A minute into Kings of Leon’s latest single, “Bandit,” it’s evident that the veteran band of brothers is time traveling back to its salad days of 2005’s “Aha Shake Heartbreak.”
“Bandit,” which is from their latest album, “When You See Yourself,” combines a big, brawny rock riff with a soaring lead, which smacks of the period when the Nashville, Tenn.-based act was one of the most exciting groups in the country.
After experiencing a VH1 special honoring the Pretenders in Atlantic City, which featured Kings of Leon a decade ago, Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde gushed while hanging out at a casino club post-show.
“I absolutely adore Kings of Leon,” Hynde said over the din of a forgettable cover band. “Once in a while, you get a real rock band like them, and it’s a precious thing.”
Compliments from the prickly Hynde are as infrequent as laughter from Donald Trump. Hynde was spot on. There has been a dearth of real rock bands and even fewer rock stars during this century.
Kings of Leon happen to arguably be the last real rock stars. Brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill and cousin Matthew Followill were larger than life even though each member of the band was stick thin during their rise. The only rockers slimmer than Kings of Leon circa 2011 were the Rolling Stones.
During a candid chat I had with vocalist-guitarist Caleb Followill in 2011, the eccentric entertainer admitted that he suffered from an eating disorder. “We’re all on the really thin side,” Followill said. “But we’re eating much better, and we’re healthier. I used to have to deal with anorexia.”
Not many guys, particularly rock stars, drop such revelations. “It was just something I was going through,” Followill said. “I didn’t eat, but I’m alright now. But I like to have a good time. I like to drink.”
Kings of Leon exhibited typical rock star behavior. The band, while at its peak, quit while performing in Dallas in 2008. Followill left the stage midway through the set saying he would return shortly but never did.
Groupies and supermodels were part of Kings of Leon’s scene. Followill’s take on the latter induced laughs. “They come backstage and drink your wine, and, worst of all, sometimes they bring guys with them, and they drink my wine.”
When asked about the former, Followill was remarkably open. When the subject of the negatives of sleeping with one strange fan after another came up, Followill laughed. “The biggest downside is that they’ve been stealing my clothes. I’ll get drunk and fall asleep, and I’ll wake up, and everything is gone. That’s happened a lot.”
Followill had a solution after a young lady pilfered a $1,200 jacket. “I thought it looked so cool,” Followill said. “Obviously, she thought it looked really cool, too. I got it for a (photo) shoot, and then it was gone, stolen. … I solved that problem. I have a big security guard outside the hotel door.
“He knows what a girl is wearing when she goes in, and he inspects her when she leaves. That way a girl can’t leave with anything except what she came in with.”
Kings of Leon had the rock star bit down, but they backed it up with songs and memorable performances, which led to unimaginable success. The four-time Grammy winners hit the top of the rock echelon courtesy of infectious hits such as “Sex on Fire,” “Notion” and “Use Somebody.”
Each of those tunes reached the top of the Hot Modern Rock charts. The band’s combination of Southern rock and modern angular rock was a winner.
The aforementioned “Aha Shake Heartbreak” yielded modern rock hits such as the timeless “Bucket” and the hook-laden “King of the Rodeo.” U2, Bob Dylan and Pearl Jam tabbed the band as tour support during their early days.
“All those guys in those bands were great,” Followill said. “I remember when we opened for U2, I realized that the guitar (line) from ‘The Bucket’ is from their “Bullet the Blue Sky.” I told Matthew (Followill) that the reason they asked us to come on tour with them was to kick our ass for stealing from them.”
When asked if Bono and Co. thrashed them about, Followill laughed and said the Irish legends were too short to fight Kings of Leon.
The Followill family had it all but ran into a creative slump during the prior decade, and they’ve bounced back with “When You See Yourself,” which dropped this month.
The new songs are moody, deep and catchy at their core. Much like U2, Kings of Leon, who performed at the Gorge Amphitheatre during their last tour in 2017, hasn’t had a personnel change during its long run, which commenced in 1999.
Say what you will about Kings of Leon, but the group, which has gone five years between albums, has always been uncompromising and able to deal with issues within the band.
“We’re survivors,” Followill said. “I don’t see us breaking up. Why would we do that? We’re family, and we have a great thing going on here.”
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