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— by James Montgomery

If you're British, you're probably already familiar with the mystique that surrounds the Kings of Leon. They're the four longhaired, vaguely elfish mountain boys from Nashville who grew up under the strict rule of a Pentecostal preacher (who forbade them from listening to rock and roll) yet still managed to become chain-smoking, hard-partying U.K. rock-and-roll royalty based on the strength of their two albums, 2003's Youth & Young Manhood and the just-released Aha Shake Heartbreak.

If you are American, you may have no idea who the Kings of Leon are. Maybe you opened up an issue of Rolling Stone last month and caught their 16-page fashion spread, in which they made out with models and drank a ton of booze. Or perhaps you've heard their bluesy, hard-truckin' new single, "The Bucket," blasting overhead in fancy boutique clothing stores. But chances are, if you saw the Kings — brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill, and first cousin Matthew Followill — coming toward you on the sidewalk, you'd cross over to the other side of the street. Or call the cops.

Recently, the brothers Followill (cousin Matthew was sick) sat down with MTV News to discuss their nearly nonstop touring schedule, their unique transatlantic take on success and sneaking into Bono's dressing room to fondle his custom shades.

MTV: For the past two years, you guys have pretty much lived on the road. It seems like you've played just about every continent ... except North America. What's been the highlight of all the touring, and how does it feel to finally be home?

Nathan Followill: The highlight has been becoming a much stronger, better band. When we first started, we weren't that good of a band. But when you're playing, like, 180 shows a year, you can't help but get more confident in what you're doing. Or the highlight — maybe kind of a lowlight, actually — was coming home after seeing so much of the world. That's what "The Bucket" is about: the person you turn into when you're on the road. It gets to where you can't even stand yourself, you know? And when you get off the road, you really realize how much of a di-- you really are. It's just about killing that guy off and trying to get back to normal.

Caleb Followill: I think the fact that we played so many shows in between records, we just got comfortable with each other as a band, and as musicians. We weren't really scared to try stuff [on the new album], you know, whereas on the first record we were scared of trying some things.

MTV: So was that part of the reason you decided to work on the new album in Los Angeles? There are a lot of stories in the British press about what transpired out there.

Caleb: Well, L.A. is just L.A., which is L.A. Whenever we're making a record, we're pretty focused on what we're doing. I mean, we still have drinks at night and stuff, but we know why we're there. We worked a lot, but luckily we finished a little earlier than we thought so we had a couple of weeks of a little suntanning. It was good. There were some girls. Like a song on the new album, "Milk," that's about an, um, experience that happened while we were making the record. Um, I love her. It was a good experience, you know, got a good song out of it. Hope she's doing all right.

MTV: But the level of attention female fans pay you here pales in comparison to what you guys get in England. We did an interview with Nathan where he talked about being pretty much unknown over here. Is the difference in fame somewhat disorienting?

Caleb: Everyone over there had such a long time to examine us, and want to make us look like rock stars and making a bunch of stuff up. The new album comes from having a little bit of celebrity on the other side of the world, and dealing with it and reading what everyone thinks they know about you. We got a chance to come back home where no one knew who we were and write a record that's completely honest and completely pure about everything we've experienced.

Jared Followill: The whole thing makes me tired. I feel like it's five in the morning and really it's 6 p.m. But coming home has been great so far. We had a couple of shows in Nashville — that's where we're from so that's usually pretty good — and it went over great. And then we played in, like, Ohio, and it was better than expected.

MTV: Speaking of Stateside shows, there's a whole lot of them lined up, with you opening for U2. Were you scared by the idea of serving as the warm-up act for the world's biggest rock band? And how's it been making Bono's acquaintance?

Nathan: Uh, scared? I don't know if we were scared. I think it was just more of a confidence thing, you know? It's just playing, just touring our way from San Diego across America. I mean, it's a huge deal, getting offered to go open for the biggest band in the world, especially since we didn't even know that they knew us, much less knew our music. We get to play a lot of big places in front of a lot of Americans, which is unusual for us, so it should be fun. But Bono, he loves [us]. No, actually I don't know, uh, Bono.

Jared: [Interrupting] He's definitely a lot taller in person than you would think. Definitely a lot taller.

Caleb: I may or may not have seen some sunglasses in a dressing room that said "Bono" on them. That's all I'm going to say. I mean, maybe they were his, but I doubt it. Maybe someone put them in there. I tried them on, but they were too big.

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  "The Bucket"
Aha Shake Heartbreak

  "Molly's Chambers"
Youth & Young Manhood

  "Red Morning Light"
Youth & Young Manhood

  "California Waiting"
Youth & Young Manhood

  "Wasted Time"
Youth & Young Manhood