It’s been a big year for Kings of Leon. Since the release of their fourth studio album, Only by the Night, last October, the Memphis foursome are finally experiencing the success in the U.S. that they’ve long enjoyed overseas. To see how life’s been treating them, we checked in with the three Followill brothers backstage (cousin Matthew was elsewhere) before their sold out show benefiting the University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital earlier this week.
The guys were laid-back and gregarious as they gabbed about their newfound stardom, sobering up and boozing it up,and which bands they are ripping off.
SPIN: You say it took America longer to catch on to you guys than Europe. But now you’re playing Madison Square Garden. Is that big enough to finally say you’ve “arrived” in America?
Nathan Followill: (Laughs) Well, that’s actually mostly the Europeans who bought tickets and are making the trip over.
Caleb Followill: I don’t think we ever expected, and we still don’t expect, to be playing Madison Square Garden every time we play New York. We just kind of wanted to spend more time in America, and it’s hard when your success is bigger in Europe. You spend more time there, and for us, I think we’re just a little homesick. The more that people know about us here, the more our demand will be.
SPIN: Many reviews of the new album have cited a shift from a Skynyrd influence to more, say, the Stones or U2. Is that a result of just growing as musicians?
Jared Followill: It’s a lot of things — growing musically, growing personally, listening to a lot more music, getting turned onto a lot more music. Once you’re in the music industry you know everything six months before the records come out. So we’ve just become friends with a lot of bands and once you become friends with a band you kind of take on their style of music — bands grow together. A lot of the people that we tour with we end up sounding like. And when we see them next, they’ll tell us that they feel like they’re ripping us off.
SPIN: So who’s ripping you guys off?
JF: The Whigs, the Stills.
CF: (Laughs) They’re ripping us off big time!
JF: (Laughs) I mean, they’re not, they definitely not, but they’ll say, ‘Yeah man, I feel like that and I hope you don’t mind.’ Even little things with the Strokes.
CF: We feel like we’re doing the same thing, you know? It’s just kind of one of those things…
JF: You kind of meet in the middle.
CF: If you hear a band and say, ‘Yeah, we want to go on the road with them,’ then obviously it’s because you’re a fan of theirs. And if they say ‘yes,’ it’s because they’re a fan of yours. Then you’re kind of living with each other for a little while — you give your take on what you think they sound like.
JF: U2’s new stuff? Bob Dylan’s new stuff? Blatant rip off.
CF: (Laughs) Yeah!
SPIN: When you’re first starting out, you feel like you’re more influenced by what you listened to growing up. But can you name a point where you started to see the influence of your contemporaries?
CF: Probably after the first record [2003’s Youth and Young Manhood].
JF: Yeah, on our second record [2005’s Aha Shake Heartbreak]. It became more and more evident with each record, but our second record was completely different than our first.
CF: I thought on our first record it was obvious we were going to have this Southern thing because we’re from the South and we hadn’t exactly escaped it at that point, you know? We were still there. So I thought our first record sounded more like Tom Petty. And I thought I tried to rip off Bob Dylan by trying to sing that way a little bit. But definitely on the second album, we had seen the world a little bit. So even though we were still writing that record in Tennessee, in our house, in our basement, I called cigarettes ‘fags.’
SPIN: Now that you actually are rock stars, is it more or less fun to party like a rock star?
JF: You actually party much more like a rock star before anybody knows who you are. Once people know who you are, you become sheltered by everybody that works for you, you know? It’s all roped off little areas where we’re the only people there. Us and the strippers.
CF: We used to be crazy. You could tell by our outward appearance, you know? We used to look the part. We were a band that dreamed of being a rock’n’roll band, and so we were going out, falling off of tables and getting crazy. Now usually it’s us and the opening band, and we play pool and drink spritzers.