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Kings of Leon more than just Southern rock

Hard-partying band expanding its sound on new album
/ Source: Reuters

From New York to London, the Kings of Leon and their bluesy, garage-band music have been hailed as the vanguard of new Southern rock.

Just don’t expect the quartet from Tennessee to go along with it.

“Yes, we write songs about cock fights and guns and we have beards, but that does not mean we are Southern rock,” Jared Followill, the bassist and at 18 the youngest band member, said jokingly in a Reuters interview.

Whatever you call their music, the band — Jared and his two brothers Nathan and Caleb Followill — has been riding a wave of fame since its first release in the United Kingdom in 2003.

They have drawn praise from music heavyweights Mick Jagger, Elton John, and U2, who invited the Kings to open for them on their U.S. tour beginning this month.

Their first full album, 2003’s “Youth and Young Manhood,” sold a solid 127,000 copies in the United States, but reached 600,000 outside the country, mostly in the United Kingdom, according to the band.

The Followills set off a frenzy in London, where their raucous concerts, hard-partying ways and dalliances with supermodels landed them regularly in the tabloids.

Getting more attention in the U.S.The U2 tour, as well as a recent appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman and an upcoming slot on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, have helped generate in their own country the kind of excitement they enjoy overseas.

A 16-page photo spread of the reed-thin, shaggy haired foursome romping with models in Rolling Stone magazine has not hurt their rock n’ roll image either.

“There’s so much stuff that that wasn’t in there. They used the bare minimum,” said Jared, smiling at the memory of the photo shoot at a New York mansion. “There was debauchery.”

Like the Southern rock popular in the 1970s, much of the Kings of Leon’s music evokes such legendary groups such as the Allman Brothers or Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Other comparisons to bands such as the Rolling Stones, The Strokes, The Velvet Underground and even the post-punk Joy Division show the Kings of Leon are more than just a knock-off of the hard-driving guitar bands from the 1970s.

The brothers grew up in a Southern gothic world that could have been drawn from the pages of a William Faulkner novel. Their hard-drinking father, a traveling Pentecostal preacher, toured the family through the Bible Belt, forbidding them from listening to the rock legends to whom they would later be compared.

They formed the band named for their father after the family settled in Nashville, adding cousin Matthew on guitar in 2000.

“We play rock and we’re from the South,” Matthew, 20, said. “But I don’t think we sound like Southern rock.”

Little time for rest
Their heavy tour schedule gives the band little chance to rest at home in Tennessee in the house they bought together after their first album.

That house was where the Followills drafted the bulk of their second album, “Aha Shake Heartbreak,” which showed a more layered, nuanced sound than the songs of the first album and could help them shed the Southern rock label.

“I think that’s a big reason why we changed our sound a lot for the second album,” Jared said.

Released late last year outside the United States, “Aha Shake Heartbreak” has boasted sales 450,000 copies internationally. The album was released last month in the United States to strong reviews, and early data from Sound Scan put sales at 34,000.

Singer Caleb’s lyrics on “Aha Shake Heartbreak” draw heavily on the band’s newly found fame, from the longing for home on “Rememo” to the cautionary “Soft,” a lament about male performance problems with a supermodel brought on by too many drugs.

The bandmates worked hard on the new album to expand their sound, exposing themselves to a multitude of influences.

“We listened to more music, we toured a lot longer. Just kind of grew up a little bit,” Matthew said.

And if this album doesn’t kill the Southern rock image?

“I’m sure on our next one we’ll change again as drastically as we did on this one,” Jared says.