Cage The Elephant
Foals, J. Roddy Walston & The Business
Sat, May 10, 2014
Doors: 7:00 PM / Show: 8:00 PM
CAGE THE ELEPHANT
On Cage The Elephant’s third album, MELOPHOBIA, the rock band was faced with the challenge of finding cohesiveness in the ideas of five different people. After touring for nearly five years straight on their prior releases, 2008’s Cage The Elephant and 2011’s Thank You, Happy Birthday, the musicians took some time off the road,to write as individuals before getting back together in August of 2012 to begin work on MELOPHOBIA as a collective.
“As individuals we all had fairly vague visions for how we wanted the record to turn out,” lead singer Matt Shultz says. “They were pretty polar. It really became a challenge to combine all these polar opposites together in a cohesive way. We first started writing material that was very intimate and had a very kind of close and hushed sound to it, but our hearts missed that energy and swagger and playfulness we love so much. Once that came to light, the record really started taking shape on its own. It was the uniting of several different ideas that were really different from each other.”
The album, a varied collection of unabashedly vivid and notably thoughtful rock songs, was written and recorded over the course of a year, with various recording sessions taking place at St. Charles Studio in Nashville over the winter and spring with longtime producer Jay Joyce. The approach was highly experimental and based around the idea that that you don’t write a song, you find it. Along with Joyce, the band focused on bringing each track to its greatest potential, which sometimes posed a significant challenge. Throughout the process the musicians stopped listening to other musical recordings almost entirely andMattShultz drew songwriting inspiration from listening to those around him interact.
“I wanted the making of this music to be comparable to drawing your childhood house purely from memory,” continues Shultz. “Your mind recreates things that aren’t based so much on physical truth but more based on emotion. I can speak from my own personal experience that pride and fear are always the enemy when you’re creating. Sometimes we cater toward certain sounds or approaches or deliveries because that is what we think society at that particular time has deemed artistic and we totally lose sight of the fact that art is a form of expression. On this record, lyrically and musically, we really strived to be better communicators.”
The album’s flagship single “Come A Little Closer” is a boisterous, blues-laden rocker and was one of the first songs the band completed for the album. The song marries the raw energy and playfulness the band is known for with their present interest in creating intimately expressive music, both in its pensively poetic lyrics and surging melody. That sensibility carries over to “It’s Just Forever,” the final track the band laid down, which features guest vocals from The Kills’ Alison Mosshart. Mosshart’s yelping croon builds the intensity of the stomping number, an apt juxtaposition to the mid-tempo soulfulness of album standout “Hypocrite” and acoustic closer “Cigarette Daydreams.” Overall the album captures familiar sounds in a new way, balancing a nostalgic sonic aesthetic with a fresh, innovative sensibility and embodying a truly classic voice. MELOPHOBIA resonates with a sense of joyful abandon, which comes from facing those initial challenges head on.
“The more intensely we worked on it and the more we put it under a microscope, the more afraid we became of it,” Shultz adds. “Then we had to overcome that. Sometimes it’s not the most fun thing in the world and sometimes it’s jubilation. Immense joy. It was all about overcoming that fear of creating music under false pretense or with skewed intent.”
MELOPHOBIA follows Thank You, Happy Birthday, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 and has sold over 250,000 copies to date. The album’s single, “Shake Me Down,” spent six weeks at No. 1 on Alternative radio, following Cage The Elephant’s 2009 breakout single “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,” which landed in the Top 5. Cage The Elephant has sold over 550,000 copies to date and spent 73 consecutive weeks on the Billboard Top 200. The band has toured extensively, selling out several headlining runs and performing alongside Black Keys, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, Muse, Stone Temple Pilots and Silversun Pickups.
For Cage The Elephant, who originally hail from Bowling Green, KY, the aim is to always improve and evolve, ensuring that each subsequent release and tour represent a step forward. In that way MELOPHOBIA is not so much about a fear of music but a fear of not pushing music to its potential.
“You hope that you naturally evolve as a person and you’re able to apply the things that you’ve learned to your creative works,” Shultz says. “Sometimes you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to keep yourself from getting into this place where you’re just dialing it in. That’s what we’re really afraid of.”
Cage The Elephant consists of singer Matt Shultz, guitarist Brad Shultz, bassist Daniel Tichenor, guitarist Lincoln Parish, and drummer Jared Champion.
What links the minimalism of American composer Steve Reich, guitars that sound like insects and tennis player Andy Roddick? The answer is one word: Foals. The explanation is a bit more complicated.
Let’s start at the beginning. Foals are a five-piece dance-rock band currently living in Brighton. Yannis Philippakis (20, vocals/guitar), Edwin Congreave (22, keyboards), Walter Gervers (23, bass), Jimmy Smith (22, guitar) and Jack Bevan (21, drums) met in their native Oxford, where they bonded over a shared sense of humour and a desire to distance themselves from the city’s art school/university scene. Bored with the interchangeable electro records they heard at every party, they decided to make the kind of music they wanted to dance to. “We wanted to make music that was very technical, that wasn’t just party music, but at the same time you could dance to it,” explains Yannis.
First they christened themselves Foals. It was a nod to Yannis’ surname, which means “little lover of horses” in Greek. “I like Foals because it’s a nice word and it doesn’t give away what the band is about,” he explains. “It sounds fresh and new.”
Then they installed themselves in a tiny rehearsal room and started bouncing ideas off one another. Tensions ran high. “I was shocked by how critical every one was of each other,” says Edwin. “We’ve always been very self-critical,” expands Yannis. “There was an almost dangerous amount of criticism.” If the high-pressure atmosphere strained intra-band relations, they quickly identified a winning formula: driving percussion high in the mix, guitars played above the 12th fret, no chords and splashes of synth colour. The result was pristine, perfectly formed dance rock such as Balloons, Hummer and Two Steps Twice.
Foals don’t really sound like anyone else. There are hints of other bands, but their lines are cleaner, like the schematics for a piece of precision engineering. And there’s something strange about those guitars.
“They’re meant to sound like insects,” says Yannis. “They’re played high on the fret board – we even hold our instruments up high. The result sounds like a cloud of insects forming these strange harmonies.”
The nano-tech precision was a result of Yannis’ obsession with sonic tidiness and the reductive approach of the aforementioned Steve Reich, the man who introduced the concept of minimalism to popular music in the ’60s and ’70s. “I can’t stand messy music,” says Yannis. “It’s an obsessive compulsive thing. It doesn’t interfere with everyday life: it’s aesthetic. I like music that has a structure, an order and a pattern. And I like it when patterns fit together in weird ways.”
As well as Reich, Foals name check minimal German techno tracks such as Plumbicon by Monolake and Dead Man Watches The Clock by Dettman/Klock. “But we like all kinds of stuff,” says Yannis. “Devo, Glen Branca, Battles, Arthur Russell, Nelly Furtado. Justin Timberlake. I listen to world music. Jack listens to electronica. We like taking the best bits of other music and forming a new whole. That’s not an original idea, but I think what comes out of it is fresh.”
Live, Foals don’t so much fizz with energy as explode like a well-shaken bottle of champagne. “It’s like we’re all battling for supremacy on stage,” says Edwin. The dance-inflected beats have seen them rock venues ranging from the kitchen at a house party to London warehouse parties. It’s no exaggeration to say they are the best new live band in the UK.
Meanwhile, the lyrics are striking, surreal images seemingly disconnected from the music. “They’re not narratives,” says Yannis. “They’re usually a image that’s seared on my brain. For example, Balloons is a love song, but I had this image of hot balloons being elevated on some strange fuel. I had this image of thousands of hot balloons in the sky. Other lyrics are about partying and girls, but at the same time they’re about sine waves and cosine waves. I want the lyrics to augment the aesthetic of the music, but not to smother it.”
The sometimes surreal lyrical imagery is complimented by Foals’ artwork, all of which is created by the “sixth member of the band”, Tinhead. “He creates something visual that matches what we want the music to sound like,” says Yannis. “There are all these weird lines, humming birds and bright colours. He chops up things like Soviet imagery and pastes it next to flowers. That cut’n’paste approach reflects the music.”
But what about Andy Roddick?
“I read a book by David Foster Wallace called Infinite Jest,” says Yannis. “It’s about drugs and tennis. It got me into tennis as a result. I like Roddick because he’s an all American hero; he could be out of The Great Gatsby. He’s got the fastest serve ever. It’s beautiful. It’s like ballet. It’s so clinical. I’m more into Andy Roddick than any musician. I based the lyrics for our song The French Open on the Andy Roddick/Lacost advert.”
“No, we don’t understand his obsession with Roddick either,” says Edwin.
A strange story then. But already a fascinating one. And it’s only just started.
J. RODDY WALSTON & THE BUSINESS
- Saturday, May 10, 2014 8:00 PM