the group is still made up of five very down to earth guys with the same excitements as their fans. When Champion was ill during one concert, Dave Grohl (of Nirvana and Foo Fighters) filled in for him on drums. “We kind of fangirled out,” Shultz says as he describes their thrill over performing with the rock legend.
Though Shultz greatly enjoyed their concert with Grohl, he names a different performance, at Lollapalooza 2011, as his all-time favorite show. He cites a spiritual moment that he felt onstage during the concert, saying that, “you could almost cut the energy [of the audience] with a knife.” Though it was raining hard at the outdoor festival, the crowd didn’t seem to notice and everyone stuck it out to listen to the band play. The experience went so far as to move Shultz nearly to tears during the set.
The band’s latest album Melophobia, which came out last month, was a new chapter for Cage the Elephant. They took a step back from the influences they accrued to create an entirely new sound, which still carries the laid back and rhythmic elements that Cage the Elephant has come to be known for. “We just really wanted to love every part of what we wrote,” Shultz says of it.
Cage the Elephant will perform at Radio 94.7’s Electric Christmas on December 4th.
Words Tessa Murphy