CALEB FOLLOWILL is getting emotional at the thought of Kings Of Leon taking the stage again after four years away and so long lost to Covid.
“I don’t know when exactly it’s going to be,” he says in his Tennessee drawl, “when I walk out on stage for the first time. I’ll have butterflies as always but it’s going to take everything in me to not start weeping.”
Like many bands, Kings Of Leon delayed putting out their new album last year because of the pandemic. But in March they will finally release their eighth album, When You See Yourself.
Caleb says: “It was stressful at first. But we are all in the same place and we want fans to hear it, so I’m excited it’s coming out.”
His drummer brother Nathan adds via a separate call from his Nashville home: “The decision to put it out now was our answer to the fact we aren’t able to tour right now. Hopefully by summer we can make the shows we are booked to play.
“People can’t see live shows right now, so the next best thing is new music for them to listen to. Putting it out was our way of saying ‘thank you’ to our fans for their patience.”
People can’t see live shows right now, so the next best thing is new music for them to listen to.
Lockdown of course meant social distancing for the Followill brothers — Caleb, Nathan and bassist Jared — and their guitarist cousin Matthew.
Caleb says: “It’s been a while since we’ve all been in the same room together. It’s also the most time apart we’ve had. We haven’t practised at all, not once. We haven’t even been hanging out with each other.
“I’ll go over to Nathan’s, or Jared will come over here, you know . . . we’ll see Matt . . . but we’re nervous at the thought of playing again. But we’re excited to go and recreate these songs and perform them live.”
It is four years since they released Walls — an acronym for We Are Like Love Songs. That gave them their fifth UK No1 album — but their first US Billboard Top 100 chart-topper.
Caleb says of the new album: “It was the first time we’ve had this amount of time to make a record. When we made this record, we could sit down and reflect. We weren’t rushing it out.
“We got to make sure we were happy with everything and go back to critique little things we wanted to hear in there.”
Nathan stresses the importance to the brothers of spending time with their own young families.
He says: “We’ve travelled so much throughout our lives — it’s been nice to spend this much time with our families, though it’s not been a nice situation to be in.
“I know that once this thing kicks back, we are usually gone for a couple of years. So it’s been home-schooling and baking. We’ve mastered breadmaking!
“Well, my wife has! She makes a mean sourdough now. I just accepted the fact we’re going to be locked in for a while and embraced it. I’ve been enjoying the time with my kids that I normally wouldn’t be getting with them.”
Nathan, dad with his singer-songwriter wife Jessie Baylin to eight-year-old Violet and 21-month-old Oliver, adds: “That’s been lovely. The teaching was a little tough at first. My wife had to brush up after me. These kids are going to be astrophysicists by the age of 15!”
Recorded at Nashville’s famous Blackbird Studio — and reuniting the band with Walls’ British producer Markus Dravs (Coldplay, Arcade Fire) —
Nathan reckons When You See Yourself is their most accomplished album. “It’s my favourite record, for sure,” he says, “and now I’m interested to see what the fans think about it.
“We’ve been teasing song titles and lyrics to fans on social media. We wanted everything to be fans-first to say thanks for sticking around this long. This was the first record we made in my forties,” the 41-year-old adds.
Caleb suggests this is their most personal album in terms of lyrics. Musically, the album is Kings Of Leon at their most melodic. Many of the songs have a cinematic feel. Caleb says: “I try to write and convince myself that I’m writing about something else but a vein of my personal life flows through these songs.
“Sound-wise, Matthew really nerded out and found some cool vintage equipment. He was into organs and synthesisers as I was pulling teeth trying to get him to play more guitar! But when you hear that old equipment, it feels timeless and beautiful.
“A lot of the instruments on this album, you could’ve heard on Pink Floyd or Beatles albums. We really dug deep to find the proper equipment.”
I try to write and convince myself that I’m writing about something else but a vein of my personal life flows through these songs.
Tracks such as A Wave, Golden Restless Age and Supermarket are future anthems. And today the band release synth-rock single The Bandit plus the hypnotic 100,000 People as tasters of the forthcoming album.
Nathan says: “I love 100,000 People. It’s the most melancholy song on the record for sure.” The Bandit is a favourite of mine,” says Caleb.
“It’s got an old Western vibe, about an old bounty hunter. And he’s out to catch a criminal. They’ve developed an admiration for one another. One is the yin and the other is the yang.
"And so they spend their whole lives chasing each other. It is a never-ending game of hide-and-seek and it defines their life.”
The song Time In Disguise is about the red-carpet life the band stumbled uncomfortably into after huge commercial success — and a real standout on the album.
Caleb says: “I always wonder why we are at these events, as they’re not really us. That song came after we got on a plane to go to a friend’s birthday party. It was quite fancy.
“So I started looking around wondering why we were there and I wrote about it. I wanted to paint the picture of this beautiful moment, but at the same time, it’s me just going, ‘Am I dreaming?’
“This all got much bigger than we ever expected. And at first, we got a little scared. But now I look back with such pride. We can’t believe we’re still here and we’re still doing this. We have old fans and we’re making new fans.
“We’re getting a lot of kids that definitely weren’t around when we first started. If we make good music, every new generation will catch on a little bit and hopefully the old fans won’t abandon us.
“The thought of walking out on a festival stage is definitely a little scary right now — but that’s just because I haven’t gotten out of sweatpants in a while!”
We speak before this week’s shocking violence in the US capital — but Caleb and Nathan agree that relations within the band, at least, are the best they have been for years.
In 2011 Caleb had vocal problems, the band were exhausted and had to cancel tours. Earlier days saw frequent arguments and even brawls between the band. But today?
Nathan says: “We’re older and wiser now. We don’t discredit that time back then as there are lessons learned. I think we are all at peace these days.
The thought of walking out on a festival stage is definitely a little scary right now — but that’s just because I haven’t gotten out of sweatpants in a while.
“We don’t put as much pressure on ourselves as far as expectations go. Accolades and awards are nice but not putting as much thought into that kind of thing makes life so much easier. And we are all fathers now. There are enough kids around to be a supergroup. It’s the Kids Of Leon!”
He laughs: “There might be some fighting over who gets to be the drummer from my two kids, but that’s all.”
Caleb — dad with model wife Lily Aldridge to daughter Dixie, eight, and son Winston, nearly two — adds: “Family time is definitely a plus of the pandemic.
“All those little moments I would’ve missed they’re priceless. Now, if I do have to go away for a little while, my kids will remember me when I get home.”
The band have been actively involved in raising funds for tour crews who have struggled as the pandemic forced the postponement of all live events.
Nathan says: “We’ve partnered with a charity called Crew Nation that gets money to crew members and music-venue employees because it’s very hard for that industry.
“We have the phrase, ‘Hurry up and wait’. And that’s kind of where everybody is right now. As a band, though, we’ve all still got that fire in our bellies, which is nice. And we’re very excited to get back out there and play these new songs.”
Caleb agrees, saying. “It’s been tough for everyone but things are gonna change. And the good thing about stepping away means you can fall in love with what you do again.
“We can’t wait to get back to the UK. We consider that our homebase. Our fans in the UK have always been there for us and stuck with us through thick and thin. Just thinking about it is getting me excited.”
- New single The Bandit is out today. When You See Yourself is released on March 5.
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