Close this search box.

Cage The Elephant: A New Day Under The Influence

Bandmates and brothers Matt and Brad Shultz find new light in the music left behind by their late father. 

by Emma Johnston-Wheeler

Photo by Neil Krug

You might think in the year 2024 that the pandemic is well behind us, but in the music industry, there are still some loose ends to tie up – albums years in the making by some of the world’s most prevalent bands.

One of those is Neon Pill, the sixth full-length album by Kentucky born six-piece Cage the Elephant. The band experienced the pandemic in the unequivocally worst way – with the loss of multiple loved ones. Yet, in a press release for the new album, vocalist Matt Shultz describes the body of work as a process through which the band endured so much that it forced them into becoming the most comfortable with themselves they’ve ever been. 

There’s a self-assuredness in their sound that’s been culminating since 2013, when they produced their third album, Melophobia, but it took full form in 2020 when they started writing Neon Pill. The pandemic took their momentum and isolated it, spitting it out on the other end as a complete and largely uninfluenced entity. 

“We weren’t reaching for much outside of the pure experience of self expression, and simultaneously not necessarily settling either,” says Matt in the release. “We just found a uniqueness in simply existing.”

His older brother, guitarist Brad Shultz, expounds on his sibling’s sentiments and the experience of processing grief through music in conversation with RANGE. “The constraints of COVID [meant] not being around people, not being in group settings and sharing things, and not feeling very inspired to listen to a lot of music,” he says. “For the first time in a long time, we weren’t actively trying to discover new stuff.” Which is not to say that they were completely devoid of inspiration – Brad found himself listening to a lot of Betty Davis at the time – but that their influences were much more internal. 

Nine months into the pandemic, Matt and Brad lost their father, Donald Bradley Shultz Sr., compounded by back-to-back losses of three good friends. Matt also endured a psychotic episode that resulted in his arrest and ensuing hospitalization, spurred by years of the adverse effects of a prescribed medication – an experience that the album and title track directly nod to. “Double-crossed by a neon pill/Like a loaded gun, my love,
I lost control of the wheel,” state the lyrics of “Neon Pill.”

“It was a period where several things in life were hitting us at one time. It seemed overwhelming and took a lot of focus off of the music for a while,” says the elder Shultz. Eventually, however, those experiences started translating into the music. “Art is always to us, a reflection of life,” he adds. 

Shultz’s father was also a musician and songwriter, and played a large role in the brothers’ desire to pursue music. “Our dad was always writing and recording and playing shows, so we were constantly around it when we were kids,” says Shultz. “One thing that I didn’t necessarily expect in reflecting on my father’s life is that I would be very inspired by his music.” 

Having been aware of his own declining health several weeks before his passing, Matt and Brad’s dad gave them his old music, recordings that seemed to span every period of his life as a musician. 

“After he passed away, a part of the dealing for me was going back and listening to some of those recordings,” explains Shultz. “And a lot of the things that I wrote were things that [came] as I was listening to some of his older recordings. It was therapeutic in a way.” 


“Art is always to us, a reflection of life.”

— Brad Shultz (Cage The Elephant)


The recording also saw the band reunited with producer John Hill, who worked on their preceding Grammy-winning album Social Cues. The album materialized during sessions at Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Electric Lady in New York, Sound Emporium in Nashville, Echo Mountain in North Carolina, and at Hill’s own studio in Los Angeles.

One moment in the recording process stands out to Shultz in particular, which he excitedly dubs his “favourite story to tell” about the album. It took place at Sonic Ranch, a studio that he describes as a 2500-acre farm in the middle of the desert.

It was the last day of recording at that studio, and he was sitting at the soundboard console at two in the morning with a glass of wine, presuming everyone else to be asleep. As he listened to the recording back, he began to cry to himself. “It was like ‘Oh my god, we actually made it. We’re at the end,’” he remembers. “Like an exhausted long distance runner barely crossing the finish line.” Then to his surprise, lead guitarist Nick Bockrath popped his head into the room. “You okay buddy?” he asked. “I  thought I was all alone and he’s looking at me like ‘What in the heck?’ I can only imagine what he was thinking,” laughs Shultz. “And then he came in, we restarted the record, and we were both crying.”

To punctuate the well-deserved end of the lengthy process, the band is embarking on a 45-date North American tour (now through late August) with support from Young The Giant, Bakar and Willow Avalon. Needless to say, they’re eager to be on the move, and out from under their pandemic era.

“We’ve never done a tour this broad in this short of time,” Shultz muses. “We’re gonna get out and see a lot of places again, whereas most of us haven’t done a ton of traveling since everything shut down. I think that’s really exciting.” As for whether the tour will include any commemorative sentiments for their late loved ones, he says that’s always a spur of the moment choice. What they can count on is a pre-show prayer – “just a word of thanks.”