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Life Beyond the Cage: A Conversation with Lincoln Parish

on March 01, 2016, 1:00pm

Hearing Lincoln Parish talk about his new role as a Nashville-based music producer, one can immediately sense an unbridled enthusiasm in his voice. After all, who wouldn’t be pleased to be 25 years old and working with everyone from Cleveland rockers The Moxies to country royalty Lucinda Williams? For most, to be young and successful in a field as fickle as music production would be an immense accomplishment on its own. For Parish, it’s already his second career, following seven years as the lead guitarist for Cage the Elephant.

When Parish announced his decision to leave the band following the release of their third studio album, Melophobia, in 2013, it came as a shock to his bandmates. To leave a group still at the apex of their success was a choice some of his inner circle responded to with incredulity.

“When I left the band, at first, a lot of people were looking at me like I was fucking crazy,” Parish recalls. “I either had their full support or people totally doubted what I was doing.”

While his decision may have seemed rash on the surface, Parish had already been engaged in production work between tours, dating back to when he was 18. If that age seems preposterously young to be producing albums, bear in mind that Parish was 15 when lead singer Matt Shultz recruited him to Cage the Elephant in 2006. Within two years, the band’s self-titled debut was out and their lead single, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”, was climbing the charts. When the band graduated to touring North America by bus, Parish still wasn’t old enough to have a beer in the green room.

“I remember showing up to some of the venues, and they’d say, ‘Oh, you’re underage. You can’t drink in here,’” he recalls. “I’d say, ‘OK, I’m just going to go out to the bus and drink.’”

Parish isn’t one to let obstacles stand in his way. He had only been seriously playing guitar for two years before Shultz brought him on as Cage the Elephant’s lead guitarist. When he sets his mind to something, good luck trying to stop him. Parish mentions a moment before the band’s debut was even released, when Shultz sat him down in a shitty, old Mazda truck and asked him if he thought he was going to be a rock star.

“I was like, ‘Fuck yeah, I am.’ He said, ‘No, do you truly believe it?’ I said, ‘Yeah. Without a doubt.’”

That conversation would prove to be prophetic, as Cage the Elephant gained mainstream success over the course of three albums. Shultz in particular earned notoriety for his antics during live performances, diving off the stage from bloodcurdling heights. Parish was praised for his inventive guitar work, while the band’s catchy, ferocious sound — bolstered by singles like “Shake Me Down” and “Come a Little Closer” — brought them sustained success. Thus, it came as something of a bombshell when Parish abruptly decided to exit the group and reinvent himself as a music producer.

“To be honest, I wasn’t happy doing it anymore,” he says. “Being gone all the time, it kind of got monotonous. Every two years, it felt like the same shit: You go out, you promote a record, you fucking do the radio promo shit, you go on tour for two years, and then you do it again.”

He adds that some members of the band took the news harder than others, especially the guy who recruited him in the first place. While Parish’s relationships with Jared Champion, Daniel Tichenor, and Brad Shultz are all in good standing, things remain strained between him and Matt Shultz.

“For whatever reason, we’re not on great terms right now,” Parish confirms. “I don’t know with Matt if it’s a resentment thing or what. I don’t really know what’s going on there.”

Parish still talks to the rest of the band on a regular basis. Champion actually brought a copy of their newest album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, over before its release so he could have an early listen. Parish identifies the biggest difference on the record as producer Dan Auerbach, who stepped in for Cage the Elephant’s longtime producer Jay Joyce. Parish says his own production style differs from Auerbach’s in that the latter seems to always leave his stamp on the work he’s associated with.

“You can just tell that [certain music] was produced by the Black Keys guy. That’s a comment I hear quite often.”

He adds that he thinks Auerbach is very talented and mentions Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age (“I fucking love Josh”) as another example of a musician whose production style involves bringing their own sound into the process. Parish stresses that it’s simply a case of different philosophies. As far as his own ideology as a producer, he says his goal is to have an influence while making sure the record carries the artist’s DNA. He cites Danger Mouse and Phil Spector as examples of the type of producer he hopes to become.

Since leaving his former band in 2013, Parish has turned his Nashville home into a studio. He sleeps in the back. The artists he’s worked with run the gamut from singer-songwriter Rebecca Roubion to folk-rock band Run River North to more unknown names he’s agreed to co-write music with as they attempt to launch their careers. Parish says that leaving Cage the Elephant didn’t mean quitting songwriting for good. Sometimes he even brings his own songs into co-writing sessions for other artists to use. What he loves is the variety: country one week, hard rock the next. There’s also the possibility of a solo album if he can ever find the time.

He reiterates multiple times that he has no animosity towards the band he left and is happy for their success. Likewise, he seems to be doing just fine without them. Life in Nashville is good for Parish. Perhaps more importantly, it’s stimulating. Asked if he could see himself joining or forming another band, he says that path simply doesn’t appeal to him anymore. He’s happy where he is, having finally found his calling at the ripe, old age of 25.

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