The Kings Of Leon Come Of Age

These Southern rockers are looking good

Music : In concert, CDs

February 24, 2005|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,Sun Staff

The three brothers who make up Kings of Leon were raised in the South by an itinerant Pentecostal minister, and when they would water-ski, they would do so in sweat pants and shirts to keep from showing any flesh. Their mother allowed them to listen only to gospel music on the endless car trips from one Southern town to another.

"We all figured we would end up being preachers," says Caleb Followill, the band's lead singer, on the phone from the band's home base in Nashville. "It was against our religion pretty much to do just about everything you could ever imagine."

These days, the brothers will drop $5,700 on wine and booze in a single night, and their new album contains a parental advisory sticker warning of "explicit content." But within their raw, frenetic music can be found traces of their upbringing, in the regret expressed over a one-night stand or the ambivalence over the fame that is now finding them with their sophomore album, Aha Shake Heartbreak, released this week.

"On the first album, we were writing about things we wish we could have done and places we wished we could see," Caleb says. "Now we're writing about what we are doing, things that are happening. You always imagine all the great things that will happen when you get in a band. And when it does happen, you have to write it down, or you'll forget it."

Kings of Leon have had an easier time finding fans in Europe than in the States, mostly thanks to the adoring English press. A critic writing in Britain's New Musical Express said of the new album, "I fell in love with it immediately." Another critic wrote in The Fly: "It is fantastic, plain and simple."

The Kings' music was first described as Southern rock when their debut album, Youth & Young Manhood, came out 18 months ago. That may have been true then, but with the new album, the band has moved into new territory. Their music is personal, charged, reflective and varied. Some of it is sunny and uplifting pop. Other songs are sharper and tougher.

On the album's first song, "Slow Night, So Long," Caleb sings, "Rise and shine all you gold-digging mothers / are you too good to tango with the poor poor boys." Another, a bouncy number called "The Bucket," finds him lamenting, "18, balding, star, golden, fallen, heart."

Several members of the band weren't even old enough to vote when the first album came out, and still aren't old enough to drink (legally). Caleb Followill is 23. Older brother Nathan, 24, plays drums and younger brother Jared, 18, plays bass. Their cousin Matthew Followill, 20, plays lead guitar. The quartet has grown up quickly, particularly on its sold-our European tours.

"We were drinking all the gigantic beers and having fun with all the girls with the funny accents," Caleb says. "We really appreciate the fine wine and the three-hour dinners. But you have to rest at times and take it easy."

There won't be much time for that. The band will be opening for U2 starting this spring -- perhaps the best opening gig in the industry. Caleb says he hopes the tour will expose more American crowds to his band's music, but he knows he'll be fighting for their attention.

"We realize there will be nights when we're playing to people who are just walking in and people that aren't really paying attention, and we're willing to step up to that challenge," he says. "We love being the underdog, and we love being able to fight our way to the top."

The Kings of Leon are handsome young men, but they'd rather make a name for themselves based on their music. When they first signed to RCA Records a couple years ago, the label reps told them how good-looking they were, and so they grew beards to cover their faces.

"It kind of came back to bite us in the [bum] because then people started talking about our hair," Caleb says. Three of the four band members are now clean-shaven.

Thinking back on those long car rides the brothers endured as children, Caleb said he occasionally heard more than just gospel music. When his mother would fall asleep, his dad would put on Tom Petty or Neil Young. Caleb says that even today he'll write something that will remind him of the music his dad played.

And both parents now are big fans of their sons' rock band, even if Courtney Love once tried to show the elder Followill her chest backstage. "It's good to get the preacher out there," Caleb says, "and scare him a little."

Kings of Leon will play Saturday at the 9:30 Club in Washington. Tickets are $15. Visit www.930.com.

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