‘Social Cues’ is latest ‘therapeutic’ release from Cage the Elephant

Band talks new album, tour with Beck.


It was in a backstage bathroom during the 59th Annual Grammy Awards in 2016. That’s where Cage the Elephant songwriter and founding rhythm guitarist Brad Shultz first thought about his band’s latest album, the April-released Social Cues.

Cage the Elephant had just won their first of the hallowed awards ⁠— Best Rock Album for 2015’s Dan Auerbach-produced Tell Me I’m Pretty ⁠— and Shultz was already planning for what was coming next.

But little did the Nashville-based musician know that the making of his rock sextet’s fifth album would be fraught with more emotional highs and lows than the band had ever experienced.

For starters, Shultz’s younger brother, songwriter and founding lead singer Matt Shultz, spent much of the creation of Social Cues dealing with a split from wife Juliette Buchs.

The siblings were also emotionally devastated by the loss of more than a handful of both family and close friends before, and during, the album-making process.

While the experiences did help to provide lyrical content for many of their new songs, in many ways, it’s amazing that Social Cues ever made it out of the studio.

“It was a strange record to make,” the elder Shultz said recently from his Tennessee home. “We lost something like five friends and family members before we made it, and then during, we lost three more. Matt went through a divorce. It was a brutal stretch. But ultimately, we were able to push through. And that’s something I’m extremely proud of.”

For all of the things that worked against the band during this time, there were also a few that worked for them.

Perhaps most importantly was the fact that it provided the first opportunity for longtime touring musicians and now full-time band members, Nick Bockrath and Matthan Minster, to really contribute in the making of an album.

“Matt and I do a lot,” said Shultz. “But that’s just because it’s the way we’ve worked since we were 13 or 14 years old. This time, we kind of let go and it was really cool. The six of us [including band members Daniel Tichenor and Jared Champion] were able to work out what the dynamic was going to be like in a full working capacity.”

The new approach meant that plenty of unexplored ideas were thrown around and each band member stepped out of his comfort zone in trying new instruments ⁠— something that heavily contributed to the varied sounds on Social Cues.

Cage the Elephant also secured assistance on the project from two heavy hitters ⁠— John Hill (Christina Aguilera, Eminem, Imagine Dragons) to produce, and composer/conductor David Campbell (Adele, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson) to handle string arrangements.

And while the band was ecstatic about their contributions to the album, it was Campbell, or rather, a familial connection to him, that really took things in a new direction.

Thanks to the serendipitous timing of getting stuck on the lyrics of album track Night Running and someone mentioning in casual conversation that Campbell was the father of seven-time Grammy-winner Beck, Shultz decided it might be time to try another guest feature.

“We sent Beck the track on a whim,” he said. “I had no idea David was his father before that and honestly did not know if he’d even get back to us. But within a couple of days, and he didn’t even say, ‘Hey, I’m into it,’ he had sent us two verses and said he had four more. It was insane.”

Not only did Beck’s verses make it onto Night Running, the band and singer/songwriter decided to take it one step further and head out together on their current 30-date co-headlining tour.

The partnership has proved to be more than a bright spot on a process filled with its fair share of dark ones.

“I moshed at my seventh-grade school dance to (1994 Beck hit) Loser,” Shultz recalls with a laugh. “It’s crazy. We were all so excited when he said he’d do it. We were like giddy kids on Christmas morning. It’s really just been an honor to work with him.”

The Cage the Elephant/Beck co-headlining Night Running tour goes until September. And whether it’s with Beck or not, another leg promoting Social Cues will likely follow for the band.

Then it’ll be back to the drawing board for Shultz and the rest of Cage the Elephant, with the only hope that inspiration for the next one will come from a much better place.

But that doesn’t mean the experience of making Social Cues has been a bad one.

“In retrospect,” said Shultz, “I think making this album was therapeutic. I don’t think we viewed it that way when we were writing and recording it, but we want every record to imitate and mirror our experiences. And sometimes that’s very hard to do because, selfishly, you don’t want to give everything away. But we definitely did it with this one.”

Beck and Cage the Elephant

When: 6 p.m., July 20
Where: North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre, 2050 Entertainment Circle Dr., Chula Vista
Cost: from $22