In a year when every other act was decked out in skinny ties and white belts, Caleb, Nathan, Jared and Matthew Followill appeared to be the reincarnation of classic rockers like Creedence Clearwater Revival or Lynyrd Skynyrd. They looked every bit the rebellious sons of an unforgiving south, complete with long locks and facial hair.
“In our first album, I really wanted to piss people off,” explains lead singer Caleb Followill.
The band’s debut, Youth and Young Manhood, may not have angered people per se, but it did manage to shake up the international scene, winning Kings of Leon devoted fans from the United States to the UK.
Two more releases would follow; the band unleashed Aha Shake Heartbreak in 2005 and followed that up with 2007’s Because of the Times.
Seems like a pretty ordinary progression to most. But what is so noteworthy about Kings of Leon’s career path is the absolute evolution of their look and sound.
Within the span of this nearly completed decade, these four musicians would shed the skin that catapulted them to fame. They’ve achieved this with a similar flair to Radiohead – pairing change with musical integrity. The end result is Kings of Leon’s fourth release, Only by the Night.
The first single from the new material is “Sex on Fire,” which was released in August. From lyrics to melody, the track carries with it the same passion that its title does.
You’ll know it’s Kings of Leon when you hear it, and yet, “Sex on Fire” manages to sound more polished and mature than everything else the band has done before. But for Followill, that’s exactly what he was going for.
“I think we’ve always had a goal to broaden our sound from album to album,” he says.
Doing so has even garnered Kings of Leon a famous following that includes actress Liv Tyler. She has been a staunch supporter of the group from day one.
“Liv happens to be a big fan of ours,” admits Followill. “Every opportunity she can, she comes to shows.”
Tyler has even befriended the guys, gifting them with CDs from her personal collection.
Despite their glamorous connections, Kings of Leon are still a homegrown group of guys that put the music first. That is due, in part, to each of them keeping the other grounded. Unlike other bands who sometimes succumb to the white-hot glare of celebrity’s flame, Followill and company maintain a harmonious family unit on and off the stage.
That “family that plays together” mentality is also helpful while on tour. Success has taken this band from its native Tennessee to exotic locales like Spain and Italy. While he revels in the international travel, Followill is pretty quick to tell you that there’s no place like home.
“It gets kind of depressing to leave the comforts of your own country for too long,” he explains.
Such comforts include the music that inspired the Kings of Leon sound. Followill’s unique vocal style is reminiscent of one of his heroes, legendary singer Tom Petty. He also divined an artistic spark from a well-known group of British rockers.
“During this album,” he says, “I listened to a lot of Radiohead.”
Yet, Followill’s tastes also include the doo-wop groups that he loved growing up.
Even with a cadre of accolades behind them, Kings of Leon are steeped in earnestness when it comes to what the fans think of the new material.
When praised for their latest release, Followill responds shyly with, “Can I quote you on that?”
Only by the Night is currently available. Kings of Leon will perform Oct. 15 at Nokia Theatre. For more information, visit kingsofleon.com.