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Informed Sinners: Kings of Leon

Highlights from Issue 31: Ode to the South

Photography by JAMES MINCHIN III

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

By Katherine Turman

The following Q&A is excerpted from Issue 31: Ode to the South. This issue is available for purchase on this site

Informed Sinners: Kings of Leon

It’s practically a given in the rock ’n’ roll pantheon: Guitarists worship Hendrix. Bass players love McCartney. Drummers venerate Zeppelin’s late, great John Bonham. But not Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill. “I didn’t hear John Bonham until I was 23 years old,” says the elder Followill of the band, composed of brothers Caleb (vocals) and Jared (bass) and cousin Matthew (lead guitar).

Every kid air-guitared to “Smoke on the Water” on the radio. “No, no,” Nathan says. “I started playing with ink pens in church until I ruined about four of my mom’s dresses. Then I switched to straws. The only influences I had were nameless, faceless church drummers all over the Southern United States. We were in a different church every week, so I’d get to see a different drummer every single week — and I’d watch the drummer the whole time. It was always fun to watch them snicker when this little 8- or 9-year-old kid would walk up to the drum set and get up there and kick their ass. They’d buy me pizza after church.”

Kings of Leon’s rags-to-semi-riches story has almost eclipsed the band’s music and their latest — and arguably greatest — album. Almost. Because of the Times furthers the band’s retro garage rock sound. The songs are imbued with a Southern Gothic-meets-Dazed and Confused sensibility, not to mention rollicking guitars, a hint of sad mystery and an edgy grit, topped by Caleb’s mumbly, rawly impassioned, often plaintive vocals. Their third record is as remarkable as their now-legendary backstory, which is itself a publicist’s dream — and the band’s bane.

As the story goes, the three sons of Leon Followill grew up with their Pentecostal minister-father traveling the deep South as he preached, while their mother, Betty Ann, home-schooled the boys. After their father stopped preaching and their parents divorced, the Followill boys settled in Nashville, giving country music a try before Nathan and Caleb hit New York City to do the industry song-and-dance for record labels.

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