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Kings of Leon - Holy Roller Royalty

Author: Andrew Weaver
Monday, September 29, 2008

With their fourth album, Only By The night, Kings of Leon have further cemented their status as the definitive band of the 2000s. 3D’s Andrew Weaver spoke to King Jared.

As the band have grown and developed, so Kings of Leon have become the very embodiment of rock n roll. In their earliest days, on debut Youth and Young Manhood, they were rough around the edges, perhaps a touch uncertain in their conviction. By the time their second album rolled around, they’d embraced debauchery, unleashing a speeding and sexually infused sophomore set that sweated with restless energy. Following up Aha Shake Heartbreak with a more sonically advanced album, Because of the Times showed that the band were capable of more than just barnburners to set crowds alight.

Now, fourth album Only By the Night takes the maturation a step further, with the band seeming completely assured and fully realised. It’s the sort of album that bands dream of making, taking all the elements of what has come before it and embracing and expanding upon them.

Jared Followill, bassist for the band, believes that part of the reason behind this is that the band have grown and developed together – both as four individual people and as a creative force of one, united group.

“When I first joined the band I didn’t even know how to play bass,” he admits. “But Caleb [frontman and guitarist] and Nathan [drummer] really wanted me to be involved just because I was that prototypical high-schooler who made mix-tapes and it would change the way that they heard music.”

It’s something that has continued in the Kings of Leon psyche to this very day – they’re a band who are very much influenced by their peers.

“It’s a lot to do with new music, as it comes out – we try to stay with the times.” Jared corrects himself quickly: “It’s not even trying; we’ll make a record and think that it’s really good, and then [new] bands will come out, we’ll hear a record and think ‘they did great’.”

It means that with each recording session that Kings of Leon undertake they want to make something better than whatever has piqued their interest. “We want to have the best music out there,” he asserts. “I know it sounds lofty – and we don’t think we have the best music out there, so please don’t think that any of us think we’re the best band in the world or anything – but if we didn’t try...

“So, basically,” he explains, “we get inspired by bands we hear. We’ll hear a record that comes out that blows us all away, or we’ll see a live show – we’ll see Queens of the Stone Age play live and we think we need to rock that fucking hard, or we’ll hear MGMT’s record and think we gotta have melodies like that; we need to be that catchy.”

Those two acts are interesting counterpoints – one is all about heavy, locked-in grooves, the other is about the merger of melody and futuristic interplay of electronic and organic instrumentation. For Only By the Night, Kings of Leon utilise a thick bottom end on the likes of Crawl, spaced-out hooks on opener Closer, and raw emotion on Revelry.

“When we make a song it’s almost like we have one specific band in mind,” he outlines of the Kings of Leon recording approach. “We don’t want our records to sound the same and we don’t even want all the songs on the record to sound the same. With every song we go at it in a different way. We can make it slow, speed it up, make it melancholy or like a party song or whatever.

“We’ll even cite specific bands,” Jared continues. He references new album cut Use Somebody as a perfect example, saying it changed into a completely different sounding song during the recording as a result of music that he was listening to at the time. “It was really slow and melancholy,” he explains. “Once we started playing around with it it was a little bit too slow, so...we basically try to make songs sound like other songs that we love but not so that they’re so similar that we get sued for copyright infringement.”

One of the major changes in the Kings of Leon world in the last few years has seen a maturation in the four members lives. No longer the rabble rousers of yore, there’s distinctly less sex, drugs, and rock n roll apparent throughout Only By the Night, with each member now reportedly involved in longstanding relationships, with their copious drug use more controlled these days.

“I think we’re getting older and a little bit lazier,” he jokes. “There was a time when we wanted to be at home and get fucked up every night, but now it’s got to the point where we want to be at home. We use every opportunity we can to get home.”

Instead of recording away from their home with regular producer Ethan Johns, Kings of Leon make Only By the Night at home in Nashville, Tennessee with regulator collaborator Angelo Petraglia and new cohort Jacquire King. Of the decision to not team with Johns once more, Nathan says it was a matter of wanting something a “...little bit more silver, a little bit more polished. Ethan has a really great organic sound; it’s really earthy. What a producer does for us is get sounds, and do a lot on the engineering side, and we’d done that for three records and all our records had the same sound. We wanted to see it would do if we changed it.
“It changed things in a really positive way,” he enthuses, with the band enjoying the process of being able to work on a fresh approach at the studio and then return to their own beds. “It was a lot less stressed. Being at home wipes all that away and makes everything feel real comfortable and no pressure because we get to be with the people that we love.”

WHO: Kings of Leon
WHAT: Only By the Night through RCA / Sony BMG
WHEN: Out now