At Kings of Leon’s pinnacle, they were rock ‘n’ roll personified: a multiplatinum fourth album, “Only By the Night,” in 2008, lingerie models and rumored riders of excess that read like a pharmaceutical shopping list.
Their 2011 mega-tour should have undisputedly confirmed the Followills — brothers Caleb, Jared and Nathan, and cousin Matthew — as rock’s royal family. Instead, it ended in self-inflicted regicide, when frontman Caleb delivered this gutter-style mid-show abdication in Dallas: "I'm gonna go backstage, and I'm gonna vomit; I'm gonna drink a beer, and I'm gonna come back out and play three more songs."
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He never returned; the tour was over.
But after their two-year hiatus, the Kings are back to reclaim their throne. The Nashville-based band’s sixth album “Mechanical Bull” — which dropped on Tuesday – certainly seems a return to form, with all the rawness and frank storytelling lyricism of the band’s early albums.
“There’s a conscious effort to have a little bit more energy on this album,” says bassist Jared Followill, who opens up about childhood rebellion, LSD experimentation and riding a mechanical bull – naturally.
The album is called "Mechanical Bull." Do you have any experience of riding one of those?
A couple. I did one at this party called the Neon Carnival Party in California at Coachella. And I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that rode it correctly with one hand in the air. Everybody else was using two hands and would be like, “Man, it’s so easy. I stayed up there for like 30 seconds.” And it’s like – “because you cheated!”
Did you have a beer in your hand?
Yup. And tequila in my mouth.
You’ve been known to enjoy a drink. Are you a happy or aggressive drunk?
I’m a weird robot drunk, like, nobody knows when I’m drunk. I can drink a lot and I rarely, rarely ever slur my words, much less fall down or anything like that. I’ve had conversations with people, and I’ve been told that I’ve had conversations with people for like 30 minutes, and I’ll wake up and they will tell me what we were talking about and I’ll be like, “I do not remember that in the slightest bit.” And they’re like, “You seemed so sober!” And I’m like, “Dude, I was beyond. I don’t remember any of that.” So I’m pretty weird — I should probably go to the hospital for that or something.
Was the hedonism of your early days a rebellion against your religious upbringing?
Probably not consciously, but it was definitely like an animal that had been let out of a cage and allowed to roam free. I feel like every single person I know who grew up in the United Pentecostal Church, if they ever get out of it, they go crazy for at least a few years. You’ll see them out and they’ll either have ridiculous hair or the girls will dress so inappropriately. I don’t want to say a word that will get me into trouble, but the girls are completely out there.
So you're saying the girls go kind of slutty?
Yeah, exactly. I get so nervous nowadays knowing what’s politically incorrect or not. I don’t know whether I can say slutty anymore. I got nervous so I just said, “inappropriate.”
Your love of rock music from the early ages is in stark contrast to church music. Did it form part of your escapism?
Yeah, it was almost in a sense like when you said earlier “was the hedonism part of a rebellion?” That wasn’t so much consciously as maybe rock music felt rebellious to us. Because growing up, we weren’t allowed to listen to anything. Our parents would let us listen to music from the '50s and '60s because a lot of the themes were toned down. But we would hear stuff every once in a while. I remember hearing sneak peeks of Nirvana and stuff at friends’ houses and even like being a young kid in fifth or sixth grade hearing Oasis or even Bush and people like that and thinking, “Holy shit, that is awesome!”
If you hadn’t had that meltdown in 2011, would you have continued with the hedonism, or did you need that?
I think at that point, we weren’t even that hedonistic. I feel like we just drank. When people talk about our drug days, they think, “Oh my god, those guys were doing drugs constantly!” and we really weren’t. I wouldn’t say we had never done a drug or anything like that — obviously we smoked weed and stuff. Even in 2011, we did drink a lot but I think that the reason why the meltdown happened wasn’t necessarily because of drinking.
How much were you drinking? What kind of drugs were you taking?
People think we were huge druggies — we did acid one time. People would see us and be like, “Man, those guys must be on acid. … They’re on MDMA.” Stuff like that. We would try stuff once to see what it was like and be like, “No I don’t like that. I would rather smoke weed and drink beer.”
Tell us about that one time then...
It was awful. There is a good reason I only did it once.
Tell us more. Where was it?
A U2 afterparty that ended up being a masquerade ball which still scars me to this day. It was the scariest place I’ve ever been. Except for when we walked in, it was a masquerade ball where all the masks started turning into monsters. We said, “That was the worst idea!” I don’t think I will ever, ever do it again. At that point, I thought I might repent and go back to church and quit the band.
All brothers squabble, so who causes most of the arguments? What’s the most rock ‘n’ roll blowout you’ve had?
There has never been a fight that’s been to the end of the fight. It always gets broken up. So a few punches here, a few punches there. But there’s been like glasses thrown against the wall and guitars broken but you have to understand that this is four people in the same room as each other for 12 years straight. There’s been no stabbings or cuttings or anything like that. We’ve done pretty well.
Speaking of sibling rivalry, you must have been pretty keen to sleep with as many girls as humanly possible. Did you ever get into any funny situations where you were going after the same girls as your brothers and cousin?
No. And I definitely did not try to sleep with as many girls as possible. I wasn’t going for the Wilt Chamberlain thing. I’m really weird about that. I have trouble drinking after people, like if someone took a drink of my drink, even if it’s full, I usually won’t finish it.
I’m not saying you would share girls. I was just wondering if you’d ever been in a bar together and you both fancied the same girl.
[Laughs] I thought you meant going after them. Going after! No, I mean, I’m sure it happened at some point or another and I’m sure as you can guess, I won!