CAGE THE ELEPHANT

WORKING WITH DAN AUERBACH, THE EVOLUTION OF THEIR SOUND AND MORE

Since releasing their self-titled debut album in 2008, Cage The Elephant have released 15 singles, 10 music videos and garnered a Grammy nomination. Vocalist Matt Shultz and his brother, guitarist Brad Shultz, along with bassist Daniel Tichenor and drummer Jared Champion, recently completed their fourth album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, which is their first to be produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. With the addition of keyboardist/backing vocalist/guitarist Matthan Minster and lead guitarist Nick Bockrath, the group is set to embark upon their first arena–level headlining tour.

Cage The Elephant are back at Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound in Nashville, Tennessee, for the first time since recording the album. “It feels pretty good to be back. It was a huge learning experience for us.” Matt Shultz explains, “Dan has an incredible ability to keep you from getting in your own way and I learned a lot from that. Learned how to minimalize things and not be counterproductive or self-destructive by over thinking things.”

“This is actually the second time that I’ve been back to the studio,” Brad Shultz laughs. “I left some of my stuff here. So I came to reclaim it.” He continues, “I think working with Dan, we all grew in the process of the recording and he definitely gave us some outside perspective on certain things about songwriting and about thinning some tracks out and all of that stuff … it’s stuff that we will kind of take and apply to records in future.”

Tichenor adds, “It was definitely different because working with Jay Joyce on our first three albums, we were kind of used to the way he went about things.” He says, “It’s got a great vibe back here. There’s, like, all these records—great records—that Dan has. It’s just a great environment while we were recording.”

Cage The Elephant

“I think that if you’re not surprising yourself in the studio, then you’re probably not doing the right things … ” – Matt Shultz

Discussing the album further, Matt Shultz says, “I think each record has its own personality take shape and you always try to leave a little elasticity in the process for it to change. I think that if you’re not surprising yourself in the studio, then you’re probably not doing the right things … Everyone has a different process, but we’ve always left enough room in there to continue to surprise ourselves and this very much went along with that. It was very different in the fact that, in past records, we spent very little time preparing before going in the studio and then built everything over long periods of time … On this record, seeing that it was the first that we’d ever worked with Dan before and it was a new situation, we spent a lot more time prior and then when we were in the studio it was very brief—and I mean that in the best of ways.”

Brad Shultz continues, “We’ve always written songs … individually and brought them back to the band … formed the song together, but everybody in our band writes, so it all comes from different places. I think that’s part of our band sound is that each band member has their different likes and dislikes and things that they…you know, in a lot of cases are far apart from the other band members … its kind of the mix of things and the compromise that we all kind of take to make all the sounds blend.”

On the songwriting process, Matt Shultz says, “We find new inspiration in all different places. New, emerging bands or songwriters or artists, everything from music to visuals to all different sorts of creative works. It all translates anyways … Before I came here, I got a chance to record a song with Tom Morello and Dave [Sitek] from TV on the Radio. [Sitek] had children’s books that were sitting on a piano. Even flipping through it … looking at the illustrations and stuff was super inspiring. I think it’s perspective and where your head’s at. So you can draw inspiration from just about anywhere, really.”

Cage The Elephant

Producer Dan Auerbach is a fan of vintage, unique and unusual gear. Recording at Easy Eye Sound gave the group access to an incredible collection of instruments. Tichenor says,“We used quite a bit of it … I mean the collection of keyboards that he has around here is insane. Just messing around with certain sounds, things that we heard in our head. On certain songs you could just go away on your own and kind of experiment. For example, we did this one song and I was hearing a Clockwork Orange type of sound, so went around and kind of mentioned it to Dan …,‘what keyboard would give that type of sound?’ He kind of just pointed to me, like a few chords, put some headphones on and experimented with it and eventually got that sound.”

“I actually used, or Nick used an amp, that [Auerbach] bought on American Pickers. That’s the fun fact of the record … I actually use that amp on this record. Then we all used different gear of Dan’s throughout the record. Tichenor used a Mustang short scale [bass] and Dan actually got us all kind of using Flatwounds.” Brad Shultz explains, “I switched over to Flatwounds. I play a Mustang so it has a bright sound anyways and its kind of a cool mix of where the Flatwounds darken it up a bit but it still has a strong cut.”

Taking the sound of four albums worth of material on the road finds each member optimizing their gear so the band sounds its best for every performance. “The gear that I use now, I’ve more just dialed in what my taste in guitar is and the sound of what amps I use … stuff has changed throughout the years … now I mainly use Mustangs and I’ve kind of went to the Flatwounds … I’ve switched to Fender amps for probably the last six or seven years. I always love the cut, and still the body, that Fender amps have. It’s all about the balance.” Brad Shultz says, “Mostly, my pedal board it’s pretty simple. I have a lot of fuzz pedals, a delay, a spring reverb, a tremolo and a phaser. So it’s nothing really wacky. Just a lot of fuzzes … I have two Mastotron pedals by ZVex, which are really versatile fuzz pedals …Then digital delay, DD-7 by BOSS—kind of the standard, I think. Then the [MXR] Phase 100 phase pedal. It’s like an old school kind of tried and true phase pedal. … The tremolo … it’s a Pigtronix tremolo … it can change the intensity level throughout your playing, so you can set it to where it starts out really mellow and the intensity kicks up towards the end of the signal or you can reverse that.”

On the low end, Tichenor prefers a Fender setup. “I’ve had this bass for about six, seven years. This is the only bass I play every show, it always stays in tune and cross my fingers or I might jinx myself, but I’ve never broke a string on it. It’s a Fender Precision Bass, American [Series]. I think it’s one of the best live basses out there.” For amplification, he says, “I went with the Fender Super Bassman, it has that vintage sound to it … It’s a great live amp. Just the warmth you get out of the amp is amazing.” Lastly, a few pedals add a little extra flavor. “On the pedal board, I have two of the Fulltone GT-500s. The reason I have two of them is just for different songs—they have different settings on them … The [Electro-Harmonix] Big Muff I only use on one song, which is ‘Shake Me Down.’ And a tuner pedal. It’s a simple as that. A lot of times I just go clean … a few songs I do distortion.”

Cage The Elephant

” I always love the cut, and still the body, that Fender amps have. It’s all about the balance.”  – Brad Shultz

Since 2013, Matthan Minster has played guitar and keyboards for the group’s live shows. “I’ve been playing these Ernie Ball Music Mans since I started playing with Cage … It’s really small, a little angular, vibe-y retro-looking and stuff … The P-90s are nice and bratty, punky, which feed well into like a fuzz pedal or two, which is what I do really basic stuff since I’m sort of playing third guitar. When I’m not playing the keyboards, I’m doubling Brad’s rhythm a lot.” For amps, he prefers Orange. “I’m using this combo which is the Rockerverb 50 MKII. It’s really cool. It’s got a great reverb … I’ve got two different ones … the coolest thing about this amp is that it could take like five different kinds of power tubes. So that allows you to … make it sound like a variety of different amps, which is great.”

Touring on lead guitar, Nick Bockrath also prefers the sound of Orange amps. “ … Thunderverb 50 and the Rockerverb 50. Usually I have two cabs and I run them stereo. Oranges are just super badass amps. Always wanted one as a kid and they sound—they’re really great. They cut. A lot of our stuff … is pretty aggressive and cutting and so they break up. I love running them stereo. They get loud.”
With the album released and successful, the band will soon begin live performances in support. Matt Shultz talks about upcoming tour, which is their largest yet.“It feels good. You have high hopes whenever you start making music as far as reaching people. Not in the terms of being famous or whatever, but just reaching a lot of people … for it to feel special enough to a large group of people that they’d invite you into their lives in a certain regard. It’s pretty cool.”

Brad Shultz continues,“When we first started, we were actually just happy to play house parties. That’s the reason we wrote the first record … just to play house parties and there’s a couple of small bars in our hometown. But I don’t know … as far as our band thought of playing arenas or whatever. I’m sure at some point it crosses your mind throughout the whole 10 years that we’ve been doing this, but when we first started … That wasn’t really what was on our mind.”

CAGE THE ELEPHANT TELL ME I'M PRETTY
CAGE THE ELEPHANT TELL ME I’M PRETTY AVAILABLE NOW
Cage The Elephant’s latest album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, debuted at #3 on both the Billboard Rock Albums and Alternative Albums charts. The group is currently on tour across the United States. Dates and locations of live shows, as well as their album, can be found at cagetheelephant.com.

Written by Troy Richardson / Photography by Ryan Hunter

  • Linked In
  • Google