The itinerant childhood of Caleb, Nathan, and Jared Followill is straight out of a Flannery O’Connor short story: The brothers spent most of their youth traveling to tent revivals throughout the Deep South with their Pentecostal-preacher father. They formed the rock band Kings of Leon (which includes cousin Matthew and is named for their grandfather) in 2002, and seven years later, after nearly instant stardom in the U.K., the band is finally charting in the States with its fourth album, 2008’s Only by the Night. Katie Goldsmith spoke with lead singer Caleb (second from left, above).
You grew up with religious music—you were forbidden from listening to anything secular. How big a part does religion play in your music?
We try to keep it separate from our music. I know I make biblical references, but the Bible has some great stories in it, whether or not you believe them, so I’ve always drawn from it. Everyone asks about our faith or religion, and I think we’re all sinners.
Is it true your Grammy-winning track “Sex on Fire” was almost cut from the album?
When it comes time to put an album together, you try all different song sequences, and one or two usually have to go. My choices of songs to take off have become our biggest hits, “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody.” Every one of our singles, to me, have been B-sides. I’m just silly like that.
You’ve been criticized for abandoning the dirtier southern sound of your first three albums for something slicker. Do you think that’s fair?
No, absolutely not. You grow as a band, and you want to spread your wings. Whenever we get going to write another album, people will realize that our goal is always to do something different.
When headlining a festival in Scotland in July, you got angry about the sound quality and ended up smashing your Gibson ES 325—the guitar you’ve credited with giving the band it’s signature sound. What exactly happened?
I don’t know—I think I just made a bad decision. Six weeks in Europe gets a bit long, and you start to miss home. I wasn’t trying to break the guitar, I was trying to break the drums with my guitar. In the process, I broke both of them, so I was pretty heartbroken the next day.
What are your plans while you’re in New York?
My girl [model Lily Aldridge] lives here, so I visit quite a bit. We have a couple of quiet restaurants we like to go to. I prefer the scene in New York much more than in L.A. or other cities because you can be yourself. I don’t like going out and getting my picture taken. I usually try to find a quiet spot to play pool.