Brad Shultz of the alt-rock combo Cage the Elephant couldn’t agree more with the adage “write what you know.”
On the Bowling Green, Ky. band’s latest fourth album, “Tell Me I’m Pretty,” Shultz and his vocalist brother Matthew forge into diverse new genres: glam (“Mess Around”), punk (“Punchin’ Bag”), blues/garage (“Cry Baby”) and even neo-psychedelia (“Cold Cold Cold”).
“We were literally just writing from the heart, because we just wanted to be more honest,” says the musician, who brings the band to The City next week.
As a wordsmith, Matthew hit a new reflective plateau, according to Brad, who says, “In the past, Matt had built up these characters and personas to mask the things that he was talking about, so he didn’t have to necessarily own up to it, to the people he was writing about. But this time around? He was just brutally honest with himself, lyrically.”
In “Sweetie Little Jean,” for instance, he revisits the real-life kidnapping and murder of a young neighbor girl that shocked their household as kids.
The past – and Bowling Green itself – weighs heavily on Cage the Elephant.
For a quaint, outwardly friendly town of 60,000, it had a dark, seamy underbelly, as well, says Brad, who watched over a dozen students in his graduating class die from opiate abuse. “It’s somewhere that’s very enjoyable to live, but there’s not a lot of stuff to do,” he says. “So around your junior year of high school, a lot of kids get into doing a bunch of drugs, and you can get any drug that you want. So you can stick around with the same circles of people and really fall into a black hole.”
The brothers instead formed their band, initially to play local house parties. Then they left home altogether.
After an eponymous 2008 debut, they relocated to London, where they soaked up so many exotic musical influences, they essentially wore them on their sleeve for their 2011 sophomore disc, “Thank You, Happy Birthday.”
Consequently, they overthought the next record, 2013’s “Melophobia.” “We were trying so hard to not be influenced that it was affecting our songwriting,” Brad says.
So for “Pretty,” the brothers got back to basics. They recorded in Nashville with Black Keys anchor Dan Auerbach producing, and no other outside input.
“You let people get into your head, and it ruins what’s special about what you bring to the table,” Shultz says. “So we were on a kick of trusting our gut. If we wrote something — no matter what it was, stylistically — and we loved it? It was going on the record.”
IF YOU GO
Cage the Elephant
Where: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. June 23
Contact: (415) 624-8900, www.ticketmaster.com