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Cage the Elephant Conquer Expectations on “Melophobia”

Nov. 25, 2014
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Photo courtesy of pressherenow.com
Third albums are historically band’s bellwether efforts. Having survived the sophomore slump, honed their chops on tour and grown increasingly assured in the studio, many acts—from Hüsker Dü to The Clash, The Replacements, Radiohead, Metallica and At The Drive-In—have delivered their definitive release on their third try. All of that applies to Cage the Elephant’s third album, Melophobia.

The band have significantly broadened their garage-grunge approach, embracing the soft edges of psychedelia and more. The album includes a Spoon-like slink wedded to Flaming Lips’ pomp (“Come A Little Closer”); dreamy, lilting, metaphysical pop (“Telescope”); and even a ramshackle horn-laden tune tinged with Tom Waits’ circus sideshow vibe (“Hypocrite”).

The album’s title refers to a fear of music, which corresponded to the expectations the band felt crowding them, encouraging them to fill a role rather than answer to their hearts.

“Every album we’ve grown in confidence but it seems like every album we have to take a leap of faith, too,” explains guitarist Brad Shultz. “You don’t know exactly where you’re going as a songwriter. That’s what came out of making this record the most—the insight to trust ourselves and take something we’re feeling at the time and not look back and say ‘I don’t know if this is right,’ and overanalyze it, but just take things and run with it.”

This attitude harks back to when Brad and his brother, Matt, the band’s singer, used to carry their guitars everywhere they went. They were always writing because they were always playing. There was an unaffected honesty because they weren’t trying to please anyone but themselves. That’s perhaps not surprising given that they were almost inseparable growing up.

“We grew up in a Section 8 apartment,” he recalls. “We had four boys in a very small room—you could walk across our beds. So Matt and I grew up very close. Our dad instilled in us that your brother’s your best friend.”

Rather than get caught up in what kind of songs or what kind of band they should be, with this album they tried to get back to just letting what comes come, and believe in it.

“The first or second record I had this fear that there was nothing left in me; I had used all the gas in the tank and I’d never write a good song again” Shultz says. “I’ve slowly started to figure out that’s bullshit. It takes dedicating time to writing songs and really sitting down. I’ve learned if I play and play and play a song will come.”

Since forming eight years ago, the Kentucky six-piece has charted a strange commercial course. They enjoyed enough early buzz to score a SXSW headlining gig and a slot opening for Queens of the Stone Age. With that they secured a U.K. label deal and hopped the pond to live in England where, in time, they did break. Meanwhile their fortunes languished stateside where their self-titled June 2008 debut wasn’t available until nine months later.

“We went through our Almost Famous moment, where ‘It’s all happening.’ We were about to take the U.K. by storm. We went over and were playing to maybe 5-10 people a night,” Shultz chuckles. “Every kind of turning point that we’ve had, we always get some sort of reality check and it’s made us a little more honest with ourselves and a little more humble.”

This is a band that threw away more than 80 songs during the sessions for their second album, Thank You, Happy Birthday, because they “felt forced and it didn’t feel natural.” The Shultz brothers watched their dad bang away at the ceiling as a songwriter growing up, and they’re comfortable with the hardship of following their own muse. It’s only the honesty that’s important to them.

“If it feels good to you and you really love the song, more than likely people are going to love it too,” he says. “If you’re accurately conveying what you feel at the time I think people connect with that.”

Cage the Elephant headline night one of FM 102.1’s Big Snow Show with Alt-J, Fitz and the Tantrums, Vance Joy and Meg Myers on Tuesday, Dec. 2 at the Eagles Ballroom. The bill starts at 7 p.m.


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