By: Andy Tennille
"Earlier today, I drank two Bloody Marys, ate half a dozen oysters and may have just had some of the best sex of my life. And I was wearing a condom! That shit is not fun, so I jumped in the shower afterwards and had a good, long cry."
Caleb Followill's self-deprecating confession elicits howling laughs from his brethren in the Kings of Leon. Nearly four years since the release of Youth and Young Manhood, their swaggering debut smeared with grease and bourbon from their family's Mt. Juliet, Tennessee garage, the Followill boys (brothers Caleb, Nathan, Jared and cousin Matthew) may finally be turning the corner from wide-eyed Holy Roller hillbillies, traveling the world penning songs about partying with celebrities and failed dalliances with eager supermodels, to become seasoned vets who fess up to the wholly un-rock star practice of safe sex.
Kings of Leon
The bedroom isn't the only arena in which the Kings have apparently matured. On April 3, the band released Because of the Times, their third studio release with über-producer Ethan Johns (Ray LaMontagne, Ryan Adams and many more) and Nashville songwriter/co-producer Angelo Petraglia. Where the band's previous albums seemed cut from the cloth of Led Zeppelin, The Kinks and the Rolling Stones mixed with '70s outlaw country, Because of the Times has a much more modern feel. The sweaty grittiness of Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak has been replaced by more complex compositions featuring soaring guitar leads lifting off from thundering, bedrock drum beats which appear to be directly influenced by the band's stints on the road supporting arena tours by U2 and Pearl Jam last year.
"Charmer" is a Pixies punk rocker, replete with shrieking screeches from Caleb. Lead single "On Call" opens with a cloud of synthy guitar spookiness before dropping into a chugging Sabbath guitar riff. "McFearless" starts with a nasty bass line that feels like the long-lost cousin to Berry Oakley Jr.'s twelve-string assault on "Whipping Post" before Matthew Followill emerges with a racing, repeating guitar line straight from The Edge's bag o' tricks. Stronger vocal harmonies are sprinkled liberally on the new set, most notably on the sweet ditty "True Love Way." "Black Thumbnail" is the most Kings of Leon-esque tune on the album, with Caleb, backed by a lone, jangly guitar, preaching about his "cold, cold heart" before cautioning the band's detractors that they're "an ornery cuss." Their more mature worldview is best represented on the seven-minute "Knocked Up," where the protagonist rails against public opinion and familial pressure against having a baby out of wedlock. From a band that wrote about a chick's honeypot on their first album ("Molly's Chambers") and premature balding and erectile dysfunction on their second ("Soft"), the Kings' newfound maturity is pleasantly endearing.
Kings of Leon
Regardless of the elite company they've kept on tour recently - Dylan, Eddie Vedder and Bono - the Followills still have a chip on their shoulder, fashioning themselves as outlaws camped on the periphery of today's sanitized-for-your-approval commercial rock. Caleb says, "We've always been the underdogs and I think we still are compared to a lot of bands that came out around the same time as we did. But, I think some people have wanted us to come out and make a big record and I think that we've done it. I think we made a record that's big and something to be proud of, something that we can build off of in our live shows."
JamBase: You've said the first album was 95-percent about stuff you wanted to do and 5-percent of things you'd actually done, and the second album was all things you guys had experienced over the last couple of years. What then is this new record about?
Caleb Followill: We wanted to make a record that was really close to home, like really American. Every vehicle I mention on the record is an American made. It wasn't something that was conscious. It just came out that way. We made the record at home in Nashville. We'd drive from our own house to the studio, actually slept in our own beds. I just wanted to go back to some good old storytelling. The way we tell stories now is a little more hidden than maybe the first record, but we wanted it to be natural and very anthemic.
Kings of Leon
JamBase: Was that decision based on a reaction to the first two records? Did you not feel like you accomplished some of those things on the first two?
Nathan Followill: The first record, we were scared shitless. We didn't know how to make a record. With the second record, we kind of had an idea what we wanted to do but we still relied on the producer quite a bit. This record was the first one where we went in knowing the sounds we were wantin', the parts we were wantin'.
Caleb: We weren't scared this time to play the sounds and use pedals and just really open up and go for it. With Aha Shake Heartbreak, it was all live, so pretty much the only thing the producer can do is tell you to relax and do what you do. So, we'd go in there and do it but the whole time we'd be bitin' our fingernails wondering what the fuck it sounded like.
JamBase: The new album has a lot of layered sounds on it, more so than the previous two. Is that indicative of the fact that you guys are more comfortable in studio now?
Caleb: Yeah, absolutely. The thing is, we've been running and hiding from ourselves. We heard other bands layer all these sounds on their records and we thought that it really sucked. They were just putting shit on top of shit. We realized that you don't have to do that.
Nathan: There's nothing worse in the world than going to watch a band play live whose record you love and you hear them play only to realize that they overdub 20 instruments on every song. It just sounds so naked up there. So, that was the first thing for us. We wanted big sounds and effects but we didn't want to put anything on this record that we can't pull off live. Luckily for us, we had our sound man in there during the recording of the album so he could write down every pedal we used, every effect, every amp, anything and everything we put on the record so that we could play it during a live show. We wanted our live shows with these songs to be as close to the record as you can possibly get.
Caleb: We refuse to go to most concerts because we know what we're gonna walk into. We'll be completely disappointed and, as opposed to leaving there saying I like the record better, I'll leave there saying I don't even like the record now. It's like it's all fake to me.
Nathan: It's like meeting someone that you admire and when you see how much of an asshole they really are in person you're like, "Wow, you totally ruined it. I wish I never even met you. I always had this fantasy in my mind that you were this cool, gorgeous super model and you're a fucking crazy bitch."
KOL by Wynn
Caleb: Or like seeing some chick on MySpace and then seeing her on the street. It's like, "Woah, that was some damn good lighting in that picture."
Nathan: That or she took the picture like twenty pounds ago.
Kinda like reading a book and then going to see the movie and being completely disappointed.
Caleb: That's why we only watch movies [laughs]. No books for us.