Cage the Elephant On New Album 'Thank You Happy Birthday'
“I was probably stupid to want to move to London when I was 17,” Parish says in retrospect. “We had this whole vision in our heads that we were going to go over there and become rock stars overnight. It totally didn’t work out that way. For the first several months there, we were playing to two people a night. One night we just played to a bartender and our tour agent. But after a year it really started to take off. The last tour we did over there was a headline tour, and we played to crowds anywhere between 1,000 and 2,500 people.”
Nor were they quartered in any of London’s hippest districts. “We were living in Leighton in far east London,” Parish says. “It was a shithole. The label’s idea was to put us out of central London and Camden because they thought we were going to be partying too much. So they got us a house way out there. But we found a store, Tesco, that’s kind of the English version of Walmart, and they sold alcohol 24 hours a day. We still managed to get people to come all the way out to our house and party.”
More importantly than booze, Cage the Elephant began to soak up a wide range of new musical influences. Friends introduced them to current U.K. groups like Foals as well as classics from the early Eighties post-punk era such as Gang of Four. “Especially their album Entertainment,” Shultz says. It’s definitely in my top-10 albums of all time. Gang of Four’s guitar player, Andy Gill, is one of my favorites and probably had one of the greatest influences on me as a guitar player.”
“We got into Eighties stuff like the Jam, the Fall and Wreckless Eric,” Parish adds. “And not only just English bands but also bands that were well respected in England, like the Pixies, the Replacements and Sonic Youth.”
The result was a major broadening of the band’s musical horizons in the period between its first album and Thank You Happy Birthday. “On the first CD, we were a band that had hardly ever played outside of Bowling Green, Kentucky,” Shultz says. “I think we had a really formulated idea of what pure and honest music was, because we hadn’t been exposed to a lot of music. But we moved over to London and started listening to a lot of stuff. It was almost like we were afraid to grow, as silly as that sounds. We just had this whole big ‘What is Cage the Elephant?’ moment. And then we started realizing that Cage the Elephant is whatever we write. We stopped trying to write in any specific style.”
The band was bristling with new songs and new ideas when it returned to the States and holed up in Nashville’s Tragedy/Tragedy recording studio to make Thank You Happy Birthday. Shultz and Parish constitute an ideal guitar team for bringing those ideas to life. Shultz is more of a Fender guy, favoring Telecasters and Jazzmasters through a Fender Super-Sonic amp, whereas Parish relies heavily on a “Goldtop” Les Paul, which he played through everything from an Orange amp to a blackface Bassman head to an old “Plexi” Marshall belonging to Joyce. The producer also brought in vintage gear, like a Sixties Gretsch Country Gentleman that was used for the slide guitar on “Japanese Buffalo,” and a Washburn 12-string that Parish overdubbed four or five times on the album’s first single, “Shake Me Down.”
Parish tends to conceive of guitar parts in visual terms. “I got the inspiration for the low-string twang part in ‘Indy Kidz’ thinking about Jack the Ripper creeping around the streets of London,” he says. “I may be a weirdo for thinking like that, but it seems to work.”
Shultz, for his part, cites everything from Fifties guitar duo Santo & Johnny to R&B vocal group the Coasters as influences on the album. On a more contemporary note, many of the album’s mysterious clouds of backward guitar noise were created with a Boomerang III Phrase Sampler pedal. “I’d like to do a whole song backward one day,” Shultz says. “All except for drums and bass.”
Shultz also has an Electro-Harmonix HOG pedal in his board. Both players make ample use of Big Muffs, Memory Man pedals and all the other usual suspects. Parish gets some edgy chorus tones out of his DigiTech Whammy Pedal. “I’ve played with a lot of pedals pretty much since I joined the band,” he says. “Brad used to not play with pedals at all. But look at him now!”
As Cage the Elephant head out on the road to support Thank You Happy Birthday, their plan for the future is simple: “Keep moving forward, keep progressing,” Parish says. “One day I’d like to make a total noiserock album,” Shultz muses. “Like the Butthole Surfers or something.”
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