For five years, Cage the Elephant have explored the nooks and crannies of blues, soul, punk, and rock. Their first two albums, 2008’s Cage the Elephant and 2011’s Thank You, Happy Birthday were often described in terms of what had influenced them — classic indie-punk like the Pixies and the Stooges — instead of the originality of their own music. But on their third album Melophobia, the band made a concious effort to avoid those trappings and even shut their ears to as much recorded music as possible. Rolling Stone recently spoke to vocalist Matthew Shultz about writing Melophobia, loneliness and our biggest struggle as human beings.
Melophobia feels like the most direct statement Cage has made so far.
With each thing that you do, all the fears in life and safeguards block out, or obscure, who you truly are. I think that just a glimpse of the person ever comes through in most material. I think for us, this whole record has been a battle all the way through to remain transparent and to remain honest. One of my buddies, Tiger Merritt, was signed to Glacial Pace – that’s Isaac Brock’s of Modest Mouse’s label. Isaac said to him once, “if you’re not slightly embarrassed to sing the lyrics, you’re probably not writing a good song.” That made sense to me.
How did you specifically try to be more honest on the album?
Tiger and I were talking about all the things that you do, not out of inspiration, but out of protection. We started talking about lyrics. He said to me, “Matt, you should stop trying to write lyrics that sound poetic and just write how you speak.” The entire record was a struggle to maintain that naked honesty and I tried to do that for every song.
Was there a breakthrough moment in terms of the difficulties of transparency?
“Telescope” was a song that was big for me. It was a breakthrough for me in that manner. We had been touring for about five years solid up until this past year, which was the first time that we spent any time at home in the past five years. It was the very first time I had my own place. I just found myself doing life’s meaningless tasks to fill the void to pass the time. I became obsessive compulsive about decorating my house, and once that was finished, I felt obligated to spend time in each room. I felt the need to spend time in the kitchen. Then, I’d move into the dining room and then into the bedroom, as if it had some kind of purpose. I just saw how pointless it was and that nothing was being accomplished.
I thought it would be interesting to write a song about a lonely person who is scared to see the truth that is right in from of him. I thought it would be interesting if you could watch yourself from a distance. That song is a personal account of loneliness. I’d find myself staring at a blank TV screen feeling sorry for myself.
Why were you feeling so lonely?
I just think that for a lot of people – not to take the focus off of myself – that feeling of imminent dread, like a cloak of black dust, was always around me. Plus, it was winter. It wasn’t a super cold winter. It was jut cold enough and drizzled the whole time. I guess that I had seasonal depression. Black clouds were following me everywhere right when everything felt like it was going good. I think that just comes with the toils of life.
Were expectations for a new album bringing you down?
It’s not necessarily that. I think that was one of the variables that was a part of our revelation. It’s about how people work so tirelessly to project images in order to be accepted, when really, you don’t owe that to anyone. You just have to stay true to your convictions. Our biggest struggle as human beings is to project ourselves as something that society has deemed admirable or likable instead of being honest.
Stream Cage the Elephant’s new album Melophobia below: