Caleb Followill, beyond-handsome frontman for Southern rockers Kings of Leon, faces the kinds of problems that you or I normally don’t. Those problems have a lot to do with both his looks and his band’s take-no-prisoners approach to the rock and roll lifestyle.
“There’s always fears, man. For all I know, one day I’m gonna be in Japan and some little blue-eyed kid is gonna come up to me and be like, ’Da-da?’ and I’ll go, ’Nooo!’ ” he told MTV News backstage before a gig during South by Southwest (see “Where Was The ’It’ Band? What’s With All The Hip-Hop? Reflecting On SXSW ’07” ), joking about any potential little Followills that may be running around. “And I’m sure we’ll all have to go on ’Maury’ to figure it out. But I’m clean so far, man, I haven’t heard any rumors or anything.”
Such is life for the Kings — Caleb, his brothers Nathan (drums) and Jared (bass), and cousin Matthew on guitar — who, for the better part of four years have partied their way around the globe on the strength of two stompers, 2003’s Youth & Young Manhood and 2005’s Aha Shake Heartbreak.
But perhaps it’s more accurate to say such was life, because on their new album, Because of the Times (due April 3), the Kings sound very much like musicians looking to put their hard-charging ways behind them. Which is exactly how the Followills wanted it — within reason.
“We’ve grown up a little bit because we realize that this band is something that’s very important to us, and we want to do it for as long as we can. And if you’re staying up all night doing drugs and trying to make a scene, you can’t really do this forever,” Caleb laughed. “It got to a point where we all knew we had to slow down. But we still like a cocktail, and we still like pretty girls and stuff like that, but we’re not trying to be the most ’rock star’ band. We hate that stuff. Now we just try to wear black and wear it really tight.”
While Times is full of moments during which you can actually hear the band growing (the spacey seven-minute opener, “Knocked Up,” or the stripped-bare emotional howls on “Charmer”), it’s still a rock album filled with fist-pumping, gut-hammering burners like “Black Thumbnail” and the first single, “On Call.” But it’s also the most sonically adventurous — check the windswept expanses of “Ragoo” — and lyrically amorous album the Kings have ever done. It’s an effort that encompasses both the lurid swirl of a Saturday night and the inevitable hangover on Sunday morning.
“On this record, we went home and we were all by ourselves, and I got to relive a whole lot of experiences and look at relationships that were going on in the band,” Caleb said. “Like if they have a girlfriend, I may be writing a song about them and what road they’re going down. It’s not all about the stuff going on below the waist on this record. Most of it is, but not all of it.”
And with that last quote, Followill sort of tips his hand. Because while Kings of Leon might be a little bit older and, well, a little bit wiser, they’re still the same hard-tourin,’ hard-lovin’ rock and roll machine that they’ve always been. Which is why for every moment of effacement on Times, there’s an equal and opposite moment of pure, unabashed ego. After all, it’s the Kings we’re talking about here.
“In previous years, we avoided coming down to SXSW to play because we didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle. But this year was a good year for us to come because there are a lot of buzz bands here, so we wanted to play a show and let America know that we’re still the best,” Caleb laughed. “Plus, there are a lot of pretty girls around, and we get really jealous. A lot of these up-and-coming bands, they have pretty girlfriends. We feel like we should get the pick of the litter. There are lots of girls around, but not enough.”