01 September 2008

Blood Brothers

Written by Published in Music Interviews

They emerged five years ago, seemingly from some remote hinterland of the Southern US States that hadn’t been touched by modern life since the last time Creedence Clearwater passed through in search of peace and a new pair of cowboy boots. They were unfeasibly young, yet sounded old beyond their years, sporting facial hair the like of which hadn’t been spotted since ZZ Top. They played a raw, punkish type of swamp boogie that was impossibly thrilling.


And it wasn’t just the music. The Kings had a good story to tell, too. The brothers Followill – Caleb, vocals and rhythm guitar; Nathan, drums – had spent their formative years travelling from Southern church to Southern church, eventually supplying the musical background to their lay preacher father’s sermons. When their parents divorced, the brothers moved with their mother to Nashville. Here, Nathan and Caleb began to make a living writing Country and Western songs for others to perform. On the side, aided by younger brother Jared on bass and co usin Matthew Followill on lead guitar, they played rock’n’roll.


Britain was first to notice. Within months, their debut EP “Holy Roller Novocaine” had caused enough of a stir to lead to a first tour. Soon after, their debut album Youth & Young Manhood hit the UK top 5. After a somewhat less focused follow-up album and many tales of Led Zeppelin-like debauchery, the band released Because Of The Night in 2007, an album of astonishing intensity and musical subtlety. A headlining slot at this year’s Glastonbury was their reward. Their fourth album, Only By The Night, shows a band in peak form. Sublime caught up in Paris with Jared Followill during their recent European tour.


S: Are you enjoying Paris?

JF: What I’ve seen of it, yeah! With the new record coming out, there’s been such a lot of press, I haven’t got to see much. But I’ve been here before, so have seen a good bit of it.


S: How did you enjoy your big performance at Glastonbury this year?

JF: Glastonbury was insane – a milestone in our career, really. It was an honour to be asked to headline. Playing in front of 120,000 people makes you very nervous when you’re on stage.


S: Knees knocking, butterflies?

JF: Absolutely! When I walked on stage I felt a rush of emotions. I almost felt I was gonna cry. It wasn’t even because I was so happy or nervous I wanted to cry. It was just that all those emotions came at once.


S: You went down extremely well. Did it feel like that on stage?

JF: It felt great. Well, it felt like we did as well as we possibly could, as a band. But then, what may be a ten out of ten for us wouldn’t even be a seven for a band like Radiohead. We did the best we could, and the fact that people appreciated us was great because we couldn’t have performed any better.


S: Why do you think you were appreciated in Britain earlier than anywhere else?

JF: The kids in Britain are more open-minded because they’re fed a bigger variety of stuff. They’re not just force-fed Beyonce. Whereas MTV never shows a good band. And magazines in America never feature decent bands. I mean, The Raconteurs are pretty big in America but they’re not as big as they should be. Over here, cool bands that people would actually listen are on the cover of the NME.


S: I suppose with your upbringing you weren’t bombarded with that kind of music at an impressionable age?

JF: The fact that we didn’t listen to that corporate sort of stuff definitely helped. The first band that really changed my perspective on music was The Pixies. Once I heard The Pixies, a flood of what I now consider the greatest bands in the world followed. Joy Division, Television, The Clash, The Cure ... And that led me to cool American things we hadn’t been listening to before – like Johnny Cash, and Townes Van Zandt, and all the great songwriters like Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin. And then The Strokes emerged and we thought, wow, those guys are like us! And Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and The White Stripes. We suddenly felt, like, we can do this!


S: Before concentrating on Kings of Leon your brothers played more conventional Country and Western-type stuff, didn’t they?

JF: It was a kinda easy transition for them. I think Nathan was 19 and Caleb 17, so they were pretty young. We’d moved to Nashville, and wanted to get into music, but there was no rock’n’roll scene, so people were like, “yeah, come on over to our house, write a song with us and we’ll see what we can do”. They both had really good voices, and so they’d go over there and write songs, and the songs would be Country. I think all along they knew that they didn’t really like it, but they got paid for it. And they didn’t have to work a real job, so it was cool for them, you know, they’d just go over there, get drunk and write a Country song, then bring it home and put it on a CD.


S: You do very strange things with the bass. Like in the song “Be Something”, for instance, the lines you’re playing are completely unorthodox. Is this a kind of Punk attitude? Do it and it’ll be great and different because you can’t do it?

JF: I’ll tell you how I got into the band… Once I started to delve into more diverse music, I began to made mix-tapes for them. I remember one that had The Pixies’ “Where’s My Mind?”, The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry”, Billy Bragg’s “New England” and a song by Clinic called “Return of Evil Bill”. I could see it kinda opened their minds, and they’d ask me to make more mix-tapes for them. So I made more mix-tapes, and by the time they decided they’d stop writing crappy Country songs and start a band, they asked me to be in it. This was based on no talent at all. I had NO TALENT for playing anything. I was just thrown into it, but they just thought that maybe my musical tastes could further the band along. And it worked out really good. I’m still not a good bass player, but I still know what sounds good.


It does get to a point where you play normal bass lines for so long you almost try to do the weirdest thing that you can do, as long as it sounds good. Mine is definitely not normal bass playing. I just keep trying to play the weirdest things I can and make it sound cool, because I wanna be different.


S: So it’s a case of the young brother leading the elder brothers astray with his strange tastes?

JF: Ha! A little bit, yeah. They taught me about the older stuff, and I teach them about the newer stuff. They love Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, The Ronettes, Tommy James & The Shondells – music that basically influenced what I was listening to, bands like the Velvet Underground. Lou Reed once said that the first song that made him want to be in a band was “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes. I can see that. It’s an incredible song.


S: How do you think growing up the son of an itinerant preacher has affected you?

JF: I think it provided me an inside scoop on things that I would later have been asking myself. For instance, organised religion – now I question that kind of stuff and see the dark side of it, the brain-washing element. I think it’s good that I got to see those mechanisms of it when I was young. But I do agree with the central message religion tries to push forward – that’s to be a good person. What I disagree with is religions that think theirs is the only true way, that everyone else will go to hell. Or when they’re trying to kill people who belong to other religions.


And then of course there was the music, My dad would preach in churches where we would be the only white people in the church, churches where everyone just had SOUL. It was great. Something we’d never really heard before. They had a live bass and live drums, and just their vocals were amazing. That’s where rock’n’roll started. It was really cool. That taught us a lot about what we do now.


S: Nashville is an extraordinarily vibrant place. There are music bars everywhere, live music starts at midday, and the standard of musicianship is incredible, even at lunchtime. How did that affect your attitude to the band?

JF: That’s precisely why some of the things I do on the bass are maybe weird, because you can’t just be good in Nashville, you have to have something different. Everybody in Nashville can play bass. Everybody can play guitar. And they’re all better than you! So unless you’re weird and different you’re not gonna stand out at all.

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