Charting the rise of one of the most successful rock bands of our times. Christopher Brown tells of the highs of Tennessee’s finest, ahead of their UK stadium tour.
Kings of Leon From: church to champions
It all started for the Tennessee rockers back in 2000 when the three Followill brothers, Caleb (guitar), Nathan (drums), and Jared (bass), as well as first cousin Matthew Followill (guitar) decided to form a band and name it after their grandfather Leon Followill.
The three brothers spent their childhood traveling around the southern United States with their father who was a preacher with United Pentecostal Church. In 1997 their farther retired and soon after their parents separated. The brothers later settled in Nashville with their cousin Matthew and the foursome quickly set about embracing their music and the accompanying lifestyle that had been denied to them throughout their youth. In 2000 the lads decided to officially form the band and were quickly submerged in praise. In 2001 the band were snapped up by MCA Records and started working on growing their popularity and fame. Two years later the band were named in Rolling Stone as a top ten band to look out for.
In 2003 the band released an EP titled ‘Holy Roller Novocain’ and was impressing crowds at every gig they played. They followed the EP up the same year, with their debut album Youth and Young Manhood. The album was met with mixed reviews, the UK and European press gave the album generally good reviews, but the album failed to make an impact in the US and was met with very average reviews. The album sold around 100,000 copies in the US, compared to sales of over 765,000 in Europe, with over 400,000 copies being sold in the UK alone. Whilst Youth and Young Manhood did well in Europe, it would be the bands second album that would put them on top.
’Aha Shake Heartbreak’ was released in 2004 and shot the band to fame in Europe, not least in the UK where three songs from the album were released as singles. The songs, ‘Bucket List’, ‘Four Kicks’, and ‘King Of The Rodeo’, all broke into the UK charts, with ‘Bucket List’ reaching the highest position of the three at 16. The album saw the band change their music style with great success and yet again they received excellent reviews over Europe, Alexia Loundras wrote 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”. In 2005 the album was released in the US and was supported by the band touring with U2. The album and the bands tireless touring helped grow their fame all over the world and it was becoming clear they weren’t going anywhere.
By the time the band released their third album, ‘Because Of The Times’, in 2007, they were on and the radar or every rock fan and had a huge fan base that wanted more. The album saw the band evolve and drop the Sothern States sound they were famed for. The media had mixed opinions about the album but it was generally met with good reviews. A few people did not like that the band seemed to be moving away from their roots and trying new things, Stylus magazine rated it a C- and said, “If they wanted us to take them serious this time around, they’d at least try to be right honest about their ascent into minor celebrity and not keep on with the yokel façade. Without cautionary yarns regarding life on the tour bus or banging supermodels, the bright-eyed, legs-stretched mood of the music rings just as hollow”. The fans disagreed and the album proved to be a success that took the band up yet another level. It reached number one on the album charts in, New Zealand, Ireland, and the UK. It also got to 25 in the US album chart which was a position that proved the band was gaining a massive fan base in their home country. If Aha Shake Heartbreak was the album that broke the band then Because of the Times was the album that cemented the band in a position near the top of the rock mantel.
Many music fans could be forgiven for thinking that Kings of Leon had gone as far as they could go with the ‘Because Of The Times’ album. Were they really the kind of band that could break the main stream and cast a net far enough to become a stadium band? The band answered that question and many more with their 2008 album which was titled ‘Only By The Night’. Many music fans reading this will only know this band because of this album and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. This was the album that sent the band to heights that many bands can only dream of, it won them numerous awards, including a Grammy in the category of best rock song, for the track and single ‘Use Somebody’. By the end of 2009 the band was one of the biggest in the world and had packed out venues like the O2 London arena, and headlined festivals like, Glastonbury and Lollapalooza. The mainstream music industry had their heads turned by this dirty rock band that flew the flag for rock and penetrated every chart they could get their hands on. The band were no longer near the top of the rock mantel, they were perched on top of it.
In October 2010 the band released their fifth and latest album titled, ‘Come Around Sundown’. The album has a more “chilled out” feel to it than a lot of the bands earlier stuff and well received by media and fans alike. The band toured North America and Europe to promote the album and is still touring to date. On 28th may 2010 the band played to 80,000 people at Slane Castle in Ireland, when tickets for the show went on sale they sold out in 40 minutes. The band is penned in to play some huge sold out venues this summer such as, The Stadium of Light ( 17/06/2011), Hyde Park (22/6/2011 and 23/5/2011), and Murrayfield Stadium (26/6/2011). These kinds on venues can not be sold out by just anyone, Kings of Leon are one of the few modern bands that have the ability to grab fans and make them believe that rock music is not only alive, but healthy and ready to take its place at the top of the food chain.