There is an art to hurling yourself into a sea of screaming humans.
Look at Matt Shultz. The singer for Cage the Elephant is a live wire on stage, but never more so than when he takes a running leap into an audience that has come to expect it. He's not just a pro; he's one of the best.
"Not to get too philosophical — because it's really not that philosophical at all — but it's kind of like surfing," Shultz said in a call from his home in Nashville. "Like, actually surfing. You take the wave and kind of catch it when it comes."
Shultz's high-flying performances helped turn the shaggy Kentucky-bred, Nashville-based rockers into one of the most successful alternative acts of this decade. Since breaking out with their rusty 2008 single Ain't No Rest for the Wicked, Cage the Elephant have notched seven No. 1 singles on Billboard's alternative songs chart. That's the sixth most of anyone in the chart's 30-year history, behind only the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Linkin Park, Green Day, Foo Fighers and U2.
Gradually, critics have caught up to Cage the Elephant's popularity and wild live reputation. Their latest album Tell Me I'm Pretty, produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, just won Best Rock Album at this year's Grammys. Its streamlined sound arguably does a better job of capturing Cage the Elephant's live presence, which will be on display when the band headlines Day 1 of the Gasparilla Music Festival on Saturday.
Here's more of what Shultz had to say about the Grammys, stage-diving and more.
It's been nearly three years since you've been to Tampa. When you come back to a market after an absence like that, can you tell it feels different?
I don't know if I look at shows like that. I think that I look more at a show based on the spirit that's within the audience, and not so much the city that the show is in.
You don't get a sense that a crowd is any hungrier?
There are certain areas where the audience is more frequently crazy. But honestly, we've been blessed to have great audiences almost every single time for our whole careers. It's pretty amazing.
One thing that's happened since you last played here: You won a Grammy. What's the craziest thing you experienced during Grammy week?
For me, probably the highlight was the MusiCares event (the night before), and being able to meet some of the folks that taught me how to play songs with their incredible music. I met Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks. Just to be playing on the same stage is incredible. For them to be such kind people as well, it's super-encouraging.
Were you bummed that your category wasn't televised? It seems like Best Rock Album should be one of the bigger ones.
No, it didn't cross my mind. For us, it is an incredible honor to win a Grammy; I'm by no means devaluing that. Winning awards and accolades is the furthest thing from your mind when you're writing an album. Being bummed about it not being televised is probably the last thing I was thinking about.
On Tell Me I'm Pretty, there's a ton of '60s and '70s influences — the Who, the Stones, the Kinks. Did you feel like you were getting closer to a sound that you were going for on Melophobia?
I think it was not necessarily a sound, but certain truths that we're trying to find in the creative process. Because growth never happens in a linear (way) — if you look at a tree, it's more like a branch. There's different creative baggages that we pick up along the way in life, and for us, making records is just an effort to try to shed those things, have a more cathartic experience and continue to be sincere and write something that's honest to where you are in life at that particular time. I think that we did that.
Do you go into the crowd at every single gig? Logistically, that seems impossible.
No, it's not like a mission statement or anything like that. I think when we started out, I just felt so uncomfortable on stage that to ease that nervous energy, I would jump off stage and get in the audience. There's something that feels very unnatural about being on a raised platform above a bunch of other people. So I'd done it out of nervous energy early on, more frequently. It doesn't happen all the time now, but it's become very much something that feels really comfortable for me.
Does it feel good, being in the crowd, or is there a stress that comes with it?
It feels good. But as the audience has gotten bigger and younger, sometimes it's not the best idea to do it. That's the one thing that's changed.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.