From out of the American South comes the great white hope of choogling boogie rock, a bluesy garage band from Nashville called Kings of Leon. But you'd be forgiven if you haven't heard of them. Outside of critics and music-biz insiders, Kings of Leon just haven't stirred up a ruckus in the United States commensurate to the glorious sound of their rock 'n' roll salvation.
Over in England and Europe, however, the Kings of Leon are massive pop stars, reportedly unable to walk down the street without being recognized.
The opening spot on U2's current North American tour is bound to drum up some attention. So, too, should the release of the band's second album, Aha Shake Heartbreak; recent late-night talk show appearances with Leno and Letterman; and--well, in Tucson, at least--a gig this Sunday, April 17, at City Limits.
A publicist dutifully informed the Tucson Weekly that Kings of Leon are not doing interviews on the current tour. Perhaps the band's members are too busy these days with excessive partying and posing with models in fashion shoots. They indulged in copious amounts of both in the March 10 issue of Rolling Stone, while at the same time dismissing apocryphal tales of such activities in the accompanying article.
Doth Kings of Leon protest too much?
To be fair, let's for an empathetic moment try on the shoes of singer-guitarist Caleb Followill, his brothers Nathan (drums) and Jared (bass), and lead-guitar-playing cousin Matthew Followill.
Wouldn't we--after a couple of years as much-gossiped-about subjects of the jaundiced British music press--be totally exhausted from answering questions about excessive partying, hanging out with models and debs, and the band's deliciously juicy Southern gothic back story?
Moderation, or at least modesty in terms of discussing excess, might also serve a band well when it's playing Tucson on a rare night off from supporting U2's spring tour. After two nights of opening for the Irish rock legends in the Glendale Arena, Kings of Leon will venture two hours to the south to introduce Tucsonans to its joyful noise.
Kings of Leon should be familiar with the virtue of temperance, the Followill brothers having grown up the sons of a traveling Pentecostal minister, who mostly home-schooled the boys and disallowed listening to secular music. With their parents, the boys spent more than their share of time on the Deep South revival-tent circuit, settling down only once during their childhood, for a five-year stay in Jackson, Tenn.
The divorce of their parents in 1997--and, according to Blender magazine, the defrocking of their preacher dad--meant the Followills were free to explore the not-so-holy trinity of sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll.
Introduced to the music of the Pixies, the Velvet Underground, Led Zeppelin, the Stones and Bob Dylan, their fate was sealed. By 2000, a manager had come aboard, and record executives were descending on Nashville to hear the band play in their mother's garage. An old-school proverbial bidding war ensued.
The result was that Kings of Leon signed with RCA Records in 2002 and almost immediately recorded a five-song EP produced by Angelo Petraglia and Ethan Johns, scion of the famed producer Glyn Johns (The Who, Led Zep).
The band's debut album, Youth & Young Manhood, was released in the summer of 2003. Within a year, the band had recorded a follow-up, Aha Shake Heartbreak, which was unleashed on the British public last fall, about two months before it arrived in American stores.
Indeed, the band avidly has courted success in Great Britain, and the infatuation has been mutual. No less an august publication as New Musical Express lauded Youth & Young Manhood as "one of the best debut albums of the last 10 years."
Billboard magazine reported that album has sold 765,000 around the world, including some 408,000 units in the United Kingdom, which is enough to make it a platinum record over there. And Aha Shake Heartbreak has sold more than 270,000 units in the U.K. alone since November. But, in comparison, the first album sold a scant 122,000 units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Ultimately, you can't blame Kings of Leon for wanting to pull back a tad from publicity so they can concentrate on playing what we hope will be smokin' shows. The guys may already be showing signs of wanting to avoid the limelight.
"If all people want to talk about is, 'The Kings of Leon do drugs and hang out with models,' I'm going to give it to them straight," singer Caleb Followill told Rolling Stone. "You wanna talk about how you saw me doing blow and such-and-such supermodel. Well you know what my rebuttal is gonna be? 'I couldn't get my dick hard that night.'"