“I think people tend to expect a certain sound from us,” says Kings of Leon’s drummer Nathan Followill, “but on this record, we tried to throw them for a loop.”
Indeed, it’s not business as usual on the Nashville-based quartet’s ambitious, eclectic new album Because Of The Times. Where Kings of Leon’s last release, 2005’s Aha Shake Heartbreak, was “a fuzz-encrusted rocket of controlled violence,” as Rolling Stone put it, packed with emphatic two-minute bursts of raunchy guitars, brawny drums, and growled vocals, Because Of The Times finds the Followills (brothers Nathan, Caleb, and Jared, and their first cousin Matthew) opening up, relaxing the rules, and reveling in the joys of their newfound musical freedom.
“We took the limitations off of ourselves,” says frontman/rhythm guitarist Caleb. “We went into the studio with an open mind, thinking let’s do whatever it takes to get these songs to the next level. Because we really have a lot of music inside of us and a lot of different places we can go.”
It would have been easy for Kings of Leon to make Aha Shake Part II and call it a day. That album (along with its predecessor, 2003’s Youth and Young Manhood) transformed these sons of a Pentecostal minister, who grew up traveling with the preacher around the rural Deep South, into indie stars in the U.S. and major rock stars in the UK. In 2005, Harp magazine called Kings of Leon “the freshest breeze to blow through the modern music scene since punk rock turned everything upside down and inside out in the late ’70s.”
But instead of resting on their rep, the guys chose to challenge themselves. “We weren’t scared to try anything,” Nathan says. “I think that’s the difference between this album and the last. We weren’t timid at all. Every song showed us something we had inside of ourselves that we didn’t know existed, which enabled us to be even bolder on the next song.”
To that end, Because Of The Times (the title refers to an annual preachers’ conference the boys attended growing up) contains Kings of Leon’s first-ever album track that clocks in at longer than five minutes (“Knocked Up”), the first song with vocal effects (“On Call”), and the first one you could verifiably call an arena-rock anthem (“Black Thumbnail”). Then there’s the breakneck “McFearless,” the chiming “Ragoo,” the scuzzy “Charmer,” and the waltzing “The Runner” — a song so pretty, it’s damn near a lullaby. “I can sing pretty if I want to sing pretty,” says Caleb, whose slurry Southern cadences were once a hallmark of the band’s sound.
Perhaps because it was the first album the band have made in which they entered the studio knowing exactly how they wanted it to sound, Because Of The Times is Kings of Leon’s most diverse collection yet. Brimming with ideas, it represents a huge leap forward both in songwriting and musical prowess. Though Caleb writes the majority of the lyrics, “this was the first album where all four band members contributed equally and had a say so in every song,” Nathan says. Adds Caleb: “because we were trying to make a different-sounding record, we had to sit back and listen to each other a little more.”
To shepherd them through the process, the Followills turned to their long-time producers Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Ben Kweller) and Angelo Patraglia. “Ethan, man, he knows how to get it out of you — how to get you to perform at your highest level,” Nathan says. “And Angelo wants you to perform at your highest level, but he wants you to have fun while you’re doing it because that comes across in the recording. He’s the one that gets us to step out on a limb and try something that we’d never think of trying in a million years. It’s a great balance.”
This time around, the band told Johns and Petraglia that they wanted to take a more proactive role in the recording process. “We wanted to go for the sounds that we were hearing in our heads,” Nathan explains, “because your record represents you as a band. But when you’re young, as we were when we made our first two albums, we didn’t know that.” However, there’s nothing like touring with consummate pros like U2 (in 2005) and Bob Dylan and Pearl Jam (in 2006), that’ll force a young band to grow up fast.
“On the last night of the Dylan tour,” Caleb says, “Dylan came into our dressing room and he says [here Caleb affects Dylan’s husky rasp:] ‘What’s that last song you guys played?’ And I said, ‘Uh, it’s called ‘Trani’ [a little ditty about transvestite hookers from the first album]. And Dylan goes, ‘That’s a hell of a song.’ “I think that was pretty much the biggest thrill of my entire life.”
So where does one go from there? On tour, of course. “That’s our thing,” Nathan says. “We’re a live band, that’s our bread and butter. We like to get up there and put on a good show. We start rehearsing tomorrow and I’m sure we’ll be kicking ourselves in the ass for recording such hard album parts that we’re going to have to play live every night.” He pauses, then says brightly: “But I’m going to have some huge arm and leg muscles and a bare chest!”
Live On Stage:
If you know me at all (which is probably highly unlikely), you'd know about my obsession with the Kings of Leon. I've seen these go from opening for The Strokes to headlining at Bowery Ballroom to Roseland and now a fall date at Radio City Music Hall - looks like my band is all growns up. They've got a main stage slot this year and their popularity really on the rise. I guess opening for U2 and Bob Dylan will do that for you. Here they are with "McFearless" off their recently released album Because Of The Times....
There isn't a heck of a lot in the way of live shows floating around, but I can recommend their stellar live EP called Day Old Belgium Blues. Here's their set from Bonnaroo from back in '04....
Kings Of Leon - 2004-06-12 - That Tent - Bonnaroo Music Festival - Manchester, TN
Let's go with what I think is their best video for the ultra catchy song "The Bucket"....
Few more to check out, including a couple with Caleb rocking porn-tastic mustache....
King of the Rodeo
Red Morning Light
For more on the Kings of Leon head on over to their official website. I highly recommend circling them on your schedule though, it's a set your not going to mix since they're essentially playing in their backyard.
Also check out Dave The Butcher's KOL bender - head here.
Set Time: 6/15, What Stage, 3:45 PM - 5 PM
Friday, June 8, 2007