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Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon

Rock group

In a short time the Kings of Leon moved from being a highly regarded indie band, beloved by critics, to that of a major label artist opening for U2. The band members also moved from the conservative religious background of their youth to the heady atmosphere of rock 'n' roll concert halls in the United States and Europe. Dave Hilson wrote in the Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, "The rise has been so fast that the band have barely had time to soak it all in. They skipped playing dingy little bars in front of a handful of people, instead playing in front of thousands." With two successful albums and a large following in the United Kingdom, the Kings of Leon were poised to create a new form of Southern Rock in the new millennium.

Caleb, Nathan, and Jared Followill learned about rock 'n' roll while traveling the American countryside with their evangelist father during the 1980s and 1990s. "It was against our religion pretty much to do just about everything you could ever imagine," Caleb Followill told Stephen Kiehl in the Baltimore Sun. While their mother listened only to gospel during the family's long road trips, the boys learned to love the Rolling Stones and Neil Young. "We all figured we would end up being preachers," Followill told Kiehl. Both Nathan and Caleb Followill would also learn to play music in their church. Their father, however, became an alcoholic and was later defrocked.

Scott Galupo of the Washington Times wrote, "Eventually the temptations of skirt-chasing, whiskey and rock 'n' roll proved irresistible," and by 1998 the Followill brothers—Caleb on guitar, Nathan on drums, and Jared on bass—had settled in Nashville. In 2000 they decided to form a band. Next, they asked their cousin Matthew Followill (lead guitar) to join the band, borrowed the name "Leon" from their father and paternal grandfather, and the Kings of Leon were born. "What emerged," wrote Galupo, "is a very crafty hybrid—hillbilly new wave, you could call it."

In 2001 the Kings of Leon auditioned for RCA in their garage. "That was the most nervous I ever was in my whole life," Matthew Followill told Hilson. RCA signed the band, and Nathan and Caleb Followill began writing songs. Two years later, Rolling Stone called the band one of the top ten bands to look out for. "So we kind of got off to a running start," Nathan Followill told Hilson.

The Kings of Leon recorded the EP Holy Roller Novocaine in 2003. "For all their throwback styling," wrote Amanda Petrusich in Pitchfork, "the Kings of Leon are exceptionally twenty-first century." The band also started earning its reputation on the concert circuit in the 2003 season. Calling the Kings of Leon's music "a hybrid of soaking wet garage-rock with straight-no-chaser twang and swagger," Tim Slowikowski also noted in Pop Matters how far the band had strayed from its Tennessee home and father's religion. "They seem to have more in common with that other Tennessee export, Jack Daniels, whose description of distillery ('charcoal mellowed') could be a synonym for their sound."

In 2003 the Kings of Leon released their first full-length album, Youth and Manhood, a sprawling album that borrowed and expanded on the sounds of Southern Rock. "The Kings of Leon are the sons of a preacher," wrote MacKenzie Wilson in All Music Guide, "and their debut album … is their hymnal of rock & roll redemption." The album's old-style-meets-new-style rock 'n' roll met with critical success, and while the band had a difficult time finding its footing in the United States, it was immediately embraced in Europe. Youth and Manhood would sell 765,000 copies, over 400,000 of those in the United Kingdom. "Using and abusing passionate gospel," wrote Betty Clarke in the Guardian, "the Kings of Leon are the kind of authentic, hairy rebels the Rolling Stones longed to be."

In 2005 the Kings of Leon released their second full-length album on a major label, Aha Shake Heartbreak. David Fricke in Rolling Stone called it "a fuzz-encrusted rocket of controlled violence: the first Clash LP with AC/DC brawn and American Gothic backbone." The album also showed the band growing in new ways. "With the release of their wonderful second album," wrote Alexia Loundras in the Independent, "the band have proved they can succeed where others have failed. Like a rattlesnake inching out of its skin, the Kings too are shrugging off the Southern cliché."

At the beginning of 2005 the band also received a major boost when they were offered the opening slot in the upcoming U2 tour. Steve Morse of the Boston Globe asked rhetorically, "'Do you think Kings of Leon are really worthy of being the opening act on the coming U2 tour?' The answer—after Sunday's electrifying set at the Paradise—is yes." The tour, along with the popularity of the single "The Bucket," promised to widen the band's popularity in the United States. "Fame is where you are," Nathan Followill told Brian Garrity in Billboard. "Obviously we would love to be huge in America, but we've had a blast touring the world."

For the Record …

Members include Caleb Followill (born in January, 1982, in Memphis, TN), vocals, rhythm guitar; Jared Followill (born on November 20, 1985, in Memphis, TN), bass; Matthew Followill (born on September 10, 1984, in Oklahoma City, OK), lead guitar; Nathan Followill (born on June 26, 1979, in Oklahoma City, OK), drums.

Formed in Nashville, TN, 1999; singed with RCA, 2001; released EP Holy Roller Novocaine and album Youth and Manhood, 2003; toured North American and United Kingdom, 2003; opened for U2, 2005; released Aha Shake Heartbreak, 2005.

Addresses: Record company—RCA, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036, website: Website—Kings of Leon Official Website:

The Kings of Leon's fast rise to fame has led to much hype in the press, sometimes obscuring the band's music. "It's all about our hair, our partying and our dad," Caleb Followill told Loundras. "And then right at the bottom there's this little blurb about our music." The band nonetheless confessed that they, at least partly, were to blame for their image. "We were young and dumb," Caleb Followill told Loundras. "And we really did have a truly good time." But the group's high-energy live shows, along with their commitment to traditional and southern rock, have revealed a band dedicated to the music, not press clippings. "You start to realize," Followill told Loundras, "that if you don't take it a little easier, you're going to be a flash in the pan—you're going to be gone tomorrow. If we can just keep our sanity, I think that one day we'll be a really, really great band."

Selected discography

Holy Roller Novocaine (EP), RCA, 2003.

Youth and Young Manhood, RCA, 2003.

Aha Shake Heartbreak, RCA, 2005.



Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, August 28, 2003.

Baltimore Sun, February 24, 2005.

Billboard, February 10, 2005.

Boston Globe, March 1, 2005.

Guardian (London, England), July 4, 2003.

Independent (London, England), December 3, 2004, p. 22.

Washington Times, February 28, 2005, p. B5.


"CDs: Kings of Leon, Amos," Rolling Stone, (February 22, 2005).

"Kings of Leon," All Music Guide, (February 22, 2005).

"Kings of Leon," Pitchfork, (February 22, 2005).

"Kings of Leon," Pop Matters, (February 22, 2005).

"Kings of Leon: Youth and Young Manhood," Guardian, (February 22, 2005).


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