Behind the Band Name: Cage the Elephant

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Cage the Elephant is not a band easily ensnared in labels and classifications. Their sound is many things—a mystifying menagerie of colorful psychedelics, dusty blues, dingy garage, and off-kilter alternative sounds, dripping with synths and obscured by dreamy lyrics. While their musical style is perplexing, their band name is probably even more baffling. Where is this elephant, and why is it being caged?

Behind the Name

Many members of the Kentucky-bred band— presently consisting of frontman Matt Shultz, his older brother, guitarist Brad Shultz, guitarist Nick Bockrath, multi-instrumentalist Matthan Minster, bassist Daniel Tichenor, and drummer Jared Champion—formed while still in high school and performed under the band name Perfect Confusion.

“We played as Perfect Confusion for a while,” the frontman explained in a conversation with SPIN. “That was a terrible name. We thought of it in high school. It was our version of a trippy band name.” Shultz also recalled throwing around the name New Young Lovers as an option. But there was one fated moment when Cage the Elephant came to be.

“We were in Knoxville, Tennessee, hanging outside a club after a show—this is probably in 2006—and we saw this guy with a shaved head and a long goatee yelling and screaming and talking to himself,” Shultz recounted. “I’m pretty sure he had some mental issues going on. He all of a sudden beelined towards us. Everyone jumped into our car and shut the doors. But I didn’t make it into the car. I was stuck outside. I thought for sure the guy was gonna stab me or something, but then he came up to me and gave me a hug. The whole time he was saying, ‘You have to cage the elephant, you have to cage the elephant.’ Afterward, I was like, ‘We gotta name the band that.’”

And so they did.

The Elephant Today

Today, Cage the Elephant is still making music, having most recently released their fifth studio LP, Social Cues, in 2019. The album was met with critical acclaim and won the band their second honor of Best Rock Album at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards.

A review of their latest release from American Songwriter reads, “These songs ride on hooky, memorable choruses, and a tamped-down yet edgy intensity that’s just as riveting, if not quite as over-the-top rocking. Social Cues shows the group maturing musically without losing its grip on their ability to craft haunting, accessible tunes ready for the larger venues they have rightfully graduated to.”

In very recent news, the band’s frontman is currently facing several gun-related charges, having been arrested for criminal possession of a weapon on Jan. 5 of this year.

Photo by Scott Legato/Getty Images

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