Cage the Elephant toured long and hard behind their 2008 self-titled debut, wowing fans on both sides of the Atlantic with their high-intensity live shows, scoring a pair of rock-radio hits and generally learning the ropes from the likes of Silversun Pickups and Stone Temple Pilots, both of whom they toured with.

In other words, they earned their success the old-fashioned way, and now they're ready to take the next step. On Tuesday, they released their second album, Thank You, Happy Birthday — which is equally indebted to both the Pickups (who memorialize the 1990s) and the Pilots (who lived through them) — and they're already gaining traction with the album's first single, "Shake Me Down."

MTV News expects 2011 will be a big year for the Bowling Green, Kentucky, quintet, which is why we've tapped them as one of our 11 for '11 stars to watch.

Of course, months ago, there was a very real chance that none of this would've happened. Weary from nearly three years on the road, the band began work on Birthday, and sessions were proving difficult, to say the least.

"We had written like 80 different song ideas, and I feel like we were really trying to write to a particular sound — like, what we thought Cage the Elephant should sound like — and we were pigeonholing ourselves," frontman Matt Shultz revealed, laughing.

"We all started writing songs on our own, and they were really different from what we had written before, so we were like, 'We should use these for a side project,' " he continued. "And after a while, we realized most of the songs we liked were 'side-project songs,' [so] we made it our album."

Birthday showcases a fuzzy, rough-hewn side of Cage, which has as much to do with their decision to start fresh as it does with Shultz's personal struggles — and his newfound love of the Pixies.

"At the time, I had just broken up with my girlfriend of five years, and I'd drive around until like 3 or 4 in the morning listening to Doolittle," he said with a sigh. "It was my therapy, I guess."

And he carried that therapy into the songs he wrote for the album, which — like all great '90s alt-rock tunes — delve headlong into themes like heartbreak, loss and alienation, and they do so unapologetically.

"It's not something I think you should try to hide, and especially don't try to change your behavior," Shultz said. "You don't want to end up like some people, where their lives have been torn to shreds and they're, like, smeared in the press. I'd rather people know everything that's terrible about me than hide all the terrible things and have them come out."

So, with Birthday behind them, Cage the Elephant are pushing forward. They'll open a few dates for the Black Keys, then begin a headlining tour of their own next month. And like all the thrift-store Titans that went before them (seriously, if you're jonesing for an alt-rock fix, Thank You, Happy Birthday is the album for you), they're doing it all their way, mostly by the seat of their pants. After all, they've sort of earned that right.

"We try not to concern ourselves too much with strategic plans and all that," Shultz said, laughing. "We'll see what happens."