Cage the Elephant: Slow-Burning Success

Originally published in Guitar World, August 2010

They’ve gone three years without a new album, but the Kentucky-based quintet remains unstoppable.

In today's accelerated pop culture cycle, where a band can go from next-big-thing to has-been seemingly in a matter of minutes, Bowling Green, Kentucky-based five-piece Cage the Elephant have achieved a rare thing: slow-burning success. Since recording their self-titled debut album back in 2007, they’ve built a fan base through tours with the likes of Queens of the Stone Age and Silversun Pickups, as well as appearances at festivals like Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. Now, three years later, Cage the Elephant has sold close to 300,000 copies and spawned several hit singles, including the bluesy, acoustic slide-guitar powered “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked.”

The band’s trajectory, however, has hardly been a straight line. After recording the album independently, Cage the Elephant signed to the British label Relentless and relocated to England, where the disc was released in early 2008. By the time they landed a U.S. deal with Jive and moved back to the States, they were playing to close to 2,000 fans a night in their adopted land. “We were doing pretty well in England but were completely unknown in our own country,” guitarist Brad Shultz says. “Actually, in our hometown there was a rumor going around that we weren’t even really in England.”

The skeptics became believers when Cage the Elephant received a domestic release in early 2009 and quickly found an audience stateside. On the album, the band mixes elements of classic rock, alternative, punk, blues and funk in ragged fashion, over which singer—and Brad’s younger brother—Matt Shultz spews droll, snotty tales in a partly rapped, partly shouted voice. The sound has been compared—depending on which track is playing—to everyone from Beck to the Pixies to Nirvana. Co-guitarist Lincoln Parish, however, says that the band’s influences extend much further back. “When we did the album we were listening to a lot of Chuck Berry and Little Richard, actually,” he says.

Though Cage the Elephant are currently still on tour in support of their debut, they’re also in the mixing stages for the follow-up, which is set for release later this year. And then they’ll continue their slow climb. “Right now we’re playing to about the same size crowds here as we were in England,” Parish says. “But we haven’t been there in so long that our following might have dropped off. So with the new album we might have to go back and start all over.”

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