Cage the Elephant spent the first three albums of its career in a hurry to grow musically and figure out how to put the band’s stamp on the rock scene.
With its fourth album, “Tell Me I’m Pretty,” that mindset changed. Ironically, this helped Cage the Elephant recapture a bit of the feeling of the musical freedom of the group’s formative years in Bowling Green, Ky., according to guitarist Brad Shultz.
Making “Tell Me I’m Pretty,” Shultz said in an early March phone interview, “kind of brought me back to that first record when we were those kids in Bowling Green, just making records for the hell of it and having a great time.
“Not that we didn’t have a great time making each record – there were great times – but I think there was also pressure, especially with (the 2013 album) ‘Melophobia,’ that we put on ourselves because we wanted to grow so bad, and we wanted to see results before we actually went through the growth. We didn’t realize that growth goes unseen until the finished product is there, if that makes any sense.
“(At) the end of ‘Melophobia,’ we kind of realized that, and we kind of stopped pushing so hard for growth because it’s going to happen naturally,” he said.
When Cage the Elephant, which includes original members Shultz, his brother Matt Shultz (vocals), Daniel Tichenor (bass) and Jared Champion (drums), and auxiliary players Nick Bockrath (guitar) and Matthan Minster (keyboards), formed in 2006, the band was a musical work in progress.
Still, the band’s 2008 self-titled debut and 2011’s “Thank You, Happy Birthday” were both hits and gave the band a trio of chart-topping alternative rock singles, “Back Against the Wall,” “Shake Me Down” and “In One Ear.”
“Melophobia,” though, was a watershed album for Cage the Elephant, displaying a more original slant to the band’s music. The Grammy-nominated album spawned two No. 1 alternative rock singles, “Come a Little Closer” and “Cigarette Daydreams.” And the experience of making “Melophobia” also generated creative momentum that carried right through the making of “Tell Me I’m Pretty.”
“We went through a great deal of growth on ‘Melophobia,’ ” Shultz said. “… Our whole objective was to rediscover or just refresh what our voice is within songwriting, because I think we were heavily influenced on our second record, and that was all part of the growing experience from the first record. And you kind of learn things throughout each record.”
“Tell Me I’m Pretty” emerged with a distinctly different musical personality from “Melophobia.” Where that 2013 album had a decidedly modern character, the latest album has been widely seen as having a more classic, even vintage garage-rock feel.
Shultz, though, doesn’t see the new music itself sounding vintage or garage-y, noting the band was simply trying to write music that fit the emotions of the lyrics. But he thinks the band (working with producer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys) tapped into a ’60s rock ethos in making “Tell Me I’m Pretty,” working to make each part count by evoking a feeling and highlighting musical elements that listeners could lock onto each time they played a song.
Fans can expect to hear a healthy number of the songs from “Tell Me I’m Pretty” in Cage the Elephant’s live sets as it headlines the Spring Fling Rock AF tour, which rolls into Sleep Train Arena on Saturday, March 12. Shultz is amped about the bill, which also includes Silversun Pickups, the Foals and Bear Hands.
“We’re really excited about the lineup we were able to put together for this tour,” he said. “Other than maybe festivals like Coachella or whatever like that, this is a really good chance for people to see consistently good show after good show after good show and do it in all the same night, because all of these bands are headliners in their own respect and they all put on great live shows.
“So I’m excited to have people come and enjoy that aspect and also for us to be able to enjoy that aspect.”
Spring Fling Rock AF Tour
What: Alternative bands Cage the Elephant, Silversun Pickups, Foals and Bear Hands are on a 15-city tour
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, March 12
Where: Sleep Train Arena, 1 Sports Parkway, Sacramento
Cost: $29.50-$39.40; $15 parking
Information: 916-928-6900. sleeptrainarena.com