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Cage the Elephant's Matt Shultz on 'Neon Pill', the band's new album


CAGE THE ELEPHANT: (Singing) Metaverse fallout, there's really no rush now.


When Cage the Elephant formed in 2006, there was no Spotify, no TikTok music stars. People still bought what they called CDs. Good (ph) rock also dominated then, and with its sixth record, "Neon Pill," the band revisits that sound at the early aughts.


CAGE THE ELEPHANT: (Singing) When you got no perspective. Every day spent far from my family. Double check, checked out, I'm half asleep. What the hell? Oh, well, that's life. What the hell? I keep running and running.

SIMON: Matt Shultz is the lead singer of the Kentucky band. He joins us now from Nashville. Mr. Shultz, thanks so much for being with us.

MATT SHULTZ: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you about that riff. What's the metaverse to you?

SHULTZ: It's an interesting song. It's one of the first songs where we've opened up the music to collaborate on. And there's an artist out of New York who goes by Danny Switchblade. He put together a mix tape and sent it over. And lyrically, it's kind of like this - I don't know if I'd say a coming-of-age, but it's a song of being on this journey and finding yourself within that in spite of any turbulent times in between.

SIMON: Well, then let's get to the title track on this album, "Neon Pill."


CAGE THE ELEPHANT: (Singing) It's a hit-and-run, oh no, double-crossed by a neon pill. Like a loaded gun, my love, I lost control of the wheel. Double-crossed by a neon pill.

SIMON: I got to ask when you sang, I lost control of the wheel, you mean, you lost control of the wheel?

SHULTZ: Yeah. I had been prescribed a medication - or perhaps it was the pairing of medications - caused me to go into psychosis. And I was in psychosis for somewhere around four years, unknowingly. I mean, most - many people who are in psychosis don't know. There's no real rational thinking taking place. But it was terrifying. That song, actually, I wrote about a year before my arrest in New York and hospitalization.

SIMON: We should explain you were arrested on a gun charge in New York.

SHULTZ: Yeah. So I wrote it because I was convinced someone was actually tampering with my medication and trying to poison me. It's very sad because it's so close to the truth but not quite there. It's almost like I knew something was wrong and that it was the medication, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

And I'm very remorseful for what happened, but while in psychosis, it exasperates any paranoias, can bring on delusions. And so, for myself, there was some extremely intricate narratives that I believed that had no basis in reality. And it was terrifying. It was honestly like being in a horror film nonstop and being unable to escape from it.

SIMON: How much of this album was written during your time in psychosis?

SHULTZ: I mean, the majority of the music was written over that four-year period of time. One of the more fascinating aspects to the record was going back to the material, reengaging with it once I had gotten well into my recovery. And for myself, trying to decipher and interpret the lyrics that, at the time when I was writing them, had a very profound meaning to me - but that that meaning had no basis in reality. And so in a lot of the songs, what I had to do was look for the sentiment or the emotional expression that was - that I was trying to communicate at that time and then work off of that.

SIMON: Let's listen to another song on this album, if we could, "Out Loud."


CAGE THE ELEPHANT: (Singing) Clipped those wings, and I came back home. Tried my best just to carry on. Stick-and-poke tattoos meant nothin' to me, as far as east to west and not a memory. Man, I really messed up now. Too afraid to say it out loud. I can barely breathe. Who am I tryin' to be? I'm still tryin' to figure it out. Am I too proud to say it out loud?

SIMON: Why do you put such deeply personal thoughts and even mortifying thoughts into a piece of music you want people to hear?

SHULTZ: While it is a very communal thing that we practice, it's also a thing that's to be done that's very much for the individual, as well. And I don't think if I hadn't been as honest as I was in the music, I would be where I am today. I think it was necessary.

SIMON: And when you talk about going back home - sing about going back home, is it a place? Is it a frame of mind? What is it?

SHULTZ: My father passed away during the pandemic. We were fortunate enough, blessed enough to know that his passing was coming, and we were able to have some really beautiful time to spend with each other there at the end. And he had shared a story with me.

When he was in his young 20s, he was working in construction for his father, and they had gotten in a very bad dispute. And he told his father he'd never speak with him again and that night hitchhiked to Florida and then lived in Florida for about a year and didn't speak to his father at all. And while he was in Florida, he wrote a song to his father as, like, an apology. He was very lonely, and so he wrote a song, hitchhiked back to Kentucky. And before even speaking, played the song for his father.

And I was really moved by it and wanted to...

SIMON: Yeah.

SHULTZ: ...Write a song about that. And it very much mirrors what happened to me. And it's very much a part of me. It's probably more about me and what was happening with me than my father. I mean, I even say in the song, am I too proud to say it out loud?


SIMON: Cage the Elephant's last two albums each won best rock album at the Grammys. What changes with a band's success?

SHULTZ: I feel like we've been very blessed not to get into a place where we are writing to gain accolades or awards or anything like that. It's obviously a tremendous blessing and very welcome if it does happen. But when we're writing the music, we've been able to maintain a posture that's very much more for capturing something that's real and authentic and pushing very hard for that.


SIMON: In addition to entertaining, enthralling and earning money, do you hope this album can mean something to people?

SHULTZ: I mean, in some ways, it's pretty much all I have. I hope that my life is an encouragement to others. And I definitely hope the music speaks to people in a way that it spoke to me when I really needed to express some deep things.


SIMON: Matt Shultz is the lead singer of Cage the Elephant - their new album, "Neon Pill, " out now. Mr. Shultz, thank you so much for being with us.

SHULTZ: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.


CAGE THE ELEPHANT: (Singing) Keys to the ball and chain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.