Since their last record, brothers Matt and Brad Shultz from the Grammy-winning band, Cage the Elephant, have gone through some incredibly difficult points in their lives: divorce, family deaths, friends dying from overdose and more. These tragedies served as the catalyst for the production of their new release, Social Cues. Their fifth album unapologetically confronts the social expectations of expressing grief and the stigma that can often come from dealing with these suffocating norms. These raw and unflinching themes are expressed through fresh and haunting instrumentation.
Themes of death, divorce, addiction, overdose, trauma and poverty speckle Social Cues in the most provocative and, frankly, beautiful of ways. Full of bold new instrumentation and production choices, the record asks the probing question of whether there’s a “right” way to grieve, and dares to break the conventional conveyance of tragedy. Songs like “Night Running” featuring Grammy winner, Beck; “Tokyo Smoke”; and “Broken Boy”, in which they traded in guitars for a mellotron, run the stylistic gamut while sharing a common thread of weight and importance.
Matt Schultz was with his now ex-wife as they visited Pompei when they first came to the realization, they needed to get a divorce, thus the inspiration for “Ready to Let Go”. “It’s hard when you love each other, but it just won’t work,” Matt says in an interview with Rolling Stone. Their final song on the album, the aptly titled “Goodbye,” expresses “grief in an entirely different way from most of the other songs on the album” best put by Ari Shapiro with NPR. Schultz was lying on the floor as he was delivering his heart into this song and canceled two weeks of work after he first sang it in the studio. This song was a goodbye not only to his wife, but also to his cousin that passed away and two of his friends that died from overdoses. He says that there’s a “temptation of getting stuck in the melodrama of things…you miss out on all the notes and colors of life.”
Most of the band members have had problems with drugs in their early careers, and it was music that pulled them from their addiction. Guitarist Jared Champion told Rolling Stone in an earlier interview “Going on tour was a saving grace…none of us were like, ‘We don’t want to go on tour so we can stay home and do drugs.’ We wanted the music.” Matt was reluctant at first to get clean he told USA Today, “I was worried that I’d lose my creativity. But the opposite happened. It opened the floodgates.” Previous band member, Lincoln Parish, left the band in 2013 and soon after that went into a music recovery rehab center. He’s been clean since July 2015 and is currently a music producer in Nashville, Tennessee. While discussing his career with Font Row Live he wished the best for his former bandmates.
Social Cues embraces the grieving process of loss, whether it be from divorce, death or overdose. Cage the Elephant delivers a new rhythmic experience that challenges the rock genre musically and lyrically. The grieving process is different for everyone, and for the band to express it in a way that has hints of joy is exactly what Matt Schultz wants.
“One thing that stood out to me is that the presence of joy within sadness and grief.”