Personalities | Kings Of Leon | Twenty-First Century | Rock

Brothers Caleb (born 14 January 1982, vocals and rhythm guitar), Jared (born 20 November 1986, bass) and Nathan Followill (born 26 November 1979, drums) and their cousin Matthew Followill (born 10 September 1984, lead guitar) grew up in Tennessee’s deep south with the brothers’ Pentecostal preacher father, learning the way of the Lord. But their love of music changed all that, and a decade later they were one of the world’s most recognizable rock bands.

‘Devil’s Music’

It was when Daddy Ivan Leon left the church that the boys began embracing what had previously been seen as the ‘devil’s music’. Eldest siblings Caleb and Nathan played local clubs before coming to the attention of RCA record-label execs, who signed them up. It wasn’t long before the duo, with Jared and Matthew made their first record – an EP titled Holy Roller Novocaine (2003). The provocatively titled record gave fans and critics a brief glimpse of what was to come, with raw versions of future hits ‘Molly’s Chambers’ and ‘California Waiting’.

The UK media in particular were abuzz with the Kings’ back-story and their unkempt Southern look, comparing them with fellow American band The Strokes. ‘The Southern Strokes’ was a description that would follow them round for the next few years.

Making Their Mark

Their first album Youth And Young Manhood (2003) was an expression of the band’s experiences and those around them to date. As the New Musical Express breathlessly put it, ‘This is not a chirpy, good-time romp … rather, the Kings hold up a mirror to the messier side of their childhood.’ The album was a great commercial triumph, peaking at No. 3 in the UK album charts and becoming a fixture in the Top 10.

They stuck to their winning formula for Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004), retaining close friend and production maestro Angelo Petraglia and studio wizard Ethan Johns. It matched its predecessor by reaching No. 3 in the UK. Lead single ‘The Bucket’ arrived complete with video depicting Caleb sans trademark beard and with on-trend straightened hair.

The Kings Of Leon opened for U2 on the US leg of their Vertigo World Tour in 2005, helping them make a mark in their homeland. But their third LP would take a year to come together. Another homage to their Pentecostal roots, the album was named Because Of The Times after one of the many religious conferences the boys attended during their youth. ‘On Call’, the first single, set the tone for an edgier style that was apparent throughout.

Fears of commercial success being sacrificed in the pursuit of creativity were laid to rest when the album hit the UK No. 1 in April 2007, hitting gold (100,000 copies sold) after two bronze efforts. It also managed to climb to No. 25 in the US, offering real hope of a major breakthrough there.

Kings On Fire

The Friday night headline slot at the 2008 Glastonbury Festival preceded fourth album Only By The Night...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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