Even on a cloudy day/I keep my eyes fixed on the sun: Such not-quite-sunny determination (heard on the single “Shake Me Down”) has been the attitude that works for Bowling Green’s Cage the Elephant on the road to getting out their fabulously well-received second album, Thank You Happy Birthday.
As guitarist Brad Shultz tells LEO, the long, strange trip leading the quintet to this year’s Derby Festival started with them touring regionally a few years back. That included Louisville, of course, as Shultz fondly remembers gigs at Uncle Pleasant’s. “We’d have five, six people coming out to our shows,” he laughs. But then their oft-choppy, sometimes sloppy, but usually raucous and melodic reinvention of post-punk was a big hit at SXSW in 2007. “(By the time) we were done at South by Southwest, we had a couple of label offers. The label in the UK offered creative control — a big thing to us.”
“We had never been out of our comfort zone,” Shultz confesses, and the band took the bold step of moving to England. But after a couple of years (including a solid reception on both sides of the Atlantic for their eponymous debut disc), the process of getting together the material for the next disc was stalling. The band’s idea for a cure was to return to Kentucky — where they promptly ditched the 50 songs they’d been working on. Shultz, along with his brother Matt (the lead singer) and the rest of the band, found themselves putting together material confidently once they were settled in a cabin “up around Barren River Lake, which is right outside of Bowling Green.”
Before you could say There’s no place like home, Cage the Elephant was once again de-tuning guitars mid-song and distorting vocals on a whim (but often to great effect). They were once again switching up time signatures, which seems to come easily to this group. Brad says those moments don’t emerge from “a certain timing change or a certain riffing change, but a lot of times when we’re just jamming on a song, Jared (Champion) will change up his drum beat just to stir up something spontaneously.”
If this is a band that seems custom-made for these ADHD times, Shultz doesn’t seem to disagree. “We’re really splintered musicians. We like a lot of different styles, a lot of different textures in our music.” And they can grab onto some peculiarly visceral sensations of alienation — which is one of the best hole-cards they play — then break out into rowdy-guitars-bouncing-high-off-the-bassline fun.
Before the interview was over, I had to know where the band name came from. “Matt went to a fortune teller just when we were forming this band, coming off of another band we were in. She started reading his palm, and all of a sudden she got real freaked out. She started talking about ‘caging the elephant.’ She ended up screaming, going all crazy, and we basically just hightailed it out of there as fast as we possibly could.”
Cage the Elephant with The Pass
Thursday, May 5
Kroger’s Fest-a-Ville on the Waterfront
Waterfront Park, Great Lawn
Admission is a Pegasus Pin; 8 p.m.