The combination of Jimmy Hendrix and a rebellious Kentucky kid, Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant is no businessman. Luckily, the one thing he does know is how to rock. After dropping out of Bowling Green University, the only viable option for Shultz was to do what he does best — make music. His band, Cage the Elephant, is the perfect blend of today’s alternative sounds (take the White Stripes, throw in a little Beck, add some Jet) and people are noticing.
After having their single, “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” the iTunes Free “Download of the Week” back in April 2009, Cage the Elephant has been placed in commercials, television shows and video games galore. The quartet has also made a splash in the festival scene, getting signed at SXSW in 2007 and playing Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and more. Named the must see act of Coachella 2009, Cage the Elephant has had a whirlwind 2 years and shows no sign of slowing down.
Jay Sweet caught up with Shultz to chat about the band’s progression, the business of music and lessons learned.
OS: Could you tell us a little bit about how Cage the Elephant came to be?
MS: Well it all started with a toothpick, a piece of gum and some tin foil…
OS: Do you believe in letting a career path progress organically? Obviously a band needs to be proactive, but hyping anything rarely helps build something that can stand the test of time. Do you agree?
MS: Yeah, I agree, but then again, I don’t have any perspective outside of my own experience and we really haven’t stood the test of time yet. But, from where I am currently standing it appears that this is so. I suppose you could build a “career” in a number of different ways, as long as you feel creatively satisfied…I mean the music is what sits at the core of it all. Or at least it should. To be honest it’s not something that I try to focus on. There are more important things in life to worry about.
OS: Has being on a “major” label been a help or a hindrance? Obviously the majors get a bad rap. Can you discuss your experience?
MS: We’ve been on both sides and in our case we’ve had a better experience with majors. But then again we’ve managed to retain one hundred percent creative control. I suppose it’s another issue, which the end result varies according to the variables evolved.
OS: Do you still “buy” music? Do you think that playing live is really the only way to make a living in today’s music industry?
MS: Yes, I buy all of my music. Of course, I still buy CD’s. There’s something romantic about having the physical artwork in hand. As far as making a living in the music industry goes — well, so far we haven’t made any money, so I wouldn’t know.
OS: What is the hardest thing about being in Cage the Elephant?
MS: Being in Cage the Elephant is easy opposed to the alternative… It’s life outside of that that scares me.
OS: What is the most surprising thing you have learned about the music business in the whirlwind of the last 2 years?
MS: Most of the things that I have learned in the past 2 years that have surprised me didn’t have anything to do with the music “business.” I think that the best lessons in life are learned through life experience and I try to not fill my life with concerns that have to do with business matters. I’ve never been much of a politician — I’m more of a people person.
OS: Knowing what you have learned to date, what would you tell yourself if you were just starting out today?
MS: I wouldn’t tell myself anything. The best part is not knowing.
OS: You have recently licensed your music to video games. Besides gas money for the tour, have you seen a correlation to its release and exposure and your fan base?
MS: All these questions about business make me nervous. Can we talk about music now?
OS: Well, where do you discover new artists?
MS: Through friends, word of mouth… You know, I think that’s the best way. I don’t think this was part of the question, but nevertheless, the new bands that I’ve been listening to here lately are: Screaming Tea Party, Let’s Wrestle, Foals, Morning Teleportation, Vivian Girls, Wavves, Invisible Hand and Bleached Wail. Check ‘em out!