UNCUT Q&A with Caleb and Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon:
You’ve put an even greater emphasis on atmosphere and texture this time, rather than just letting it rip. What was behind that decision?
CALEB FOLLOWILL: Whether or not our fans are ready, we just felt like if we don’t record it now, we’re never going to, so let’s go ahead and try it. Then, when we put the new stuff up to the other songs, they fit and it didn’t feel forced. There are a few people getting scared and thinkin’ that our sound is going into something different. I think it always will go into something different from album to album. If people get scared and think that they don’t like something about what we’re doing right now, it’s not like this is gonna to be the way we make music forever.
NATHAN FOLLOWILL: I think on the first listen it just seems like a slower record in the sense that people are used to us comin’ out of the gate and knockin’ your front teeth out. “Boom, here’s the Kings of Leon with a new record. Let’s go fuck shit up.”
This is the first time Ethan Johns hasn’t been in the studio with you. What was behind that decision?
NF: We knew this record was definitely gonna be our bold attempt at trying to make a record that wasn’t necessarily obviously Kings of Leon. And with the first two records with Ethan, as soon as you heard the first note of any song, you could tell it was a definitely Kings of Leon song, just based on the sound that Ethan got. So, going into this record, we knew that we wanted to step away from that sound. We just realized that not very many bands ever get the chance to make the fourth record, so we might as well have fun with this one. And man, we had a blast making the record – got all the sounds we wanted, and the songs were recorded exactly the way we wanted them. So we really feel confident about this record, because it’s the first one we had our hands in beginning to end.
What were you going for here compared to previous albums?
NF: Each record you wanna make not only better than the last but different enough to where it doesn’t feel like people are buying the same record over again. We could have easily picked one great thing about those first three records and made four songs with each of those in mind and basically release a record that we knew would please any fan of Kings of Leon. But Because of the Times pushed us in the direction we were headed as a band.
On “Use Somebody,” it sounds like you’re entering Arcade Fire territory…
CF: I’m glad you said Arcade Fire and not Coldplay [laughs]. The meat of song was written on tour. When I came up with “I could use somebody,” I didn’t know if I was talking about a person or home or God. I felt immediately that it was a big song, and it scared me away. Then, when we were writin’ the record, Matthew kept sayin’, “What’s that song, man?”, and I acted like I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then, finally, I went, “All right, we’ll do it,” and as soon as we started playin’ it, the producers looked up and said, “Whoa, that’s a good song.” I was like, “OK.”
NF: I could hear some Arcade Fire-esque stuff on there, but this is just us spreading our wings. All these new sounds and this new direction that it might feel like we’re going in, this is where we’re going naturally.
“Crawl” is your first overtly political song. Who are you addressing?
CF: I think that just came from us bein’ a band that pretty much grew up in Europe, and we couldn’t really enjoy the success that we had because every time we went to a restaurant, everyone looked at us like we were these people that came from a country that supported war and supported all the terrible, terrible decisions and mistakes that were goin’ on in America. Everyone in fucking country music and Green Day and all these other people were writing songs about America, so we refused to write anything political. But I always knew if I wanted to ever do it, I was going to do it like Rage Against the Machine—it wasn’t going to be some ballad. If you really believe in something, you should be able to scream it from a mountain. But all of my songs are about five different things, usually. It’s just talking about how someone can just come in and fuck everything up and then they’re gone, and everyone else has to deal with the consequences.
What current band impresses you the most?
CF: Definitely Radiohead. They get it right every time, and they do it different every time. That’s something we’ve always tried to do – mix things up a little bit.
How have you grown from album to album?
NF: When we made Youth & Young Manhood, Jared was 15 years old. That was the first music we’d ever made in our lives, and that was the only kind of music we knew how to make. And then, Aha Shake Heartbreak came along and we were a little more comfortable with our instruments and ourselves, so we upped the ante a little bit. Then, with Because of the Times, we had toured with U2 and Pearl Jam and Bob Dylan and got to play in these huge arenas, we started thinkin’, “Man we need to start making music that’s gonna sound good in a sweaty club for 300 kids but will also sound great in Madison Square Garden,” or wherever. That became a factor in the music we were making, and this record is just us not being scared to try anything—any sound, any tempos, any vocal effects. We really felt like if we never make another record, out of the four records we’ve made, this will be the one that either gets the job done or it doesn’t.
INTERVIEW: BUD SCOPPA