For most of the last year that rock band Cage the Elephant was on the road, it was locked in a tug of war with its management. Not over the usual issues like money or contracts, but rather over the band's set list -- specifically, the group's new material.
"We'd start out playing one or two new songs, then gradually add more and more," lead singer Matthew Shultz says. "Then we'd get a call from our management, telling us to stop playing the new material. We'd cut back, and then start adding more and more songs back in. At one point, we played a whole set of new music, and got in big trouble for that."
With the Jan. 11 release of "Thank You, Happy Birthday" on Jive Records, the wait for the official debut of new music is nearly over. But Shultz and his bandmates aren't just typical artists excited to roll out fresh material for fans. The Bowling Green, Ky., group has been sitting on a finished second album for more than a year and had been playing tracks from its self-titled debut for almost four years. Cage the Elephant's long development process meant the band had to wait to release a new album until it had exhausted all the possibilities from its first release.
After some initial buzz at South by Southwest in 2007, the band signed to U.K.-based Relentless Records and relocated to London to try to break overseas. Its album was released in June 2008, and the single "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" reached No. 32 on the U.K. singles chart. Cage then signed to Jive in the United States, where the album was released in April 2009. "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" peaked at No. 3 on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart, while follow-up singles "Back Against the Wall" and "In One Ear" went to No. 1. The album has sold 375,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Even if fans didn't get to hear the new album live, "Thank You" won't come as a shock: The band retains its '90s alt-rock influences, with crunchy guitars and vocals that regularly go from a whisper to a howl.
Radio will play a big part in the rollout of the second album, according to Jive Label Group VP of marketing Dan Mackta. "We've gotten very positive initial feedback about [first single] 'Shake Me Down,' " he says. The single is No. 15 on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart, and the band is scheduled to play some holiday radio shows in December as well.
Although Shultz says he's "terrible" about updating Facebook and Twitter, Mackta says the social networks are still a big part of the campaign. "We'll be giving away free downloads, as well as uploading 15-second video pre-roll ads—just scenes from the last tour," he says. "They're obviously not proper music videos, but we want to get something out there to get people revved up."
Mackta says the label is considering an extensive "QR" campaign, with different bar codes leading to unique exclusive content. And because the band got a boost on the last album from a placement in a videogame called "Borderland," Jive is considering developing a mobile game that would be available as a smart-phone app.
The group will perform the new album from start to finish on Dec. 2 at Nashville venue the Basement, located beneath indie store Grimey's New & Preloved Music, with the entire set captured by multiple cameras. Mackta says the label will develop a radio special from the performance and will also spread the live clips to different online and broadcast partners.
Despite the marketing push, manager Cliff Burnstein says it would be a mistake to think the band has been laying low prior to release. "Most of this is just a continuation of what they have been doing," he says. "At this point, the cycle never stops. They are not ever not doing anything."
Burnstein also says the band isn't overly concerned with capturing a new audience. "We don't see old fans and new fans as two separate groups," he says. "They are all intermingled, and there are people who haven't decided to spend the money on a Cage album yet."
And if those people decide not to spend money on the second album, rest assured, another one is on the way. "We're actually working on a third record right now," Shultz says. "It's still early -- we're just writing and not recording anything yet. But we're stuck in this weird cycle. Eventually I'm hoping it will normalize a bit."