“Melophobia,” the new album from Kentucky-based indie-esque heavy-rock act Cage the Elephant (Oct. 8, RCA), translates to “fear of music,” which is also the name of Talking Heads’ 1979 Brian Eno-produced album. Vocalist Matt Shultz maintains he didn’t catch the similarity in the titles, and confesses he hadn’t been informed of it until just before speaking to Billboard. Though he may have name-dropped a seminal rock album in the process, for Shultz, crafting “Melophobia” meant not fearing music itself, but its conventions and cliches.
“It’s a fear of creating music under false pretenses, catering to cool, or writing to project some sort of image that’s based upon social standards,” Shultz says. “[It’s] trying to sound artistic, poetic or intellectual, rather than just trying to communicate an honest thought or feeling or story.”
He thinks back to a quote from Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, one he heard secondhand from Morning Teleportation frontman Tiger Merritt, who records for Brock’s Glacial Pace imprint: “If the lyrics you sing don’t make you slightly embarrassed, you’re probably not writing good lyrics.” On “Melophobia,” this may explain cries like, “I can’t feel my teeth, and it’s driving me crazy!” and “When did I become so eaten up by moss and covered in a cloak of popularity?”
Despite the oddball tendencies, Cage the Elephant is a known winner in the rock radio game: Three previous songs have topped Alternative, and “Melophobia”‘s first offering, the psych-poppy “Come a Little Closer,” reaches the top 10 this week, rising 12-8 (up 14% in plays, according to Nielsen BDS). So far, the biggest supporters have been WBOS Boston (168 plays through Sept. 8), KBZT San Diego (161) and WRMR Greenville, N.C. (152).
Beginning in 2007, Cage the Elephant released a series of singles through independently minded Sony U.K. imprint Relentless Records. Jive Records released the band’s 2009 self-titled debut, which featured the Alternative No. 1s “In One Ear” and “Back Against the Wall.” Two years later, “Thank You Happy Birthday” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and produced another Alternative No. 1, “Shake Me Down.” Jive shuttered soon after, and RCA absorbed the band.
RCA senior VP of rock music Bill Burrs is confident he’s working the band’s fourth No. 1. And taking the single to top 40 radio? That could be in the cards as well.
Since its early days with Jive, the group has been partnered with management company Q Prime. With the label, management and booking agent Marsha Vlasic working in unison, Cage the Elephant broke through as a radio-approved live act, and it’s now reaping the benefits. The band’s September tour already features three radio station-sponsored concerts and Burrs says more are on the way, once the group wraps a string of support dates for Muse on Sept. 19. “They’re starting a promotional tour [for “Melophobia”] Sept. 20 in Los Angeles, doing something for KROQ there, a special Red Bull performance.” Around the album’s street date, Burrs plans to “pull off something big in New York, whether we do something for SiriusXM at Webster Hall or an iHeartRadio performance for Clear Channel. We’re going to get as much bang for our buck as we can.”
Live performance has been key to Cage the Elephant’s ascent to alt-rock notoriety. “What set them apart immediately was Matt and the manic way he performs,” says Burrs, who likens him to the unlikely combination of Iggy Pop and Ian Curtis. Besides Muse, the band has opened for Silversun Pickups and Foo Fighters, with Foos frontman Dave Grohl even filling in once when drummer Jared Champion’s appendix burst. Plus, the band has been willing to play less glamorous gigs — like radio station barbecues and holiday shows-to establish itself. And though Cage the Elephant hasn’t often embraced synchs in the past, Burrs says, “Given it’s not something the guys are against, we’re going to try to get whatever we can get.
“The way the record sounds, if we go all the way in Alternative, which I think we’re going to, this may be something we try to cross to pop radio,” he adds. “It’s nice because, sonically, some of the bands have been able to cut through. Who would have thought we would’ve heard a banjo on [pop] radio from the Lumineers a year-and-a-half ago?”