With the release of their fourth album Tell Me I’m Pretty just a few weeks away, we chatted to Brad Shultz from Cage The Elephant about what went into creating the new album and how they had moved on from the high stress, hectic approach of before. Produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys at his studio in Nashville, the band decided to take it back to open honesty with their song writing and take the pressure out of the recording process.
What was it like working with Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys? Did it help shape ideas or bring a new level to your sound?
It was really great, we were already touring together, we have a lot of the same thoughts on music and recording. We were hanging with Dan for probably six months before we even knew we were going to record with him we so we had the songs we’d written, one of the things he did add that’s relevant to this record I think was creating space within the tracks and really finding essential spots for each instrument to lay.
One of our biggest flaws is knowing to some extent we tend to just pile a bunch of shit onto songs. Being in a creative headspace – everybody falls in love with their own ideas – we have a tendency to overstate things a little too much and continuing for the sake of adding more when it really takes away from the song, so Dan was really good at finding the stronger stuff within the song and helping us to kinda see the parts that maybe were unnecessary and helping to strip back a little bit.
You’ve said you wanted to make this album honest and emotional, recording tracks on the first take, did you find this more organic than recording layer by layer and fine tuning? How do you think it impacted your sound and the final album?
We’ve always recorded the tracks live, every record we’ve done we’ve recorded live. But we got to the point where hearing the vocals, Matt was in the room singing the vocals as we were playing and that ended up being the vocals on the record. It was just the pace at which we were working, if we needed to take a little more time on something that wasn’t right we didn’t ignore or neglect that, but if Dan didn’t think that the vibe was the right vibe he wouldn’t want to push the track any further. A lot of times you can technically play the part perfectly but it doesn’t really embody the song or take on the character or the tone. It takes away from the originality of it.
Did you find the one take approach by Dan nerve wracking or more freeing? That you could just play as it felt most comfortable, not being able to second guess?
I think that’s where he has a very keen ear for hearing when the vibe was right. A lot of times we agreed with him, but there were times when we weren’t totally sure until we sat with it for a while and in the back of our mind still wanted to change certain things, but then when we actually went to execute changing those certain things, we went through once to try and change it and then listen to the way we had it previously and just love the way it sounded previously. It kinda took us to realise it sometimes just doing it two different ways.
For the first time in a while it felt like we were just kids when we were jamming before we put a record out, having a great time with not a lot of pressure, I think as people you put a lot of false pressure on yourself that really takes away from what you’re trying to do.
The way we approached the songwriting this time, we came off the back of our last record Melaphobia which I’ll still stand behind that record and I love that record but it was living hell at times to make it and we pushed ourselves. When you start digging into your subconscious to see if you’re affecting your songwriting and your honesty, it can become a deep dark hole of never ending fucking torture.
We put ourselves into that hole, we sent ourselves down that path, and we came out the other side with a clear vision and we found out a lot about our band and about ourselves. We took what we learnt from Melophobia and we applied it to this record – Melophobia was the pathway to get to where we are now. Its easier to make a record when your on the other side of the path than when your walking the rocky road you know.
Tell us about the album itself, who came up with the name, and what’s your favourite track from it?
My favourite track on the record is a song called “Cry Baby”, it’s the first track, and Tell Me I’m Pretty… it’s like a tell me I’m cheap thing and it all plays into what we’ve talked about already. You get into this thing of where when you first start writing songs in your bedroom as a child your writing to have a good time and to have a release from pressures or whatever it is, and its not the pressure it’s the release from the pressure, and then you put something out there and people judge whether they like it or dislike it and it all subconciously builds a certain stigma.
And a lot of the artists I talk to, friends that are writers and painters and people in bands and you start to get this subconscious feeling that you need to please somebody, you know, whether its critics or commercial appeal or your management of your fans or your parents, whatever it is and it really dampers the enjoyment and everything you started the music for. So Tell Me I’m Pretty is just a cheap stab at that.
Four albums deep it can be hard to escape the expectations that build up across that time.
That’s what you have to do if you want to write the most earnest songs, that’s the battle, it’s a constant thing.
Are you looking forward to playing the new tracks live?
Oh yeah, that’s always a good thing, I know theres bands that don’t like to make up setlists, but for us the best shit that we play is when we kinda walk something in and we play it night after night and it becomes second nature and we can lose ourselves in it easily. But it’s definitely good to see some new songs that we’re gonna be able to walk into that setlist cause sometimes you’re just like ‘fuck I wanna keep going, just walk a mile’.
Where is your favourite place to tour? Do you prefer gigs or festivals?
I like touring all different places honestly, you get to meet different people, and when you tour a lot the kind of vibrant people are always the same you know you’re always gonna meet really cool people anywhere it’s just the timing and place that you do that.
Same thoughts [on gigs and festivals], they give me different feelings but equally as enjoyable. Festivals you have this sense of almost trying to win some people over that don’t know about your band and that always fuels you subconsciously, and then intimate shows can sometimes be the most nerve wracking because you can hear the person in the back of the room having a conversation.
What’s ahead for Cage The Elephant?
Big Day Out when out of business right? Last year we were trying to get into Big Day Out, but I wanna get to Australia and do some proper tours and not just festivals. There’s so many great great bands in Australia like Tame Impala, like there’s always good bands from Australia but in nowadays terms they really kind of blew it wide open. Every time I’ve seen them play in Denver in like a 1000 person capacity room and then I saw them play a room in Nashville in like this church that’s kind of legendary, this place called Ryman, they’re a great band and I wish them a bunch of success.
Tell Me I’m Pretty will be released on December 18th, 2015 via RCA Records and Sony Music Entertainment Australia.