Spirited Stuff��

Charleston City Paper | October 13, 2005
“We always want to be the underdog because that’s what keeps us going,” says Caleb Followill, lead singer and rhythm guitarist of not-so-underground rockers Kings of Leon. “I had no idea we’d be where we are right now, but I did know that whatever it was that I decided to do, I wasn’t gonna quit until I got the most out of it. As soon as I imagined I would do music I never thought it would be anything less that this.”

Speaking by telephone from backstage at Yale University just before a soundcheck, Followill sounds gruff and kinda distracted. He quickly shakes loose a few cobwebs from the band’s the months and months of recent touring and shifts gears into a brisk conversation about the band he, his two brothers, and one first-cousin formed just a few years ago.

“You know, the shows are bigger and longer,” he says. “People expect stuff from us. We’re not a new band anymore, so we gotta really go out there. We work so hard I think we’re becoming seasoned quick.”

The band first made a splash with the release of a five-song EP titled Holy Roller Novocaine in early 2003. Since the release of their late-2003 debut album, Youth and Young Manhood (RCA), Caleb, 23, drummer Nathan Followill, 26, bassist Jared Followill, 19, and lead guitarist Matthew Followill, 21, have claimed the ladder from the depths of the indie-rock underground to the top of the alternative charts at an astonishing rate — a phenomenon unseen since the rise of The Strokes.

The latest effort, Aha Shake Heartbreak (RCA), was released in Dec. 2004. Produced by veteran studio guy Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Ben Kweller), the songs avoid the slick production tricks of so many contemporary rock albums and stick to what works best: the old-school, raw, unfiltered sound of four guys pluggin’ in and jamming on three-chord tunes.

“It’s always like a mixture of The Strokes and Skynyrd and stuff like that … and the things they say about my voice are pretty amusing,” says Caleb of the critics’ assessments. “They can’t get around the fact that I try to kinda hide what I say, even if I’m gonna put my lyrics in a booklet. I phrase the words where you’re going to have to crack the code and think about it a little bit. They just think that I’m mumbling [laughs]. They always say I’m swishing my mouth with razor blades and Southern Comfort and smoking three packs a day… that just ain’t the case.”

The intentional roughness and garage-bluesy style leans more toward that of the Gun Club, X, and other early ’80s roots-rock punks than anything bombastically retro by the likes of Jet, The Killers, or Interpol. Despite how marketing agents and critics categorize the Kings, one thing is for sure: they possess a certain Southern-ness.

“It has its good things and it has its bad things,” says Caleb. “Just about everywhere outside of America, they love it. People in the U.K. are especially mesmerized by the idea. We were influenced by so much music, and Southern rock doesn’t really have anything to do with it. If people say we are what Southern rock is now; that’s fine. If they say we sounded like old Southern rock … well, that’s not cool.”

The culture of the rural South creeps into the bands sound and Caleb’s lyrics more through their experiences in the church than anything. Religion was a major part of his and the upbringing. The Followill’s father worked as an evangelist preacher in the United Pentecostal Church, leading the family with a strict set of rules and regulations and they traveled around the South conducting tent revival meetings and services.

“We traveled all our lives growing up,” Caleb says. “The pressure started to get to my dad, though. He’d been living that lifestyle for a long, long time. It’s hard on a man to be perfect, I guess you’d say. Listening to rock music and getting involved in pop culture was against our religion at the time, so by the time we started listening to music, I was about 15 or so. My ear was always drawn to stuff that resembled what grew up hearing in the church. It had to have a lot of heart and character. The funny thing is, we have a family of great singers. Every one of us can sing really nice. When I started writing songs in the beginning, I realized if I sang them the way I could sing them, everyone could understand what I was saying. You know, I’m not always trying to attract people when I’m on stage; sometime I’m trying to repulse them. That was my attitude early on. It’s just now getting to the point where I want to get back to my roots a bit and sing songs in a nice voice … in a way that even my mom would enjoy. [laughs].”��

Charleston City Paper

Founded in 1997, the locally owned and operated City Paper is Charleston's only weekly alternative newspaper and the second-largest publication in the metro Charleston area. Reaching a strong mix of active, affluent locals and tourists, the City Paper has thrived...
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