When Cage the Elephant entered the studio last year to work on their fourth album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, the band wielded a not-so-secret weapon: Black Keys guitarist and Grammy-winning producer Dan Auerbach.
The Grammy-nominated rockers opened for the Black Keys in 2014, and after a series of backstage discussions, guitarist Brad Shultz asked for Auerbach’s help in the studio. The band didn’t aim to radically alter its heavy, swirling rock sound honed over the course of three critically acclaimed previous albums, but the result of last year’s Nashville sessions with Auerbach showed Cage the Elephant pushing in some different sonic directions.
“We were trying to strip back and keep ourselves from piling too much unnecessary stuff on the tracks, which allows the bare bones of the song[s] to be a little bit more present,” Shultz told On Tap about the band’s latest album during a break on their 41-city U.S. tour. “One of the deciding factors in going with Dan was just our talks and our like-mindedness when it came to production. One of the things we talked about was just our love for direct guitar, without noise pedals and other special effects.”
Although electronica and hip-hop sometimes seem to dominate the forward-leaning edges of today’s musical landscape, Shultz thinks there is still a place for guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll, evidenced not only by Cage the Elephant’s success, but also by up-and-coming acts such as The Orwells, Twin Peaks and others.
“As far as guitar music goes, I think it’s actually thriving,” Shultz explained. “There are just a lot of bands that haven’t surfaced [to] the mainstream yet.”
He’s always viewed rock ‘n’ roll as more of an embodiment of an attitude – “a reckless kind of attitude toward music and a free spirit kind of thing, no matter what kind of music it is.”
“If you listen to a band like LCD Soundsystem, it might be kind of electronic, but they are just as rock ‘n’ roll as anything out there.”
Cage the Elephant will make its first headlining appearance at Merriweather Post Pavilion on May 15 with Portugal. The Man and Broncho on the bill. Shultz said he hopes that he and his bandmates can avoid a mistake they made nearly a decade ago while playing the nation’s capital.
“We were playing DC, opening for Queens of the Stone Age, and we pulled onto the wrong road and got swarmed by, like, a SWAT team,” he recalled with a laugh. “We were pulling down the drive of Homeland Security with an unmarked van and trailer. We were at gunpoint when we got out of the car. We thought maybe they were trying to bust us for weed or something.”
Shultz said a bit sheepishly, “When they figured out what was going on, they very sternly turned us around and got us out of there.”
Barring any major security incidents for the band on the way into town, Cage the Elephant fans should be in for an energetic show.
“Every time we play DC, we have a great time. We’re excited to come back and headline.”
Catch Shultz and the rest of the band at Merriweather on May 15. Tickets run $29.50-$45.
Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; 410-715-5550; www.merriweathermusic.com