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Only one rapper can claim a life so interesting that Transformers star Shia LaBeouf wants to produce and star in a movie about it: Cage. Born Chris Palko on a U.S. military base in Germany, Cage came up through the New York underground scene in the '90s, releasing a series of grimy, violent tracks that played off of his drug addiction and mental-health issues. Brought onto the Definitive Jux label by El-P, he released the more progressive, rock-oriented Hell's Winter in 2005 to critical acclaim. The A.V. Club caught up with Cage as he prepared to release his follow-up, Depart From Me, to talk about the death from lung cancer of his producing and touring partner Camu Tao, changing rapping styles, and keeping perspective about the movies. He plays Reggie's Rock Club tonight.
The A.V. Club: Why the long wait between Hell's Winter and Depart From Me?
Cage: Part of the long wait was that I hadn't stopped touring. I started in 2005 and I toured all the way into 2007, and I hadn't really been working on too much music. Originally the album production was going to be a big chunk from Camu Tao and a chunk from El-P, and then Camu got sick and everything went off course. He wasn't able to create in the end, and it was a difficult time. After he passed away, we were like, “All right, let's make this record,” and he left a lot of stuff behind.
AVC: Some bands thrive while touring, but others think it kills their psyches. How does it affect you?
C: I love it. A bunch of our friends are in rock bands, and I remember Daryl Palumbo [of Glassjaw and Head Automatica] saying to me, “If you leave the stage and you're not a sweaty mess, achy feet, feel like you're going to have a heart attack, then you didn't give a good show.” And I thought about that and thought, “Well shit, I've never even sweated onstage!” So me and Camu went and started performing like we were in punk bands, in hardcore bands. We stopped telling people to jump up and down and say “ho!” and decided to do it different. That fucked up my process and my approach to the record. Now I have to make music that meets the stage show.
AVC: Are you touring with a live band?
C: Sean Martin did a majority of the production and is playing guitar for me on the road. We have a DJ, but we have a very different hip-hop show. There's a lot of synth work live, pedals and pods and a lot of glitchy feedback. There's not really any space between the songs, and the songs will sound different every night.
AVC: Do you anticipate a backlash because of the more rock-focused sound?
C: It's not for everyone. If fans are going to stick around and get into the new stuff, that's awesome, but if they don't, what can I do about it? I never knew you. Also, where were you when I was making all this music before? Fans that might not dig the new stuff—I don't recall selling out every show when I was making that music. I didn't sell out shows until the Hell's Winter record.
AVC: Regarding Shia LaBeouf, what is it like having a friend who wants to play you?
C: It's weird. We became really close in the Hell's Winter tour when he was following us around with a video camera making a documentary to pitch the movie. That was interesting; it's something I'll never get to do again. We got really close once he blew up because when he blew and everybody wanted a piece, people chased him down the street, paparazzi camped outside his house. We've become a lot closer in the last year and a half. But it's really strange. I try not to think about it. I don't talk about myself in the third person, but I try to think about myself in third person when we're talking about the Cage movie. I try to keep myself separated from it. There's nothing worse than the first few years of getting restless; you just feel like an asshole thinking, “C'mon, when is this movie going to be made about me!” [Laughs.]