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Interview: Cage the Elephant

16th December 2008

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"Could you imagine being on the road at 16?”

Cage the ElephantFrankly, Lincoln Parish, I can’t. But this was the reality for the lead guitarist of Kentucky’s best non-fried export, Cage the Elephant – a band trampling the UK live circuit with their dirty, rock ‘n’ roll blues that has brought comparisons to The Rolling Stones and Rage Against the Machine.

“It was different,” explains Parish, all too aware that his situation took him out of the tortuous teen malaise, thrusting him out into the world.

“It’s like you’re already on your own at that age. But I feel like I’m a lot stronger now because of that, and because I’ve got to see the world and see so many different perspectives on things. I mean, if you live in the same place in the same town for the rest of your life, then what do you know?”

Wise words from a guy who, at 18, has already seen more of the world than most of his countrymen ever will, yet still can’t get a drink when he goes back home.

“That’s what they make fake IDs for!” enthuses Parish excitably when the subject comes up, before taking out two driver’s licenses baring two faces with similar facial hair, but little else.

“Tennessee?” I enquire, noticing the state of origin, aware of the band’s Kentucky roots.

“Yeah, I live in Nashville now. But it’s only 45-minutes from where we’re from, Bowling Green.”

But why the move? Perhaps Parish’s description of his home state holds some clues.
“It’s real bible belt, Jesus worshiping, George Bush loving red necks,” offers the Obama voter, clearly pleased with his new life on the road.

Despite the obvious criticism it is the religious unity of their home town that bought the band together.

“We all grew up with the same spiritual background, and we all relate to each other in that sense,” tells Parish. “It was all strict Christianity and going to church every Sunday.”

It was even stricter for band mates, brothers Matt and Brad Schultz, as well as bassist Daniel Tichenor, who spent their childhood in more unusual circumstances.

“They all grew up on this hippy Christian commune thing,” says Parish, with an accomplished vagueness.

“And that’s how they knew each other. Tichenor was actually born on this farm. It was just in the middle of nowhere – this pig farm. And the people who lived there, they were all just trying to figure out their spiritual path I guess.”

With such a strong religious influence in their childhood, it’s no surprise to hear talk of ‘saints’, ‘sinners’ and the casting of stones in latest single, ‘In One Ear.’ But how much of a part does Jesus still play in the band’s lives?

“Personally I believe in God,” admits Parish, with unflinching belief “but I don’t believe in religion per se. It’s hard to explain, because growing up like we did, we all have a feeling together. But we don’t practice religion together.”

“Our parents are still religious, but they have loosened up a bit. They are all still, and always have been, super, super supportive though, and never told us not to do it. I mean I’ve been on the road since I was 15. What other parents would let their kid do that?”

With the band starting so young, Parish’s experiences of a regular working life have been limited to say the least.

“I worked in a retail store called Buckle back home, but that was only a couple of months because the manager boss lady just pissed me off cos she was being a bitch or whatever, and I was just ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore.’”

“I just bullshitted her, and said I was too busy with the music right now, and a couple of months later, we were already on the road.”

And the momentum has been unstoppable especially on these shores where we seem to have truly released the caged beast. For Parish the UK is the height of musical cool.

“From the beginning, all the bands we looked up to broke out in the UK first. It’s easy to tour around and build up a buzz. Plus America looks over here to see what’s cool.”

Getting used to the rigmarole of becoming a success in Britain was something that confused the band at first.

“It’s weird, because we have Jay Leno and David Letterman and Saturday Night Live and they’re all big fucking deals in the states. But coming to UK and being on Jools Holland, we don’t know how big things like that are until we actually do it. And getting to do Jools Holland with Coldplay, that was just amazing.”

Plus UK experience has even given them an education in music they may never have had back in the home of Colonel Sanders.

“Living over here, we’ve been exposed to artists we’ve really never heard before like Gang of Four and The Pixies, and newer bands like Foals. The stuff that isn’t big in the states, so coming over here has opened up a whole new set of influences. It’s not like our next album will be Entertainment! (Gang of Four’s classic debut album), but it will be a lot more rounded than the first album.” 

And, if Parish has his way, there won’t be too long to wait for that next album, or indeed any album that follows.

“We’re going into the studio in January, with a hope to release the record next summer. We want to try put out albums quickly. I mean ideally, it’d be every six months.”

“Each album is a picture in time of who you are and you’re always changing as a person. That’s bullshit to take three or four years to release an album. If it takes three years to write 11 songs, then what are you doing here?”

Despite this hard work in the studio, there’s still an unnerving, near reckless aura of fun that seems to surround the band wherever they go, best highlighted perhaps by the decision to post one of the band’s mobile phone numbers on their MySpace just days before Reading Festival.

“That phone was going off all day,” explains Parish, with a wry smile, him fondly remembering the day’s events. The “girls calling and saying ‘come to my tent’” may have been just cause for such happy reminiscence.

Such dalliances tend to stem from the popularity of being in a band in the spotlight, and Parish is refreshing in his views on the rock star’s search for celebrity.

“I think you’d be full of s**t if you said you weren’t looking for that whole fame thing. First and foremost, it’s about the music, but at the same time we wouldn’t be playing all over the UK if we didn’t think we were going anywhere with it.”

And this ‘anywhere’ for Parish is an ambitious one.
“In 10 years, we want to be playing stadiums. We want a career in this. We want to last like the Stones – 70-years-old and still playing shows.”

For most 18-year-olds, life at 70 is too far away to even contemplate. Parish has a plan though, and behind the aesthetic chaos, Cage the Elephant are one of the most forward thinking, hard-working bands around. They won’t stop until Kentucky’s most famous animal has a trunk instead of feathers.


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