‘DO YOU want us shirts off, or shirts on?’ quips Nathan Followill, Kings Of Leon’s drummer, as he sinks into a sofa with a sizeable glass of wine.
I’m meeting one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, deep backstage at Leeds Arena. In just an hour or so the quartet — three brothers and cousin Matthew Followill — are due on stage, kicking off the UK leg of a huge new tour. Nathan, 37, and guitarist Matthew, 32, seem like the jokier half of the band, while beardy frontman Caleb, 35, and bassist Jared, 30, are more intense. But they all share a dry, Brit-friendly sense of humour and seem to feel like a band rejuvenated.
‘It’s like with this record and this tour we’ve found the fountain of youth,’ says Nathan. ‘This is the first tour in a while where we’re all very super-pumped, every night.’
The story of KOL is an irresistibly romantic one. The young Followill brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared spent their childhoods roving around the southern United States in a purple Oldsmobile, following their Pentecostal preacher dad; until, in 1999, it was time to start a band.
‘We literally kidnapped Matthew from Mississippi,’ says Nathan, ‘Took Jared out of high school, I quit college and we just…’
He snaps his fingers, indicating the popularity of their first records, pulsing with raucous energy. The boys were famous for their love of fist fights (including one backstage at the 2009 Brits), firecrackers and illicit pleasures.
But then came behemoth single Sex On Fire, stadium gigs and Grammys, and with them inevitable charges of selling out. In 2011 Caleb had a meltdown on stage in Dallas, slurring and rambling, before the band cancelled the rest of their tour and announced a hiatus.
Their 2013 LP Mechanical Bull was met with ambivalent reviews. Yet their seventh album, last year’s Walls, marked an ambitious new chapter — and in Caleb’s case, a new-found ability to cope with fame, it seemed.
‘Some people handle it better than others,’ he says. ‘But after you get over that it’s fine. I’m not one of those reclusive people who will be f***ed up over it.’
For Walls, the band enlisted the help of producer Markus Dravs, who pushed Coldplay and Arcade Fire to their limits. How would the Followills, famous for their love of practical jokes, respond to the discipline? The result was a more leftfield and varied record, which saw lyricist Caleb open up the creative process to his family. Find Me is inspired by a haunted hotel, while Over is a drug-referencing track that seems to be written from the perspective of a hanged man.
‘It was important to ask the rest of them, “Am I saying something that’s going to embarrass me down the road?”’ says Caleb. ‘A lot of times, they were like, no, you need to say that stuff. Don’t try to be cool. Sometimes it’s not cool to be cool. Sometimes you’ve got to be real.’
All the band are married (Caleb to Victoria’s Secret model Lily Aldridge, whose father, the influential artist Alan Aldridge, died last week). And all but Jared are now fathers, too. The days of family fisticuffs and truly wild partying (they still have their moments) are, purportedly, long gone. But the excitement of being in a band, it seems, will never go away.
‘You know for a while, when you’re young, I don’t think you really see yourself,’ says Matthew. ‘Now we’re a little older it’s just like, “Wow, I can’t believe that we get to do this!” It’s an amazing thing, we’re so lucky.’
And with that, the not-so-jaded rockstars get ready to go on stage.
Kings Of Leon are on tour and play BST Hyde Park on Jul 6, kingsofleon.com
Followills their lead – Could we see the next generation of Followills wind up in a band one day?
Caleb: I don’t suggest it because for all the fun and everything, there is a lot that goes with it. You saw the pitfalls that we got into and a lot of bands do. I don’t want my daughter doing what Jared was doing when he was 15! No way.
Nathan: I want my daughter to stay far away. I want her to go to college and get a nice degree.
Matthew: It depends if they’re any good! I don’t want to have to hurt their feelings…