Kings of Leon are a young rock band from Tennessee. They consist of three brothers — Caleb (lead singer, rhythm guitar), Nathan (drums), and Jared (bass) Followill — plus Matthew Followill (lead guitar), their first cousin. As the music on their ‘Kings of Leon’ EP debut for RCA Records shows, their songs teem with primal emotions and rangy rhythms – noise sensed as sanctuary, friction felt as release, honesty jumped on for all it’s worth because it’s the only bankable road to salvation. Kings of Leon — so-called because “Leon” is the name of both the Followills’ father and grandfather — are, in general, a hauntingly unusual yet dead classic band.
Caleb: Our father was a United Pentecostal evangelist, so we pretty much grew up on the road, in between Oklahoma City and Memphis, back and forth, up until about ’98. Jared and I were born in Memphis; Nathan and Matthew were born in Oklahoma.
Nathan: Growing up, we didn’t have an actual home. We stayed with relatives, one place or the other. We lived out of the back of our car; oh man, I’d say there were at least five of those cars. Four of those fourteen years we had a travel trailer; the other ten, the church would either put us up in a hotel, or we would stay at the pastor’s house, or a parsonage. We grew up doing that pretty much our whole lives. Our dad pastored a church in Mumford, TN, from 1986 until 1992. That’s about 30 minutes outside of Memphis — real country, Tipton County, the most redneck place you’ll ever see in your life. That’s the first place that we ever got to go to a school more than one year with the same classmates. We went to a little private school there for, like, four years. But when I say private school, I mean that between 12th grade and kindergarten there were maybe 40 kids in the whole school. Pentecostal school. The rest of the time, we were home-schooled.
Caleb: Then we moved to Nashville two-and-half years ago. We started writing songs. Got a publishing deal. About a year later we signed our deal with RCA in New York.
Nathan: I first started playing music in church when I was seven; I played the drums. My mom would play the piano before my dad would preach. Caleb, over the years, I guess from just watching me play and being the drummer at the church, picked it up and started playing in church too.
Caleb: At Pentecostal churches, music’s pretty lively. It’s much the same as a black church down South. The same kind of spirit. You really show your emotions. Everyone worships.
Nathan: Lots of instruments: Organ, piano, bass, drums, couple of guitars, horns.
Caleb: It’s good; it’s actually pretty close to just blues music. People aren’t always great on the instruments, but somehow when they all get together, it’s really awesome.
Nathan: There are lots of elements of that in Kings of Leon. Because basically in church you’re not up there for show; you’re just up there to provide for the service. You become so close when you’re playing; it’s not like you’re pressured that if you mess up you’re going to be in big trouble. As a band now, I think it kind of makes it easier for us, because in our minds we’re just like sittin’ up there with a calm, I’d guess you’d say, about us, not worried about messing up. You’re just up there feeling the music, as opposed to worrying the whole time. You’d be amazed at the way we played in church. I mean, it was rockin’: Fifteen-minute songs, people out there dancing. Getting with it.
Caleb: Our kind of gospel music, it sounds like the Rolling Stones with a different lead singer every time.
Nathan: We didn’t give up that music up for rock and roll; we had the music in us all along. Understand: Aretha Franklin, she was a Pentecostal girl. Al Green. We don’t want to come off as a church band, but we’re not scared of the fact that a lot of our influences musically come for our past.
Caleb: I don’t know, it’s like when our father left the clothhood, we started looking at our lives. We started considering the opportunities we had outside the church, instead of being just what our father was.
Nathan: That was the first chance we had to think for ourselves. We discovered the freedom to look at religion in a light that we wanted to look at it in. That’s when we really kind of cocooned, really started to experience so many aspects of life that, before, we’d never even known were out there. I mean, Zeppelin and the Stones and Tom Petty and all that, we got to listen to a little bit growing up, but we never really got to go buy a record and sit there and listen to the whole thing ten times in a row. Now we can write and play and record, giving people who hear us, we hope, a glimpse into the mind or imagination of real guys who have been through real stuff and are trying to put our experiences into words that go well with the kind of music that we like to play. Once we heard bands like White Stripes, it just gave me chillbumps, because we thought: Maybe we can do this, and maybe we can do it kind of cool.
Caleb: “Molly’s Chambers,” that’s a song about a girl that, if you ever come across her and you get your opportunity, you’d better take it. Because ah, she might eventually mess you up, but it’s worth it. The song tries to recreate the musical vibe of how she can captivate you. “Wasted Time” is about people hiding from who they really are. “Wicker Chair” is about seeing someone self-destruct and knowing there’s not really anything you can do about it; it’s melancholy. “Holly Roller Novocaine” is our most personal song.
Nathan: When we sit down and write, we don’t look at it like ‘Ok, what hook do we need to put in this thing?’ We shy away from that. We ask: ‘What is the best way for us to put what we’re feeling into this song?’
Caleb: We’re interested in making complete albums: The way I look at it, if you watch a good movie, you will hear a slow song in it and you will hear a fast song. If you watch a stupid movie, it’ll be all fast songs. If you watch an overdone movie, it’s all slow songs. I want our albums to be like a good movie soundtrack. I want it to have everything in it, all parts of life.
Nathan: Too many artists now, either they have their fists in the air throughout the whole record, or they’re crying the whole record. That’s not what we’re about. We’re about the journey.
Caleb: We’re different from a lot of people. We grew up with nothing. We were very poor. We’re not normally cocky people, anything like that. We’re pretty down-to-earth normal guys.
Nathan: There’s nothing expected: Either you like someone or you don’t. You’re either going to get along with them or you’re not.
Caleb: We got family members who are preachers and we’ve got family members who are crackheads.
Nathan: We grew on love. That’s why we’re all so close. Most people, if they got a chance to be in a band, they wouldn’t want to be with their brothers. That’s not how it is with us. We didn’t have anything, so all we had was each other. It’s not like we’re Led Zeppelin, the greatest musicians. That’s not what this it about. It’s totally a family chemistry, and whenever we get together, somehow we all click. We try to be as real as we possibly can, because you can only put on a charade for so long before you start acting a double-charade. Then you start getting busted.