Surf’s up! Guitarist Brad Shultz and his ’65 Mustang reissue (which has been beaten so severely onstage that its body is glued together) get a lift during Lollapalooza 2014 in Chicago. Photo by Chris Kies
The bass is very dominant on the record, particularly on the song “Cry Baby.” It kind of forms the musical bed much like Paul McCartney did on the Beatles’ “Come Together.”
Tichenor: That Mustang bass creates a big sound. That was new for me, for sure. I definitely try to write melodic bass lines, so maybe they just punch through more. Brad and I like to layer melodies. We like the guitar and bass to marry each other.
Shultz: Daniel is the MVP of the record, in my opinion. The bass lines are just ridiculous. Like I said, what I did on this record was to really strip back a lot of the unnecessary shit that we’d put on some other records. Get rid of the bells and whistles and you’re left with that separation between the tracks I talked about, and that allows the bass to really come out because there’s room for that. Nothing’s getting in the way.
Brad, another great solo is at the end of “Cold Cold Cold.” It’s totally bruising, but it doesn’t sound like a guitar. It sounds like a kazoo. That was all recorded direct?
Shultz: Yeah, but that was Nick, actually. He did that solo. I think he was using a WMD Geiger Counter. That’s a fucking ripping fuzz pedal for you.
Do you guys jump ball for who does the solo, or does he just put his hand up and go, “I’ve got this one?”
Shultz: Honestly, we like the written kind of solo—one that’s planned out. So it’s not about, “Hey, let’s get out there and play.” We’ll sit around, throw ideas out and shit like that. In the case of “Cold Cold Cold,” I think that’s probably the best solo on the record.
The lead lines throughout “Portuguese Knife Fight” have a great ’60s psychedelic sound. They almost sound like a Coral sitar.
Shultz: What are we doing there [pauses]? I don’t know. It might just be the double effect of me and Nick playing at the same time. The song was written with just standard chords, and then we peeled it back to each of us playing single notes. It gets a cool effect like that.
Are you guys in the same room together? How does that work with you going direct?
Shultz: Oh, we cut in the same room, the whole band for the full record. Nick used an amp, but I’m going direct. It’s cool. I can hear everything with my headphones on. We play like a band.
Do you woodshed before you record an album?
Shultz: [laughs] Nah. Honestly, I would like to think if you love music, you’re playing music anyway and it’s not a practice thing. I spend so much time trying to write songs, so I get my practicing in that way. So no, I don’t really practice. I just play.
Tichenor: I like the element of surprise. We do like to be prepared before we go into the studio, but you need freshness and spontaneity. You want to be open to new ideas, but if you get too set on things, you might not come up with new stuff. It’s a balance. You want to know what you’re doing, but you want to be ready for anything.
Cage the Elephant channels ’60s roots in this live performance of “Mess Around” from their latest album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, produced by Dan Auerbach. Augmented by touring members Nick Bockrath and Matthan Minster, they turn the song into a psychedelic rave-up on TV’s The Late Late Show with James Corden in December 2015, with Bockrath rocking his signature model Harper Marilyn semi-hollowbody and Brad Shultz flogging his Gretsch double-cutaway White Falcon.
Is there anything in particular you still want to learn on your instruments?
Tichenor: I started out as a guitarist, so for me, playing the bass is still something I’m learning and getting better at. The bass is a whole different beast from the guitar. One thing that’s pretty helpful for me is to study bassists from other bands. I love Paul McCartney. He writes such catchy melodies and bass lines. You listen to him and there’s so much to absorb.