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Early Success Doesn't Rattle the Cages : The Two-Man Band Is Waiting for Its Next Break After Landing Big Record Deal

January 16, 1993|JOHN PENNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The story of the Cages is one straight out of rock 'n' roll fantasy. It goes like this:

Two guys meet on an Atlanta racquetball court, where one of them, Rick Aven, is blowing his sax at 2 a.m. The other guy is Clayton Cages.

They talk about music, one thing leads to the next, and they form a band.

They write a batch of songs, start playing around town, and then decide to venture out in search of fame. They load up a van with guitars, fiddles, a sax and a dog, and head off to New York.

Arriving without an agent or a demo, they perform in the lobbies of a few record company offices, hoping to pique some important person's interest.

Lo and behold, within days, record executives are falling over each other trying to woo the boys into their nest.

The Cages sign a sweet deal with Capitol, which subsequently sets them up in a rented Malibu home and forks out the cash for them to build a recording studio there.

Chapter 2 of the Cages' storybook tale has left the fantasy behind, and, like any good story, the protagonists now find themselves faced with a host of new conflicts.

It's been almost two years since the record world went bonkers over the duet, and the buzz has died down to little more than the murmur of publicists pushing the band.

The Cages' debut CD, "Hometown," was barely noticed by critics or buyers when it was released last summer. Radio airplay has been limited, as have been paid performances by the pair.

In short, Cages and Aven (who goes by last name only) now find themselves up against the usual daunting obstacles facing any young artist, big record deal or no.

They plan to take on the challenges in the new year.

The Cages, whose only New York appearances were in record execs' offices and whose only Southern California performance was a record-release celebration at Farmer's Market in Los Angeles in 1992, will make their official area debut next week. The duet will appear Monday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano and Tuesday at the Roxy in Los Angeles.

Cages, who sings, plays guitar and writes songs for the band, said he looks forward to hitting the club scene and believes the band's next big break may be lurking around the corner.

"Our next single very well could do it for us," Cages said during a telephone interview from the duo's Malibu home. "I think people are always going to come around to good stuff. I feel good about the support we're getting from the label. And with the initial response we got (from record companies) . . . it becomes obvious whether what you're doing is good or not."

Aven--a classically trained musician who plays everything from the guitar and piano to the fiddle and the oboe, and who also sings and composes--has a slightly different take. For him, he says the initial frenzy over the group was a bit contrived, and he welcomes the new dose of reality.

"Some of these (record executives) were just jumping on the bandwagon, I think," Aven said. "And for me, it's not that great a feeling that everybody in the record business liked you. I don't particularly have a lot of respect for those people.

"But," he added with a laugh, "at least (Giant Records CEO) Irving Azoff turned us down."

And, if the Cages have to wait a while for audiences to take notice, that's fine with him. "We were up there, with this dream come true, but it seemed to lack substance. I feel a bit like a product, and we're not a product. . . . I'm not looking to make it (now) at the expense of a long career. We didn't want to be the Milli Vanilli of 1991."

The Cages do have their shortcomings. "Hometown" is torn between stripped-down acoustic sound and slick production with seven-piece orchestration. And the dozen songs, with few exceptions, are lyrically underdeveloped.

But, certainly, these are no lip-syncers.

From the outset, Cages and Aven have insisted on doing things their way, and have stayed true to that course.

When months of recording with a hired sound engineer didn't bear the results they wanted, the Cages asked to produce "Hometown" themselves, and Capitol agreed.

Then came last year's four-month, breakneck free concert tour, which they concluded last month. The Cages set up an 800 phone number and collected hundreds of requests nationwide for free performances.

They played in about 50 cities, frequently performing four and five times per day, including shows at a city dump, a homeless shelter, a children's hospital and a first-grade Catholic school classroom in Detroit.

In the latter case, "there was a little girl whose father was a big fan of ours," Cages said. The experience, he said, was "completely surreal."

"We played for Sister Eileen and the kids. And you know what kind of attention span first graders have. At one point, they all started clapping in time. It was totally hilarious . . . and Sister Eileen wrote on the board, 'The Cages--Call MTV.' "

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