Kings of Leon

Kings Of Leon wres­tles with fame as the band charts new multi-plat­inum achieve­ments.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - by dAvid bAudeR ComeAroundSun­down

THE Kings Of Leon took more than mu­si­cal cues when they opened a con­cert tour for U2 a few years back. They learned that am­bi­tion is not a dirty word. That les­son is ev­i­dent on Come Around Sun­down, the rock band’s first col­lec­tion of mu­sic since the hits Sex On Fire and Use Some­body made them Grammy-win­ning stars. The al­bum cover’s palm trees re­call the Ea­gles’ Ho­tel Cal­i­for­nia (16 mil­lion copies sold) and the mu­sic in­side is epic and invit­ing.

“If the world is look­ing for a big band from our gen­er­a­tion, we at least want to give it a shot,” said 28-year-old singer Caleb Fol­low­ill, one of three broth­ers and a cousin in the group named for his grand­fa­ther. “We’ll put our­selves up there against any­one be­cause we’re very com­pet­i­tive and we’re fam­ily. Yeah, we’ll give it a shot. I’m not afraid to at least try.”

The ad­mis­sion cuts against the grain of an am­biva­lence to­ward suc­cess that has run strong in the rock ‘n’ roll world, co­in­cid­ing with its di­min­ished in­flu­ence as a force in pop­u­lar cul­ture, and the Kings’ own wrestling with good for­tune.

The Bea­tles and Elvis Pres­ley never thought twice about want­ing to be big stars. The at­ti­tude is dif­fer­ent to­day, per­haps dat­ing to Bruce Spring­steen’s pulling back from his Born In The USA star­dom and, es­pe­cially, the sus­pi­cion that Pearl Jam and Nir­vana felt about pop­u­lar­ity. An un­der­ground ethos took hold. Most rock artistes pre­fer be­ing part of a sub­cul­ture and do not make the ef­fort to break through to a wider au­di­ence, said Brian Hiatt, se­nior writer at Rolling Stone mag­a­zine.

“It has kind of messed with fans’ heads and con­fused fans about what is ac­cept­able and what is not,” he said. The qual­ity of work al­most doesn’t mat­ter; many fans will sim­ply dump a band when they be­come pop­u­lar, he said.

For four al­bums, the Kings Of Leon were un­der­ground dar­lings in the United States, with more main­stream ap­peal over­seas. Things changed with the Only By The Night disc in 2008. Buoyed by the hit songs, it sold north of six mil­lion copies.

That messed with the Nashville, Ten­nessee-based band’s heads. Fol­low­ill told Spin mag­a­zine that they got big­ger than they wanted to be.

“You feel like you’ve done some­thing wrong,” he told the mag­a­zine last De­cem­ber, in a quote he’d live to re­gret. “That woman in mum jeans who never let me date her daugh­ter? She likes my mu­sic. ... Not cool.”

Kings Of Leon were ap­proached to have their mu­sic cov­ered on the Fox tele­vi­sion mu­si­cal se­ries Glee and turned down the op­por­tu­nity. Hiatt can see where the band is com­ing from. “If you want to be a rock star, you have to keep your cred­i­bil­ity,” he said. “You need to be of­fend­ing some­one.”

Fol­low­ill ac­knowl­edged re­cently that the pop­u­lar­ity ini­tially scared him, mak­ing him won­der if he had lost his edge. That is when he thought back to his time spent with U2, one of the few re­main­ing rock bands that can fill a sta­dium yet re­main a cre­ative force.

It is not a bad life, trav­el­ling to gigs in plush jets in­stead of drafty vans. “You have to step up to the plate and say: ‘All right, do I have it in me to be one of the biggest bands?’ ” he said.

“Even though that’s a lofty goal, you have to come to terms and say: ‘Can I take the pres­sure?’ We all agreed that we could. There are def­i­nitely times where we are sec­ond-guess­ing and won­der­ing why we thought that be­cause there is so much neg­a­tive that comes along with the pos­i­tive. Peo­ple are go­ing to hate you and peo­ple are go­ing to want to see you fail be­cause you reach a cer­tain level.”

Any re­main­ing self-doubt was not ev­i­dent in the mu­sic. Kings Of Leon do not fall prey to an in­die rock small sound, es­o­teric for the sake of be­ing so. Gui­tars soar – U2 is a handy ref­er­ence point here, too – but Fol­low­ill’s dis­tinc­tive rough croon pre­vents edges from be­ing smoothed away.

Yes, there are naysay­ers. The web­site The Zeit­geisty Re­port seemed vis­i­bly an­gry at the size of the band­wagon: “They’ve be­come the band that vac­u­ous id­iots and bim­bos think is ‘edgy’ – only they’re any­thing but now.” But ini­tial re­views have leaned pos­i­tive. “They’ve made an al­bum with an old­fash­ioned com­mit­ment to great­ness, a de­ter­mi­na­tion to fashion some­thing bold and orig­i­nal,” wrote Neil McCormick in the Tele­graph of Bri­tain.

The Fol­low­ill broth­ers Caleb, 31-year-old Nathan and 24-year-old Jared grew up as the sons of a fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tian min­is­ter who trav­elled around the South. They sought big-city en­ergy in record­ing the new disc in New York. The band, which also in­cludes cousin Matthew Fol­low­ill, 26, tends to kick around mu­si­cal ideas in sound checks or in the stu­dio, with Caleb re­treat­ing to write lyrics when they set­tle on a tune they like.

Caleb’s par­tic­u­larly proud of the song Back Down South, where the band in­vited friends to sing and add a fid­dle. It il­lus­trated the strengths of us­ing the stu­dio as an in­stru­ment of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, an ap­proach he would like to ex­pand upon in fu­ture record­ings.

Their fa­ther re­sisted rock ‘n’ roll when his sons were grow­ing up, Fol­low­ill said, and now he is one of their biggest fans. Caleb also is pleased to be mak­ing some­thing of the fam­ily name. Be­fore, Fol­low­ills mostly were known for paint­ing houses.

“We’ve still got a lot of fam­ily paint­ing homes,” he said. “But they’re wear­ing Kings Of Leon T-shirts while they’re do­ing it.” – AP n Kings Of Leon’s re­leased by Sony Mu­sic.


The Fol­low­ill clan: (from left) Nathan, Jared, Matthew and Caleb.

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