Playing catch-up 

Cage the Elephant
with Morning Teleportation
7 p.m. Sunday, May 16
Firestone Live,
all ages


Matt Schultz, the charismatic 26-year-old frontman for Cage the Elephant, wanders the secular aisles of a Best Buy in his band's hometown of Bowling Green, Ky., looking for a DVD copy of The Devil and Daniel Johnston, something he never would have been able to do as a kid.

First off, his recovering hippie father was a Pentecostal hard-ass. Secondly, Matt Schultz was dirt poor. These are the press-kit angles every interviewer takes — to the point where Schultz must wonder what sort of questions are asked of rock stars who don't grow up poor, hippie Christians.

"I think that all of our backgrounds play a huge roll in our development," says Schultz with a "duh" in his voice. "We weren't allowed to listen to secular music as kids. I listened to gospel. We were also very poor, and we didn't have a lot of stuff."

But as pop nostalgia makes more room for the 1990s, that he and his brother Brad wouldn't have been allowed to watch MTV even if their parents had been able to afford cable is a less-compelling bio-sheet bullet point that helps them appreciate their band's success than it is a seemingly profound influence that helped them create it.

The band's self-titled debut is packed with retro hooks, yet rock-revivalist enough to buzz them onto hipster blogs — to greater or lesser acclaim; of the jangly "Ain't No Rest For The Wicked," one learned reviewer writes that "strutting down a desert highway to a break beat ain't helping your cause for originality, bros. Beck was doin' that shiz when y'all were still in diapers." Indeed, it's just that such shiz was off limits to them.

"When we would go over to our grandmother's trailer, we'd go to her bedroom and turn on MTV," says Schultz. "I remember watching ‘Heart-Shaped Box.' It was so foreign to me."

Such charmingly stunted development informs the aesthetic sincerity of last year's video for the accessibly awesome "Back Against the Wall." The randomly out-of-focus flannel shirts and bizarre, oversaturated sequences of Schultz burning gnomes at the stake instantly calls to mind the grotesque imagery and garishness of trendsetting videos from the early '90s like Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" and, yes, Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" but without any sense of irony; Cage the Elephant genuinely look and sound like they're from that era.

The idea that Schultz and Co. are a race of alt-rock Encino Men (their not-so-long-ago band name? Perfect Confusion) is furthered in an early review from Rolling Stone, which said the noble savages "rock so enthusiastically you wonder if the band thinks it's breaking new ground."

With their upcoming sophomore effort, the group was reportedly heavily influenced by the Pixies, a band Schultz admits to discovering only within the last few years.

"Our musical tastes have changed, I think, individually and collectively as well," says Schultz. "I think with the first album, we just wanted to make something that was a ‘this is what a rock album is supposed to sound like' kind of thing. But with this new record — I'm so pumped about it, dude — I've never been a part of anything as gratifying as this. What's it called? A life-changing experience."

In the meantime, Schultz continues his musical education in order to give the critics and their Beck comparisons a taste of their own medicine.

"I mean, I like Beck's music, but I think our minds were more tied around the Butthole Surfers," says Schultz with total confidence. "But some might argue that Beck pulled from them as well."

More by Jeremy Henderson


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