Deliberate isolation helped Cage The Elephant find its voice. Could it help you find your voice too?
What would happen to the style, quality, and originality of your music if you eliminated all external musical influences? That’s exactly what Cage The Elephant set out to determine leading up to the recording of its 2013 release Melophobia. Hailing from Bowling Green, Kentucky, this blues-inspired alternative rock band made headlines because of an unusual move: the ambitious group of six decided to completely avoid any outside musical influences by initiating a year-long, self-imposed music “quarantine.” The band members voluntarily closedW themselves off from all recorded music for a year leading up to the recording of the album.
As most music artists can attest to, the process of finding and expressing one’s own sound and finding your voice is a personal creative journey that does not operate in a vacuum. In fact, most all music styles have been heavily influenced by the musical talents of years past, current popular music, and even by different or disparate genres. Whether we like it or not, few ideas or musical pursuits are wholly unique. That’s not to say musicians aren’t creative; the fascinating truth is that most of the time, the sounds, styles, and rhythms we’re exposed to are a subconscious influence we internalize as part of our environment.
Changing that environment and removing those outside influences is exactly the challenge that many believe made Cage The Elephant a more enlightened and self-aware presence in the music industry. Call them clinically insane, but I’d argue what they’ve done is actually genius.
In a 2013 Rolling Stone interview, vocalist Matthew Shultz revealed how the deliberate isolation helped the band find their true sound. “In the past, we would try to absorb as much music as possible and then we would interpret it however we saw fit,” Shultz said. “This record felt like us allowing our own inherent style to come through.”
If you find yourself experiencing writer’s block or stuck in a creative rut, you may have resorted to listening to and absorbing music in an attempt to spark some sort of inspiration – but have you tried the opposite? It’s certainly an interesting approach to cultivating a fresh sound or idea. One thing is for sure: just as outside music influences your sound, so too will embracing its absence.
While the album in question literally translates to “fear of music,” the band is quick to clarify that the term is not to be taken literally. Shultz has been quoted saying that Melophobia is more about “a fear of creating music to project premeditated images of self, like catering to cool, or making music to project an image of being intellectual or artistic or poetic, rather than just trying to be an honest communicator.”
“Catering to cool” is exactly what happens when musicians are overly focused on what everybody else in the industry is doing. While it can provide some creative inspiration, it can also be very limiting. If you’re willing to shut yourself off from the new music scene for a while, you just may experience the same revelation that earned Cage The Elephant the valuable insight that led to an exploration of their true sound. Maybe you can try the same to strip away your influences and find your voice as a musician and songwriter.