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Cage The Elephant’s Matt Shultz tells us all about working with Beck and new album ‘Social Cues’

Shultz unloads on new album 'Social Cues', Beck's 'amazing talent', and taking up contemporary dance

Cage The Elephant’s Matt Shultz has spoken about the band’s fifth album ‘Social Cues’ and comeback single, ‘Ready To Let Go’.

The band announced their return last week, confirming details of the follow-up to their Grammy-winning fourth record ‘Tell Me I’m Pretty’. They shared the first taste of ‘Social Cues’ (due out on April 19) with a blood-filled, macabre video for ‘Ready To Let Go’, which was directed by Shultz. 

The clip features scenes of a couple in bed covered in blood and people with nails through their hands, and has drawn comparisons from fans to American Horror Story, while the frontman has cited filmmaker Darren Aronofsky as an influence on the new record. “I’ve always been drawn to stuff like that,” he told NME. “I think watching films by [German director R.W.] Fassbinder, where not everything is symbolic but certainly is surreal or strange, is where the direction started to form – the culmination of those filmmakers.”

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He added that he had been thinking about “nativity scenes and the symbolism of blood, guilt, and redemption” when to came both the video and the writing of the song itself through a process of “improvisational thought”. “It’s important to leave space for yourself to be reactive, not active,” he said. “Just try to get into a space where you allow a stream-of-consciousness to happen and then just wait until whatever that is starts to trigger an emotional response.”

Shultz came up with different characters to tell different parts of his story on the new album, which deals with the breakdown of his marriage. ‘Ready To Let Go’, in particular, deals with the moment he and his wife realised they needed a divorce while on a trip to Pompeii, and is told by a character the musician describes as a “shy-eyed, soft-spoken murderer.”

“He’s perhaps a murderer of certain things,” Shultz clarified, adding that using characters in his writing gave him a “safe space to explore expressions that are difficult to say.” “I think I’d been watching a lot of murder documentaries and longform series,” he said of the conception of ‘Ready To Let Go’’s figure. “The thing you’ll find is that a lot of these people are very relatable, which is scary in some regards and also humbling.”

‘Social Cues’ saw the band work with David Campbell, an acclaimed arranger and composer, and the father of Beck. That link eventually saw the musician help the group finish ‘Night Running’, a song that had been giving them some trouble. “We’d found a really great direction for the chorus but it was one of those songs where I was just stumped on the directions for the verses,” Shultz said. “We were talking about how to finish the song and Brad [Shultz, guitarist] was like, ‘For some reason, I feel like Beck would know.’

“Brad had the song sent to Beck and it was insane – maybe within 24 to 48 hours he’d already sent back two verses and said he had four other options. We were like, ‘Oh wow, this is pretty nice. You’re an amazing talent.’ Of course he is!”

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This summer will see Cage The Elephant make the step up to festival headliners as they top the bill at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees festival. Shultz, who has been taking classes in the art of the contemporary Japanese dance butoh, said fans could expect “more raw” performances. “A lot of people think you’re trying to put on a show, but actually you’re trying to capture or be part of the moment in the moment, which is the most interesting [thing],” he said. “You have to continue to pull back those layers.

“The thing that’s great about butoh and the thing that drew me to it is that it’s so raw, so I think, if anything, it’s going to make performances more raw and present. I don’t think they’re going to be more refined, per se.”

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