Matt Schultz, the charismatic 26-year-old frontman for Cage the Elephant, is wandering the secular aisles of a Best Buy in his band’s hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky, looking for a 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 smash-your-Pearl-Jam-tape (some stories have it as Green Day) Pentecostal hard-ass. Secondly, Matt Schultz was dirt poor.
These are the easy, press-kit angles every interviewer takes — to the point where Schultz must wonder what sorts of questions are asked of rock stars who don’t grow up poor Christians.
“I think that all of our backgrounds play a huge role in our development,” Schultz says with obvious “duh” in his voice. “We weren’t allowed to listen to secular music as kids. I listened to gospel.”
But as pop nostalgia makes more room for the 1990s, the fact 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 less compelling as a bio-sheet bullet point than it is as a seemingly profound, if unconscious, influence that has helped make them the rising band they are today.
Cage the Elephant’s self-titled debut is packed with retro-ish hooks worthy of a Discman’s “repeat” switch, yet rock-revival-ish enough to get hipster blogs buzzing — to greater or lesser acclaim; of the jangly “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,” one learned reviewer writes “… 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.
“When we would go over to our grandmother’s trailer, we’d go to her bedroom and turn on MTV,” Schultz says. “I remember watching ‘Heart Shaped Box.’ It was so foreign to me. It was something I’d never been exposed to before.”
Such charmingly stunted development would seem to inform 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 call 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; the videos and the music 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 sophomore effort, they actually hope to (though it’s 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,” Schultz says. “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, musically speaking. What’s it called? … a life-changing experience.”
The album is tentatively set for a September release.
In the meantime, Matt Schultz is at Best Buy, continuing his education in order to give the critics and their damn 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,” he says with confidence. “But some might argue that Beck pulled from them as well.” •