ver the years, media outlets have been fond of intermittently reporting the death of Rock and the coronation of Electronic music in its wake. Obviously, the pronouncements of Rock’s demise have always been greatly exaggerated, even as Electronica, in its varied forms, has risen to greater levels of mainstream prominence.
The question that’s on a lot of minds — particularly that of Born Cages guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Vlad Holiday — is, “Why can’t Rock and Electronica co-exist in a single entity?”
The answer that Holiday and his crew have delivered on their latest EP, The Sidelines, and their first full-length, I’m Glad I’m Not Me (slated for release early next year) is, “They bloody well can.”
“The balance is an objective thing. As a producer or mixer, if you raise one little thing, if the synth or the guitar is a little louder or more present, it can change the vibe overall,” Holiday says from his New York City home on the eve of Born Cages’ upcoming tour. “It’s such little differences, but I feel like the subtle changes do make a difference how people perceive the music. Lyrics and presentation are very important but the way it’s laid out is important [too].”
Born Cages has found the proper balance between wailing guitar Rock and blippy Synth Pop — one typically overshadows the other in similarly structured attempts — which is astonishing considering the New York quartet has evolved to this point in just three years. The term “fast track” hardly seems strong enough to describe the Born Cages’ meteoric development.
The band — Holiday, keyboardist/vocalist Amanda Carl and drummer Dave Tantao (the bass spot has been variously occupied, and is currently filled by Matt Maroulakos) — was acquainted in the NYC music scene and finally made good in 2011 on the standard scene promise of “we should do something together.” The newly assembled quartet realized the potential for something great within its ranks, so each member left their current situation to devote their time and energy to Born Cages.
“We knew each other through friends and other bands,” Holiday says. “At the time, nobody was in something as serious as Born Cages. Not that we take ourselves too seriously. I’ve learned not to do that. The whole point of this is you have to enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t, it’s not worth not making money. Everybody was into Born Cages, and we were all very stoked.”
Within a year of their formation, Born Cages received an intimidating yet spectacular opportunity when they were tapped to open a pair of shows for the resurgent Guns N’ Roses. Any opening slot where a new group warms up the crowd for an older, established outfit is a challenge, but a rookie Rock band facing down GNR’s audience is a kamikaze mission at best.
“It was February of 2012, and one of our first shows as a band; it was one of those phone calls where I was like, ‘What? Can’t be real,’ ” Holiday says with a laugh. “They needed an opener last minute for a small tour; it was small venues like House of Blues, with ridiculously overpriced tickets. Our manager submitted music and I believe it was Richard Fortus, their guitar player, that was into us, and he got us on the show at the Chicago House of Blues. After that, they asked us to come back for the show at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, Md. We did make some fans there; I’m sure there were people who were like, ‘Get the fuck off the stage,’ but it was mainly a positive experience for us.”
Born Cages continued to amass loyal local/regional fans, and their online demos began attracting label interest. Holiday had a very specific process in mind concerning labels, and the band’s deal with New York indie Razor & Tie came about in the organic and unforced fashion Holiday had imagined.
“I didn’t want to be the type of people that knock on everybody’s doors and be like, ‘Please sign us, we’re great, I swear,’ ” he says. “I wanted to do our own thing and have people knock on our door.”
That’s exactly how it played out. Born Cages played its third show as a band when Razor & Tie showed up to see them. They’d heard the track “Don’t Look Back” through the online grapevine and got a rare unanimous consensus that Born Cages was something special. When they decided to reach out to the band, they made a startling discovery.
“Our managers are really good friends with the label’s A&R,” Holiday says. “At the A&R meeting, they were like, ‘Who manages this band? Let’s email them right now.’ And they said Strong Management, and the guy was like, ‘That can’t be right. They would have told me about this band.’ He called my manager and was screaming, ‘Why the hell would you keep this from me?’ It was kind of a best-case scenario for us. It reaffirms that they like our music and it’s not just because somebody knows somebody.”
Born Cages’ cross-generational appeal and Synth Pop/Rock hybridization is clearly displayed in “Don’t Look Back,” Sidelines’ lead track. Extracted from a dream, Holiday fashions an anthemic fistpumper that nods to Muse, Bruce Springsteen and U2, with a scorching guitar solo that mimics the likes of Mott the Hoople’s Mick Ralphs or Be Bop Deluxe’s Bill Nelson.
“That (solo) was one that took a very long time,” Holiday says. “I’ve had maybe 10 different versions of the solo. The guitar player in me wanted to do that, and that’s what happened. I love it. Sometimes I’m nervous to go full on because I don’t want people to think I’m trying to show off, but that’s what that style of music is and there are elements of that in Born Cages.”
The band’s plan going forward is to become a relentless road presence into next year, with I’m Glad I’m Not Me dropping in February and the band’s South by Southwest appearance in March.
The group’s immediate concern is obviously its current tour; as they continue to promote Sidelines, Born Cages will also preview songs from the new album, including the just-released single, “Rolling Down the Hill,” the video for which will follow later in the month.
“We’re definitely playing some songs that are on the full length, and I’ve actually written a couple of new ones that we’re trying out for the first time on this tour,” Holiday says. “We still haven’t played them out yet, just in practice.”
BORN CAGES plays a free show Saturday at Northside Tavern with guests Frances Cone, One Day Steady and Near Earth Objects. Find more info here .