Brad Shultz has had a good deal of time to live with Melophobia, the latest album from his band, Cage The Elephant. And some six months after its release, he’s still feeling more at home with Melophobia than the band’s first two albums.
“This album has been an album where I have looked back upon and I have nitpicked on the least,” the guitarist says. “That kind of sums it up. With the other records, there are definitely things I can go back and listen to and I want to nitpick on different things I think should have been different on the record. But on this one … I definitely think we put everything on the table.”
That’s a good feeling to have, considering the guys in Cage The Elephant went into Melophobia looking to surpass everything they had done musically and stake out more of their own sound. Looking back, Shultz can see that such a goal was out of reach before now.
By his own admission, the group, which formed in Bowling Green, Ky., in 2006, didn’t have a lot to draw from musically when it made its 2008 self-titled debut album.
“We were 19 and 20, we had never even listened to the Pixies or Pavement or Mudhoney or the Gang Of Four, so many bands that people in bigger cities have more at their fingertips,” Shultz says. “We didn’t have a proper record shop. We just didn’t have any of that (stuff). Our first record was honest to the time we were in, but it was only scratching the surface.”
That didn’t stop Cage The Elephant from making a splash. Featuring two Alternative Rock hits — “Back Against the Wall,” and “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” — the album went gold, selling more than 500,000 copies.
The band’s second album, 2011’s Thank You, Happy Birthday, showed that in two years of touring, Cage The Elephant had entirely new frames of reference to put to use.
“On the second record, we were living in England and growing exponentially in our knowledge of music and also as people,” Shultz says.
“We faltered a tad bit on the second record in the way we kind of wore our influences on our sleeves a little too heavily because we were so excited about everything that we were (discovering).”
Another two years of touring and further development as songwriters and musicians had Shultz and his bandmates — his brother Matt Shultz (vocals), Daniel Tichenor (bass), Jared Champion (drums) and Lincoln Parish (guitar) — ready to take a big step up with Melophobia.
“On this record we really wanted to kind of define our own sound, and also not settle for anything because of time restraints and to really convey what we were hearing in our minds,” he says.
Achieving its goals on Melophobia came with some challenges. One thing that made the album a different proposition was the way it was written. After extensively promoting Thank You, Happy Birthday, the band took its first real break from the touring/recording cycle. Each band member went his own way and started writing for the third album.
“I think the challenge was that we, for the first time, weren’t really kind of talking about ideas and where we wanted to go with the record,” Shultz says. “We were all sitting at home kind of formulating these ideas, coming up with the way we all envisioned the record. And when we came together to start putting all of those ideas together, all of those ideas were drastically different (laughs). So the challenge was to make all of those ideas cohesive together. We came together and you could really see each person’s individual impact on what we did within the songs.”
Shultz says some of the biggest debates during the recording of Melophobia centered more on the treatment of the songs than on whether certain tracks fit together stylistically.
“I think what really we differed on was the energy of the song, whether we wanted to make a song more intimate or maybe more uptempo, and also we were more (focused) on the production value, and, tonally, where we wanted the guitars to sit in the music,” Shultz says. “You look at The Beatles, and (what) they were so genius about, every part of their song was important. I know me and Matt probably drove the rest of the band crazy because there were several different times when they would think the song was all the way there, but me and Matt just didn’t want to settle for a certain part or something. Sometimes they were right and we were overanalyzing it. That can be a dangerous thing in itself. But we were just on this kick of not settling for a part that you weren’t in love with.”
In the end, Cage The Elephant (which has a new guitarist, Nick Bockrath, who recently stepped in after Parish decided to pursue a career in production) emerged with an album that’s plenty big and bold. Songs like “Black Widow” and “Teeth” use horns to add punch to the glammy Rock feel. “It’s Just Forever” is a brash rocker with some edgy guest vocals from Alison Mosshart of The Kills, while “Spiderhead” is an anthemic rocker with a little David Bowie/Mott The Hoople sass. Melophobia gets a bit of variety from the Strokes-ish rocker “Take It or Leave It” and the acoustic-laced “Cigarette Daydreams,” more understated tunes that bring different textures to the album.
Cage The Elephant’s live shows are raucous affairs, thanks in part to Matt Shultz’s famous tendency to dive into the audience, crowd surf and do whatever else he thinks will break down barriers between the band and the audience.
“How wild a show gets generally hinges on the audience on a given night,” Shultz says. “If a crowd is ready for anything, Matt’s going to push the limits. It’s almost (like) if he sees someone doing something in the crowd, he’s definitely going to try and one-up it.” ©
CAGE THE ELEPHANT performs at the Bunbury Music Festival at 5:45 Friday on the main stage. Tickets/more info: bunburyfestival.com.