Cage the Elephant On New Album 'Thank You Happy Birthday'
Originally published in Guitar World, February 2011
Cage the Elephant make a stomping big noise on Thank You Happy Birthday.
Thank You Happy Birthday, the new album by Cage the Elephant, is a nonstop sonic joyride through jungles of wild guitar tones. An air of mystery pervades the disc. Guitars materialize out of nowhere, then vaporize into oblivion. Blasts of alt-rock grunge give way to passages of reverberating film-noir Duane Eddy twang. The song “Japanese Buffalo” starts off as a 6/8 waltz, shifts into a hardcore blitz and resolves into a romantic Fifties ballad progression.
“As a band, we kind of have musical ADD,” guitarist Brad Shultz says, laughing. “But somehow it all seems focused.”
A lot of that focus comes from solid songwriting, plus inventive yet grounded production courtesy of the band’s longtime producer, and de facto sixth member, Jay Joyce.
“We never want to write or record the same album twice,” adds guitarist Lincoln Parish. “We never want to get stuck in the same type of sound.”
Cage the Elephant have certainly traveled a long way, musically and geographically, since they first came together in 2006 and released their self-titled debut album in 2007. The band originated in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where listening to rock music was a clandestine activity for Shultz and his brother Matt, who is Cage the Elephant’s singer.
“Our parents were very religious,” Brad says, “and when Matt and I were young, our dad wouldn’t let us listen to much secular music. The only secular music we were allowed to listen to was stuff like the Beach Boys and Tommy James and the Shondells. Once in a while my dad might throw in some Joe Cocker. But I had to sneak to listen to a tape of Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced. I’d fall asleep listening to it and my dad would catch me with the tape. He kept tapes like that in a crate in his room. Me and Matt would break in there so often that he started putting a little piece of thread near the bottom of the door jamb. If we walked through the doorway, we’d trip the thread and he’d know we’d been in there.”
The Shultz brothers are 17 months apart. Brad is the elder. “But I don’t think you’ll see any bittersweet sibling rivalry between us,” he says. “We grew up in pretty close confines. Our parents didn’t have a lot of money. We had four kids in our family, and there was one year where my dad made, like, 6,000 bucks. So we were all in one room, all four brothers. You basically had to walk across our bed to get in and out of the room. So Matt and I are close. We’re close with all our brothers.”
Despite their family’s financial challenges and religious reservations regarding rock and roll, the brothers nevertheless managed to launch a series of high school rock bands, enlisting the aid of drummer Jared Champion. After high school, they got more serious about it. Another friend, Daniel Tichenor proved handy on bass. The last member of Cage the Elephant to fall into place was Parish, who was just 15 when he joined the guys after contacting them via MySpace.
“His mom actually dropped him off at the first band practice,” Shultz recalls. “It was so funny, like something out of the movie Almost Famous. She’s like, ‘I just know Lincoln’s going to be so good for your band. I promise you.’ He was the typical 15-year-old kid, like, ‘Aw, Mom, be quiet.’ But once he started playing, we were like, ‘My God!’ ”
Although a relatively small city of some 50,000 people, Bowling Green proved a nurturing environment for Cage the Elephant during their formative stages.“What makes Bowling Green so cool and unique is there’s not really a music scene to cater to,” Shultz says. “There’s no one style of music that’s really fashionable. There’s just a bunch of musicians. We all kind of hang out together and support one another, even though we’re all playing very different types of music.”
But in 2007, the band signed with U.K. label Relentless Records and decided to move to London. “It was the one record deal that gave us full creative control,” Shultz says. “It seemed enticing to move over there, because several bands that we looked up to had gone to London, broke there and then came back to the States. Going to London seemed like a good idea at the time. We were young.”