Matt Shultz, vocalist for ramshackle rockers Cage the Elephant, has been compared to Tasmanian devils and Bible Belt preachers for his frenzied live performance. It's like he's performing because his life depends on it.
In his mind, he kind of is.
Shultz and the rest of Cage the Elephant (guitarist and brother Brad, guitarist Lincoln Parish, bassist Daniel Tichenor, and drummer Jared Champion) hail from the hinterlands of Bowling Green, KY. Life there centers around Corvette's flagship plant, a Fruit of the Loom distribution center and of course high school sports. None particularly appealed to Shultz and his cohorts.
"There were a lot of times where I felt trapped, like the world I was born into was the world I was going to die in," Shultz said during a recent phone interview while Cage the Elephant are en route to a gig in Toronto.
It didn't help that the Shultz brothers grew up in a strict Pentecostal household where secular music was forbidden. Unlike most of their peers, they had to sneak what would become their influences into their bedroom. One of those was Bob Dylan. Shultz could relate to what he said in his music. It was enough for him to pursue a similar path after dropping out of Western Kentucky University.
The process took off in a hurry from there. Cage the Elephant were only a band three months when they recorded their self-titled debut in London. And that was done in just 10 days.
"We kinda just got together, put the songs together and rushed into the studio," Shultz said. "For what it was and when we did it, I'm really happy with it."
It's a showcase for Cage the Elephant's myriad influences: blues, punk and a dash of hip-hop and Generation X slackerdom. Debut single, "No Rest for the Wicked," chronicles some of Shultz's brushes with malefaction, including a drug-dealing co-worker and a prostitute. Other lyrics rage against hypocrisy. He's never thought of song-writing as his own therapy, though.
"I've just done it because it felt like something I had to do," he said. "Sometimes you have a guitar and start playing and singing words, you don't even know what the song is until it starts taking shape."
Their travels, which have taken them to such heights as South-by-Southwest and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, have introduced Shultz to many people who share his frustrations.
"Struggle on any level is the same as far as the point of origin, for the most part," he said. "Whether it's because you're poor or rich, troubles at home or at school, I think they're all derived from the same place."
Cage the Elephant continue to promote their debut at a breakneck pace, but they've already finished the follow-up. Shultz says it's quite different from the first, but fans will still recognize them.
"As a band you can't help but sow your personality into your music," he says. "It still sounds like us, it's just your musical tastes change over time and you grow as people. Hopefully your records change as well."
Shultz just hopes he avoids many of the traps inherent in the rock & roll dream.
"A lot people perceive it to be fame and fortune, drugs and alcohol, girls," he says. "There's nothing real in that. That is the most empty, bottomless way to live. I'd rather write about things that are real and live a real life."