11:00 AM GMT 29/10/2012
The truth about the fighting, the snorting and being scared of their own songs. Paul Elliott eavesdrops...
EVERYONE, IT SEEMS, has an opinion on Kings Of Leon. Some have called them the best rock band in America, but for every good thing that's said about them, there's something bad. Bono and Bob Dylan have praised them, but Liam Gallagher recently proclaimed that Kings Of Leon had "sold out", accusing them of ripping off U2. And worse, one American magazine said they were "Nickelback for people who don't like Nickelback".
The British tabloids have their own take on Kings Of Leon: that they are, in short, America's answer to Oasis, a band that thrives on sibling rivalry and internal conflict. On February 20, 2009, after the band picked up two awards at the Brits for Best International Album and Best International Band, The Sun newspaper ran a story alleging that frontman Caleb Followill and his "round faced" cousin Matthew (the band's lead guitarist) had "the mother of backstage brawls" mere moments after they collected their gongs.
As drummer Nathan Followill says, "I used to read what was written about us, but there's no good that comes out of it, 'cause if it's great you're only gonna get cocky, and if it's bad you're gonna get pissed off."
When MOJO caught up with the band on the road in America, for a cover story that runs this month, they set the record straight about that night at the Brits and much more besides: starting with the rumour that they are widely despised in their adopted hometown of Nashville, Tennessee...
MOJO: Do the people of Nashville really hate Kings Of Leon?
Nathan Followill: "It's kinda true. All the bands in Nashville seemed to hate us. They kind of feel like we've hijacked Nashville as our town, that we haven't paid our dues by playing in some shitty bars and clubs for ten years. It's a little better now, there's definitely more of an alternative scene other than strictly country music. There are some great bands in Nashville, and Jack White lives there now. But when we started out, the only good band in town was The Features. The only time you could hear good music in Nashville was when they played once every six weeks."
Matthew Followill: "Around 2002, Nashville was all country music all the time. There were guys we knew outside of town who played punk music, and we'd hang out with them. But there was nothing going on. Now I hear about bands all the time. I saw a flyer for a band called The Four Kicks, and of course we have a song called that. And there's another band called Bang Bang Bang, and in The Bucket, Caleb sings, 'Three in the morning, bang bang bang.' I don't know for sure if these bands are influenced by us, but I figure they are."
MOJO: Are you as arrogant as people say?
Nathan Followill: "We always wanted to be the best at anything, and we will settle for nothing other than the best. And when we first started out, a lot of people mistook that as being cocky. These people don't realise, we took our 14 year-old brother [bassist Jared Followill] and our 16 year-old cousin [Matthew] out of high school. Caleb was 18, I was 20, we'd grown up in this little bubble, and all of a sudden, here's your passport, we're taking you overseas where you're gonna be adored and playing sold-out shows to 500 people. To us, that was huge. Holy shit, 500 people! So compared to the way that we could've turned out and the direction our band could've taken, we did pretty good."
MOJO: Honestly, how scared were you when you first toured the UK?
Caleb Followill: "We got thrown right in - thrown to the wolves. All these bands we toured with, some of them were 30 years old, and here's my little brother, aged 15, on the bass. We would pump ourselves up every night. Like, these guys are fucking gonna blow us off the stage unless we go out there and fucking do something! And so, night by night, we would do something a little closer to being, you know, a confident band. I remember we played with The Datsuns, and they got up there and were going crazy, and then we got up there just kinda doing our thing. Now, when I look back on it, we were pretty fucking cool! We wore our guitars really high because we didn't know how to play our instruments good enough, so we had to watch our hands. It looked like a shtick but it wasn't. It was four guys that were really uncomfortable and trying to make people think that they were comfortable."
MOJO: In the early days you looked like a heavy metal band, all big hair and tight trousers. Admit it, you looked ridiculous.
Matthew Followill: "We were definitely a different looking bunch! I had long curly big hair, I wore pants that were way too tight, shirts that were too small, cowboy boots. I don't know what we were thinking. We didn't think, let's look like we're from the '70s, but we did."
MOJO: At Kings Of Leon gigs there isn't much interaction between band and audience. What's the matter with you?
Nathan Followill: "Ha ha ha! You know, there's times when Caleb's like, Dude, you need to show some more emotions. It's like you're about to fall asleep! It's not that I'm bored - it's just the way I learned to play in church. I don't thrash about. It's all business. I do interviews for drum magazines and they're like, Who are your idols? Who did you grow up wanting to emulate as a drummer? And it's hundreds of nameless, faceless drummers in churches everywhere from Mississippi to Alabama. I never knew these people. Every night it was a different style of drummer. The type of music we played in church, you think maybe an organ, very quiet and reserved. But the best way to describe it is Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding: music with soul! Like, making the ugliest faces in the world and you don't care 'cos you're so into the music, feeling it."
Posted by Danny_Eccleston at 9:39 AM GMT 28/05/2009