When their first song "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" came out of nowhere and tore up the charts two years ago, some probably wrote off Cage the Elephant as candidates for spots on any future VH1 One-Hit Wonder specials. Then, the Kentucky rockers released "Back Against the Wall" and "In One Ear," and that logic was shot to hell. Their self-titled debut ended up selling over 400,000, and last month, the band returned in full force with their second album, Thank You Happy Birthday which debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200. (The album's first single "Shake Me Down" is #1 on Alt radio.) T.Y.H.B. marks a departure of sorts for the band, in that the tracks on this album are arguably more raw, louder, and in your face.
In a Feb. 17 interview, frontman Matthew Shultz said the band prepared for their latest by listening regularly to tunes from the Pixies to '50s surf rock god Dick Dale. Those eclectic influences are heard all over their record. The somewhat new sound wasn't a conscious decision according to Shultz, although he admits the band didn't want to simply phone in the record and rehash "Ain't No Rest For The Wicked." "I think we're definitely hyper-paranoid of repeating ourselves," Shultz said.
I spoke with the lead singer and asked him about that notion, being in a band with his brother Brad, and a little about the new sound that plays like Viagra for your ears.
Logical first question -- how'd you come up with the album title?
I read it somewhere. I forget what book, but it was a phrase in it.
You're about to go on the road to tour. The last time out you were opening up for Stone Temple Pilots. What was that experience like -- did you have much interaction with them?
The DeLeo brothers were great, and their drummer [Eric Kretz]. I never met Scott (Weiland). From the outsider perspective they all seem like good guys. The brothers were so nice, and hung out with the band. They asked if things were going alright, and their crew were awesome.
Do you mind opening up for an established act versus headlining?
No. It's different honestly. Opening up for bigger bands means you're playing to a bigger crowd. That's cool, but you have to win over the crowd. It's great when you can, but it's not so great when you can't. Playing our own headlining show is cool because the crowd is there for you and they're familiar with our music.
Speaking of bigger acts, Thank You Happy Birthday has drawn some comparisons for you guys to the Pixies and '90's rock. Was it a conscious decision to kind of have that vibe on the new album?
Not really. There were some bands we were obsessing over while making the album. I think people are missing out though, and focused on the '90's [influence]. We listened to the Pixies, but we also were into Dick Dale, the Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, and a lot of stuff like that.
But you guys did want to mix things up a little, right? Some bands in your position would probably try to replicate "Wicked" with a similar sound...
I think we were definitely hyper-paranoid of repeating ourselves. When we first started the record, we'd written 50 songs or ideas for songs and we just felt it was forced. Every song sort of fit in a Cage the Elephant mold. After awhile, we were writing songs that we didn't really think sounded like us. It's funny, we'd joke around and say we'd save that song for a "side projects." Well, most of the songs we loved were for those side projects. Once we decided to move in that direction, everything became natural.
Are you guys happy with the outcome?
It comes and goes. [Laughs] When we first recorded it, I couldn't be more happy. Now, there are certain small things you wish you did differently. You kind of fall out of love and back in love with it.
You're in the band with your brother. Do you guys ever pull an Oasis or do you get along well?
We get along really well. There's always an occasional argument or bumping of heads, but it all comes in phases. There are phases where we get along really well and then phases where we don't, but it usually works itself out. Brad and I grew up in a really small apartment -- our beds basically touched each other's -- so we know how to operate together when we're not happy.
You mentioned listening to a diverse mix of artists while making this record. You're about to go on tour -- what tunes do you typically play on the road?
It's a bunch of stuff. Some songs on my iPod may be surprising to some.
I've recently been listening to Bow Wow Wow and Edith Piaf.
Wow, that's a mix. Anything embarrassing like Rick Astley or Milli Vanilli tunes?
No. Although we did get on a kick where we played some of the cheesiest songs ever like Seal's "Kiss From A Rose."
Cover that, man.
OK last question -- is there a cure for Bieber fever?
[Laughs] I...don't know. Pass.