Kings Of Leon
One of the toughest things for bands to adjust to is touring. The transient life. The boredom, the miles of empty vistas and the loneliness of never really belonging anywhere. Of course, if you've already spent a considerable amount of time on the road the transition is not so difficult. Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill were the sons of a traveling Pentecostal minister spreading the Word throughout the South. Caleb and Jared hailed from Tennessee while Nathan and cousin Matthew Followill were born in Oklahoma. In '86, the family finally settled down for a few years when old man Followill became the minister at a Pentecostal church in Munford, TN. Not the sort of place that encourages Rock 'n' Roll rebellion.
Like countless musicians the Followill boys earned their musical chops playing in church. Only when their father left the ministry did the Followills look beyond the church for their livelihood. Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty and Rolling Stones albums served as a jumping off point. Interestingly, those influences did not dominate. Rather, the Followill's honed a roots/rustic style that was, in part, inspired by White Stripes' lean approach.
The Followill's re-located to Memphis in '00 and began writing songs. Soon they landed a publishing deal. They became the Kings Of Leon - "Leon" being the name of their father and grandfather. Brandishing a Southern Rock sound, the Kings Of Leon were signed by RCA. In '03, they released the EP "Holy Roller Novocaine." It was soon followed by the full length "Youth And Young Manhood," which contained songs from the EP. After touring with The Strokes, the Kings Of Leon returned in '05 with "Aha Shake Heartbreak."
"Because Of The Times," their third studio album, arrived in April, '07. Because of the Times is also the name of an annual Pentecostal gathering the brothers often attended in their youth.
"These songs are so much bigger, this band is so much better," said Caleb. He added that the album's title can be taken one of two ways. If an album does well it's "because of the times" or if it bombs, it's "because of the times."
"Because Of The Times" did well in the U.S. but the set fared far better in the U.K. and Ireland where it debuted at #1. Also, the song "On Call" was a U.K. hit. It didn't stop there. NME wrote that the album "cemented Kings Of Leon as one of the great American bands of our time." Then Radiohead's Ed O'Brien chimed in claiming he was a major fan. "When I see them (Kings Of Leon) I think, 'Man, I'd love to be in that band'," said O'Brien. "They're amazing players, the drummer (Nathan), he's amazing. They're all great but he's really special." A guitarist calling out a drummer is pretty rare. Guitarists are usually not even cognizant of their own band's percussionist much less anyone else's.
Nathan's impact continued to be felt as work got underway on the group's fourth album, "Only By The Night." He and Caleb got into a fistfight, which happens with brothers. It can be argued who won but suffice to say Caleb was soon on pain medication. As a result he wrote what he termed some of the "most beautiful" songs. Drugs will do that to you.
Tours of Australia, the U.K. and Ireland preceded the album's release. "Crawl" was available as a free download on the Kings Of Leon site. The single "Sex On Fire" was released in the U.K. before being issued in the U.S. The song went to #1 - a first for the group.
In addition to their chart success, the Kings Of Leon made the cover of Rolling Stone (April 30th issue) then performed "Use Somebody" at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards (5/31) in Universal City. But just why they were there was a bit of a mystery. Neither the song or the Kings Of Leon were in a movie. MTV probably just needed some music from a 'name' band to off-set the dreary award presentations.
The Kings Of Leon's performance was overshadowed by the antics of in-your-face comic Sacha Baron Cohen who, dressed like a porno angel and suspended from a wire, "cheekily" landed in Rapper Eminem's lap (bare bum and all). Of course the stunt was staged. Even so, it was damn difficult to compete with that.
It was almost anti-climatic when "Only By The Night" earned a platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America for shipping 1 million copies in the United States (it eventually sold over 6.5 million units). But the '10 Grammy awards were a different story. The honors included Record of the Year, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance for "Use Somebody." "I'm not going to lie, we're all a little drunk," said Caleb. "But we're happy drunks."
And happy drunks they remained. The biography Kings Of Leon: Sex On Fire landed in bookstores later that year. Written by Michael Heatley, the tome used "insider accounts" to tell the band's story.
The Kings Of Leon wanted to play songs from their upcoming album ("Come Around Sundown") on tour. Their label, RCA, advised against it (no doubt spooked about possible bootlegs). But that didn't stop the Kings.
"They've been going over really well, a lot better than we thought they would," said Nathan. "Some of them are getting better reactions than the older songs, which is bittersweet but great to see that (fans) are digging the direction we're heading . . . It'll be great when we can play the whole new record. It's taken a lot of self-discipline to get up there and not play eight or 10 of the new songs."
On this '10 trek the Kings Of Leon played their biggest U.K. concert to date. "It's a great honor to be playing Hyde Park," said Jared. "It's something that a band can only dream of." But in the States things got a little nasty. The band had to cut short a St. Louis concert after only three songs because they were relentlessly tagged by pigeon droppings. "Jared was hit several times during the first two songs," said band manager Andy Mendelsohn in a statement. "On the third song, when he was hit in the cheek and some of it landed near his mouth, they couldn't deal any longer. It's not only disgusting - it's a toxic hazard. They really tried to hang in there." The concert was re-scheduled.
On a more pleasant note, "Only By The Night's" success led to the band's first live DVD, Live At The O2 London, England. "England is really the first place we broke," said Nathan in an interview. "We figured what better place to make a live DVD than where the fans have been the craziest for the longest?"
As the year wound down, the Kings Of Leon issued their fifth set, "Come Around Sundown," featuring the single "Radioactive." Nathan called the album "darker" and "grungier" than previous albums.
The documentary Talihina Sky was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and at Edinburgh International Film Festival and at more than 150 British theatres before going to DVD. The film featured footage from live shows, recording sessions, and early home videos.
There is a saying that success breeds demons. Actually, the demons may already be there and success only allows them to appear.
About half-way through a North American/European tour there was a fateful show in Dallas (on 7/27/11). Caleb appeared to be heavily intoxicated and slurred incomprehensibly between songs. He then left the stage, saying he was going to vomit, drink a beer and return to play three more songs. He never returned. The band apologized to the audience for the abrupt end to the show. A representative claimed Followill was "suffering from vocal issues and exhaustion."
It quickly became apparent that the Dallas show was symptomatic of larger problems when the group canceled the remainder of their summer tour just three days later "rather than play subpar gigs." However, Jared wrote on Twitter, "there are internal sicknesses & problems" and "I know you guys aren't stupid. I can't lie. There are problems in our band bigger than not drinking enough Gatorade."
Soon enough though, it was Jared's turn. He crashed his car into the garage door of a neighboring house, which he owned and was uninhabited. "I wasn't drinking. It was a dare. I obliged my audience," stated Jared. "The house is going to be demolished. Why does the construction company get to have all the fun?"
In an attempt to move on, the Kings Of Leon began work on their follow-up to "Come Around Sundown" in early '12. "We just bought a rehearsal space-slash-studio in Nashville, so we're going to spend the next few months getting that up and running; kind of make it our little clubhouse to get there and just kind of goof off whenever we want to," Nathan commented during an interview at the 54th Grammy Awards.
"I've been writing a lot," added Caleb. "The melodies are really strong, and the lyrics that I have written I think are pretty good, but we'll see."
The front cover of "Youth And Young Manhood" looks like it could have been for a '70s Southern Rock band (four faces staring out from under shaggy hair). And the Kings Of Leon draw from the same well. Between Caleb's muddy vocals and the swampy guitars "Youth and Young Manhood" has an off-the-cuff informality. In promotional materials and reviews comparisons with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Creedence Clearwater Revival creep in. However complimentary, it's a bit off the mark. The Kings of Leon bare a closer resemblance to The Band's loose and free flowing style. The Kings Of Leon play a Country influenced Rock (more Rock than Country) with ragged glory.
"Red Light Glory" kicks off "Youth and Young Manhood" with some drive. "Holy Roller Novocaine" features Caleb's lamenting vocals as the group plays on its church experience. "Molly's Chambers" has a true Southern Rock ring and lacks any unnecessary polish. The Kings Of Leon can Rock, wail and moan. And do it without pretension.
Following their impressive debut, the Kings Of Leon deliver more of the same on "Aha Shake Heartbreak." Once again Caleb's vocals keep the whole thing from sounding slick and over-produced. "The Bucket," "Four Kicks" and "Pistol Of Fire" will get a room moving.
The Kings are still loose and organic on "Because Of The Times." Only "Black Thumbnail" really employs a "southern shuffle." More frequently, the Kings tread Springsteen's turf with the acoustic set opener "Knocked Up" (a song on just the subject the title implies) and "Camero," a different take on the "Pink Cadillac" theme.
While the ballads fall short, the Kings can create a pulsating rhythm so good that Caleb can get away with singing, "she stole my karma" ("Charmer"). "On Call," with a pumping bass line, does the trick. Check out "True Love Way," "Ragoo" and "Fans."
"Sex On Fire," from "Only By The Night," has U2 embellishments while the song preceding it, "Crawl," sounds like a U2 and R.E.M. mash-up. These two tracks are far and away the best on what is an exceptionally strong album. The chord powered "Use Somebody" and the sprawling "Manhattan" are closer to the Kings' turf (comfort zone). On the ballads "Revelry" and set closer "Cold Dessert" Caleb connects with the lyrics in a deeply heartfelt manner. For a change of pace, as well as mood, look to the jangling "17" and "I Want You," propelled by a fat, irrepressible bass line.
After a hugely popular set some bands simply put everything on the repeat cycle. Not the Kings Of Leon. "Come Around Sundown" rolls through different styles but the Kings infuse each song with their personality.
Oddly, the album opens with "The End," a noisy dirge and that's not particularly strong. But this false start is quickly rectified by "Radioactive," a brilliant dose of Southern Rock. Following the jaunty "Pyro" there's "Mary," a '60s girl-group motif blasted by a good ol' guitar stomp. Drawing from the same era, "Beach Side" has Beach Boys touches making it the friendliest track on the set. Jumping decades, "Pony Up" employs Reggae but sounds closer to a Talking Heads track. Kings Of Leon continue their trip through time with "No Money" and "Birthday." They're the kind of songs Bruce Springsteen did in the '70s. You can't argue with that.