Matt Shultz could make it through only one take. The lead singer of the Kentucky rock band Cage the Elephant was recently in the studio recording “Goodbye,” a John Lennon-inspired ballad Shultz wrote for his wife as their seven-year relationship was ending. Shultz delivered it lying on the studio floor. Afterward, he walked out and canceled the next two weeks of work.
“There were times like that,” says his brother, guitarist Brad Shultz. “We’d think he was getting back to normal, then he would melt down.” Admits Matt of those sessions, “There was a fair amount of self-medication and intense isolation.” Those erratic sessions produced Social Cues (out April 19th), which adds new depth to the band’s sound — hear “Ready to Let Go,” about a trip to Pompeii, where Matt and his wife realized they needed to divorce. “It’s hard when you love each other, but it just won’t work,” he says. “I’m glad to be past it.”
Shultz leaned into the darkness of his divorce. “I saw a depth of potential evil that I had never experienced firsthand,” he says. Watching Netflix’s I Am a Killer, he started writing from the perspective of “this character: this soft-spoken, shy-eyed murderer.”
After nearly a decade, Cage had their biggest success with 2015’s Tell Me I’m Pretty, produced by Dan Auerbach. After that, they wanted to be more ambitious. Inspired by how Brian Jones played unconventional instruments on Stones classics like “Under My Thumb,” they decided to get members on instruments they weren’t used to — guitarist Nick Bockrath traded guitar for Mellotron for the propulsive opener, “Broken Boy,” and for pedal steel on the psychedelic anthem “Black Madonna.”
The Shultz brothers don’t always get along. “We would have this weird tension around each other,” says Brad. “And then it would come to a head. Sometimes I’m really in love with what I’m doing, but then I over-read Matt’s reaction and then it hurts me – I’ll think he doesn’t like it.”
One track they disagreed on was “Night Running,” an Iggy Pop-meets-reggae track about a devious night on the town. The song had been in limbo for years, and Brad felt he wasn’t taking it seriously. “Matt was leaving early every day, and I got super-pissed and told him he wasn’t trying,” says his brother. They sent it to Beck, whom they’d met at an event; he returned it 24 hours later with two swaggering rap verses.
“We feel like we’ve pushed ourselves, and that’s all we can ask for,” says Brad. “We became better friends. It doesn’t mean that we got along the whole time, but in the end, adversity brings you closer.”
Below, watch Cage the Elephant’s video for their new single, “Ready to Let Go.”