When the Kings Of Leon hold court ahead of the release of their second album, musicOMH was there. But are the Tennessee band genuine rock royalty or mere pretenders to the throne? Admittedly, Nathan and cousin Matthew are the band’s more hirsute members, but all the same…
“Our mom cuts our hair,” reveals bassist Jared – the youngest at 17, while frontman Caleb curses the magazine stylists who, armed with products and industrial-strength straighteners, dry their locks to a crisp.
“Well, she cuts it and we make it,” continues Jared, who reveals mum Betty Ann despairs at their choice of moptop crops. Or “sexy”, as he would have it. Up close their shoulder-length hair frames – rather than overpowers – beautifully gamine features and whippet-thin frames.
It’s a million miles away from your typical Brit impression of a southern States thickset redneck.
Much has been made of the Followill family’s unconventional early life, where they spent years on the road with their then pastor father Leon (after whom – and their paternal grandfather – the band is named) away from mass music and media but, as the brothers reveal, this has only helped them.
Says Jared: “Just by being able to take what little we’d known and come up with our own style and sound is one thing I’m proud of in our past. It’s helped us a lot because we are still being inspired every day by music, old and new.”
“If people liked the first album they’ll like this more. They have to because we’re better at everything.”
– Jared on the band’s second album.
It’s a sound that’s inspired people to name them the Southern The Strokes , but Jared is cautious about being labelled. He tells MusicOMH: “Every new band that comes out they label the new The Killers or The Strokes. But it’s really hard – styles can pigeon-hole you and we’re constantly changing.”
But how would they describe themselves? “Um, adult country contemporary?” he suggests mischieviously.
Adds 24-year-old Caleb: “It’s never been important to try and name what it is we do. I don’t know what we do.”
However, of the second album – which looks to at least match the 500,000-selling success of the first, Tales of Youth And Young Manhood – he boasts: “You can expect a lot of growth in our sound, a lot more confidence in the things we want to do and accomplish.”
Or, as Jared would have it: “If people liked the first album they’ll like this more. They have to because we’re better at everything.”
“Not in a cocky way,” Caleb is quick to point out. “But we’re pretty young and musically on the first album we were scared of what we were doing.”
Suggests Jared: “If anything we’ve gone from bad to pretty good.”
Modest, perhaps, but as they adamantly insist it’s been a rollercoaster ride for the Tennessee youngsters, who little more than two years ago were pondering what to do with their lives. “We didn’t really expect anything, we just threw a band together really quickly,” he says. “Everything happened so quickly, much quicker than with most bands. We came here [to the UK] and things got big on the radio and in magazines. It took a year to even process what was going on. It was all so exciting and depressing and every mix in between.”
That combination – the thrill of being a success and the ever-present throbbing of homesickness – was poured in to this second album, which is edgier and more emotionally raw than ever.
Caleb continues: “Every emotion you can feel in the course of two years of being in each others’ hair is there. There are lots of stories about a lot of things we don’t really remember; [because] it took a year to even process what was going on.”This album is just us being ourselves. It’s not about record sales or if we reach one or 10 in the charts – it’s none of that. What we were making was a record that we were happy with. This album – we’re thrilled with it. It doesn’t really matter what people say or think.”
“They were sobering moments.”
– Caleb reflects on the summer festival season.
Some of the songs were roadtested over the summer on unsuspecting festival crowds, with the band playing across Europe from V Festival to Benicassim in Spain. The new material went down well, but it was a testing time for the foursome.
Caleb reveals: “We played in front of really big crowds. They were sobering moments – we were playing in front of bands who inspire us like the Pixies and The Cure -”
“And the Strokes and Oasis,” interjects Jared.
No soundcheck and the possibility of a partisan audience add to the nerves, adds Caleb, who is looking forward to playing their upcoming headlining tour.
But there must have been fun times?
“It’s all funny,” confirms Jared, “But I can’t think of any particular funny moments.” He turns to Caleb, earnestly asking: “did we just get really drunk and not notice, or did nothing funny happen at the festivals?”
“Well Frank Black slipped and fell,” retorts Caleb. “That was really funny.”
“And Robert Smith had an accident with his eyeliner,” he whispers conspiratorially, with a wicked glint in his eye. “It stabbed his eyeball when he was applying it!”
Hmmm. It would appear that the Kings’ frontman is something of the court jester.
Kings Of Leon’s second album Aha Shake Heartbreak is out now through Columbia.