Rock band Cage the Elephant emerge from loss and hospitalization with new album ‘Neon Pill’

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This cover image released by RCA Records shows “Neon Pill” by Cage the Elephant.
RCA Records via AP

By MARK KENNEDY AP Entertainment Writer

To say Cage the Elephant’s latest album had a turbulent birth would be an understatement. The band dealt with the deaths of loved ones, the pandemic and their lead singer’s arrest and hospitalization.

“It’s no secret that I had a medical crisis,” Matt Shultz tells The Associated Press from Nashville on the eve of the release of the 12-track “Neon Pill.” “I’m fully recovered. It definitely left a scar, but it’s one that can be walked away from.”

In January 2023, the Kentucky raised singer-songwriter was charged with criminal possession of firearms after police found Shultz’s guns inside his room at the Bowery Hotel in Lower Manhattan.

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FILE – Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant performs during the Tom Petty Dreamset at the All In Music & Arts Festival in Indianapolis on Sept. 4, 2022. The band has a new album called “Neon Pill.”Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP, File

Shultz says that in the aftermath he discovered that for the previous three years or so he’d been having a bad reaction to a set of prescribed medications (Shultz didn’t specify which), leading to episodes of psychosis.

“It’s shocking how night and day the difference is from being on whatever medication is causing psychosis and being off of it,” he says. “As I got off the medication, I went back to my normal self. And that was very odd because it was like having your life hijacked by another person.”

That so-called other person had contributed to the five-year recording of “Neon Pill” and it was up to Shultz — who was hospitalized for two months and had about six months of outpatient therapy — to untangle the music.

“I went back to the lyrics, obviously to finish the album, and it was like reading the words of a totally different person and trying to decode what they meant,” he says. “A lot of it was going back and trying to find the sentiment of what I was trying to communicate.”

Shultz avoided jail time by pleading guilty to three weapons charges.

“I’m so blessed it wasn’t worse than it was,” he says. “And blessed that I got the medical attention I needed. I’m incredibly blessed to be surrounded by my family, my wife. Definitely, God got me through it for sure. I would be dead several times over.”

“Neon Pill” sees the band reunited with producer John Hill, who worked on their last 2019’s Grammy-winning “Social Cues,” and offers a kaleidoscope of rock, from the strutting glam of “Ball and Chain” to the piano ballad of “Out Loud” and the airy alt-rock of “Float Into the Sky.” One song, “Rainbow,” is infectiously poppy, as if Cage did a Dead or Alive track.

Cage The Elephant
FILE – Matt Shultz, left, and Nick Bockrath of Cage The Elephant perform at the All In Music & Arts Festival on Sept. 4, 2022, in Indianapolis. The band has a new album called “Neon Pill.”Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP, File

“It was very much like a culmination of all the Cage records combined,” says Shultz. “John Hill definitely had a greater impact on this album, for sure. Not that he didn’t have an impact on ‘Social Cues,’ but with this one, he definitely was pushing us harder to reach within ourselves and to write the best material that we possibly could.”

The album doesn’t shy away from Shultz’s experiences and the title track drives straight into them, with the lyrics “Double-crossed by a neon pill/Like a loaded gun, my love, I lost control of the wheel.” The song has become the band’s 11th No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart.

“We definitely felt like that was the title track once everything came to be,” says Shultz, whose bandmates are his guitarist brother, Brad; bassist Daniel Tichenor; drummer Jared Champion; guitarist Nick Bockrath; and keyboardist Matthan Minster.

Two songs connect to Matt and Brad’s father, Brad Shultz Sr., including “Out Loud,” which is based on the time the elder Shultz and his father had a terrible fight and their dad ran away, hitchhiking all the way to Florida. Feeling remorseful after a year, the younger man wrote a song of apology and hitchhiked back to Kentucky to play it for his father.

Matt Shultz says he was moved by the story and “so I wrote a song about the song he wrote.” That song has the lines: “Man, I really messed up now/ Clipped those wings and I came back home/Tried my best just to carry on.”

The album’s last track, “Over Your Shoulder,” mourns his father’s death in 2020. The Shultz brothers inherited milk crates with hundreds of their dad’s songs on old cassette tapes. A new original Cage song emerged, similar to their dad’s style, with the lyrics: “Don’t look back over your shoulder/I’m not saying don’t ask/When it feels like it gets colder/Every season will pass.”

Matt Shultz says the entire album marks a bit of a departure for a band who he admits often in the past wore their influences on their sleeves.

“We would be in the studio and definitely at times trying to imitate and emulate. But with this record, I think, we were just really relaxed into ourselves and reaching to make something that we love.”