How success almost ended Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon’s “Walls.”

RCA Records

Kings of Leon has won three Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year in 2010 for its hit song, “Use Somebody.” Now, the group is back at the top of the charts. The band released a new album Friday, and it is number one on iTunes this morning.

“Walls” is the first release in three years from the Southern rock sensation. The band became a household name with hits like “Sex on Fire” and “Radioactive.” Anthony Mason visited the band’s members in Nashville as they geared up for a new tour.

In search of a new sound, Kings of Leon recorded their ;latest album with a new producer, in a new city: “We just felt like there was a spark we just needed to try to rekindle,” said Jared Followhill.

Kings of Leon is a family band: The three Followhill brothers (lead singer Caleb, Nathan on drums, Jared on bass) and their cousin, Matthew Followhill, on lead guitar.

Mason asked, “Where did you love of music first come from?”

“Our dad was a travelling minister,” said Nathan, “so church music was a huge part of, I would say, mine and Caleb’s lives, because we’re the oldest.”

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Nathan and Caleb, who moved to Nashville to become songwriters, were signed to a recording deal in 2002. They wanted to name themselves for their grandfather, Leon, but the label had a different idea:

“Yeah, they just wanted us to be called the Followhill Brothers,” Caleb said. “We said we were going to be Kings of Leon, and they said, ‘Uh, that’s the worst band name ever. You’re sabotaging your career!’ And we were like, ‘Wait ‘til we drop the bomb about our little brother and cousin!’”

The label wanted them to work with professional musicians. Instead they brought in then-15-year-old Jared and 17-year-old Matthew: “And they were like, ‘Do they play?’” Caleb recalled. “And we said, ‘We just bought Jared a bass today, he’s learning.’ And they said, ‘Well, what about Matthew?’ And I said, ‘He played a Thin Lizzy song over the phone from Mississippi, sounded pretty good.’”

The Kings of Leon grew up quickly: According to Nathan, Jared and Matt basically became men on the road while touring.

“But Nathan still tries to order for us at dinner and stuff like that,” Jared added.

Mason asked, “There is a point when the younger brothers usually fight back -- did that change the balance of the band?”

“We started pretty early on,” Caleb said. “Things would come to a vote, which I still don’t like that.”

Kings Of Leon - Fans (Amex UNSTAGED) by kingsofleonVEVO on YouTube

The band broke first in Britain, where their third album, “Because of the Times,” climbed to No. 1, and kids started mimicking their look. Caleb recalled one night at a bar: “Someone came up to me and like, ‘Are you some Kings of Leon wannabe?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, guess I am.’ 

“Yeah, it was crazy. We would leave London having played sold-out shows and getting recognized at the airport, and then we’d get home and our Mom would be there to pick us up.”

Their fourth album would break them worldwide: “Only By the Night” sold more than eight million copies. But success brought greater pressure, and some fans accused them of selling out: “Even though you try not to read all that stuff, you start to hear it, and it starts to kind of weigh on you a little bit,” Caleb said.

In 2011, Caleb notoriously walked off stage in the middle of a concert and didn’t come back. The Kings cancelled the rest of their U.S. tour. They told Mason that they were “ready for a break … exhausted … frazzled ... unemployed.”

“If we hadn’t done that,” Caleb said, “I don’t think we’d be talking about our seventh album right now, you know?”

Kings Of Leon - WALLS by kingsofleonVEVO on YouTube

When asked if being family makes it easier to get through troubles, Nathan replied, “Family, it’s a double-edged sword. You fight a lot easier, but you get over it a lot easier, too.”

And the music press is already calling this the Kings’ comeback year.

Does it feel like a comeback to them?

“I think we might have lost sight of why we wanted to be in a band in the first place and play music,” said Matthew. “And I think we just got that back.”

Kings Of Leon - Waste A Moment by kingsofleonVEVO on YouTube

Their new single, “Waste a Moment,” just hit number one on Billboard’s adult alternative chart.

It’s their third number one -- and the first time they’ve done that in nearly six years.

      
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