The return of the kings
Kings Of Leon frontman Caleb Followill talks to ALEX GREEN about ageing, the band’s latest album and missing playing live
KINGS OF LEON are a far cry from the rabble rousers of their youth. The Nashville four-piece – brothers Nathan, Caleb and Jared Followill and cousin Matthew – arrived 20 years ago, apparently fully formed.
Their name became synonymous with a certain youthful freedom and a propensity for the occasional tour bus brawl.
Obviously, things have changed in the intervening years.
“We have had a lot of time with our families,” says frontman Caleb of his lockdown experience.
“It has been great. We have young kids and we’re able to be around and experience things we wouldn’t necessarily have been able to if we were on the road.”
Caleb is speaking from a cloudy Nashville, where he lives with his model wife Lily Aldridge and their young children – a son and daughter.
“We are all ready to get back out there,” he adds with a sharp laugh.
“At the time you might look at it and go, ‘Oh man, I can’t wait to get home’. You get frustrated with the little things here and there.
“Now I find myself looking at the mundane aspects of life on the road and reminiscing.
“Being laid over at a crowded airport sounds pretty heavenly right now.”
Despite being released a year later than hoped, some of the themes of When You See Yourself, the band’s eighth and most recent album and now their sixth UK number one, have only grown more prescient.
Trumpian politics, wildfires and lockdowns all get referenced, if obliquely, in songs such as Stormy Weather and eco-ballad Claire & Eddie.
“This one, more than any other, has definitely given me a little bit of an eerie feeling because some of it just fell into place. It sounds so much like it was written for the things that have been happening and none of it was on purpose.”
But this being Kings of Leon, an enduringly apolitical band, those themes are muted behind impressionistic lyrics.
“If there is something I feel is necessary for me to say, I still try to camouflage it enough to where it doesn’t look like I am shaking my finger in someone’s face and saying, ‘This is wrong and this is right’.”
“I know a lot of people think that when you have a microphone you should take advantage of that opportunity to speak truths. But my truths may not be your truths.
“I have welcomed the fact (this year) that I didn’t have a microphone in my hand and a bunch of people looking at me saying, ‘Come on, tell me what you think about what happened today’.
“Whenever I get back on stage again I want it to be something that is freeing and I want it to be an escape and for people to be able to close their eyes and just enjoy the music, and enjoy the fact we are out there with somewhat like-minded people enjoying something together.”
Elsewhere, on the album, the band reflect on their youth.
Caleb, now 39, spent much of their first five albums writing about angst and sex (the title of their debut was Youth & Young Manhood, and arguably their biggest hit to date remains Sex On Fire).
Now he is reflecting on that time. Golden Restless Age is a shimmering rework of the angular indie they first stormed stadiums and charts with.
“At the end of the day, you will look back at it as one of the greatest times in your life,” he offers.
“That teen angst, that not realising that you are probably about as beautiful as you are ever going to be.
“I look back on when I was 16, 17 years old. I thought I looked terrible and now I see pictures and I am like, ‘Damn man, I looked good’. I had a lot of stuff going for me, a full head of hair.
“But no, I think that is something that is important for my kids. I have a daughter who is eight and she is growing quick. Teenage years will be here before you know it. That is something I want to teach them and not just by song, because they don’t really listen to my music, but just to tell them, just relax and enjoy it.”
Being laid over at a crowded airport sounds pretty heavenly right now
Caleb on missing being on tour