Kings of Leon ride back today with Mechanical Bull, a stripped-down album that harkens back to their hard-charging (and even harder-partying) heyday while still conceding to their recent run as Grammy-winning, arena-filling rock stars.
In short, it's exactly the kind of record Kings fans have been clamoring for, one that's gritty and growly like Because of the Times or Aha Shake Heartbreak, yet brimming with radio-ready hooks and stadium-sized choruses, ala their massive Only By The Night. And bridging the gap between their past and their present was precisely what the band intended to do when they began recording Bull in their Nashville studio: After surviving the difficult Come Around Sundown era, the Kings are finally comfortable with their place in the rock stratosphere, and as such, they were determined to make their record on their terms.
"We were able to take a year off, and step away from it for a second, and actually all got to miss what we did for a living. We bought an old paint factory in Nashville, and converted it into a studio, and we were able to go in there and make a record at our own pace," drummer Nathan Followill told MTV News. "There was no pressure this time around; we weren't coming off the heels of a multi-Grammy winning, multi-million selling record, it was 'OK, we can make the kind of record we want to make. ... We all started having fun again."
And you can tell. On songs like first single "Supersoaker" or the searing "Don't Matter," the Kings sound positively recharged. There's the cocky swagger of "Family Tree" and "Coming Back Again," too, which serve notice that they still consider themselves the best band in the biz. Yet, on Mechanical Bull's mellower moments — songs like "Beautiful War" and "Wait For Me" — they also reveal a world-weary side, that kind of thing that can only come from having made it to the top, fallen off, then pulled yourself back up again. It is honest, it is affecting, and it is the Kings at their most powerful and complete.
So, in honor of their career-spanning new album, MTV News is going back to where it all started: Our first interview with the Kings Of Leon, shot in New York City in March 2003. When we caught up with them that day, they had just finished mastering their debut disc, Youth & Young Manhood, and though they seemed rather mystified by all the hype surrounding them, there were still hints of the cocksure attitude that would make them superstars. Simply put, they knew they were destined for greatness, or at the very least, a great time.
They joked about inter-band battles ("When brothers fight, they fight," Caleb snorted) and the bevy of groupies they'd begun to attract on both sides of the Atlantic. There were stories of smoking joints and playing Country & Western bars, of growing up on the road with their evangelizing father, and of trying to figure out where they'd be sleeping on this particular night. And, oh yes, the moustaches were in full effect.
Here's a look back at the Kings in their (very) early days — MTV's original "You Hear It First" piece on the band, and a never-before-seen interview clip — to show just how far they've come in their decade-long career ... and to remind their fans that they've never truly strayed from their roots, they've just gotten bigger. Now, they're headed home, and Mechanical Bull is the proof.