Three questions for Kings of Leon

Caleb Followill talks about the transition from being the preacher's son to opening for U2.

Published March 30, 2007 6:00PM (EDT)

It's not exactly your typical origin-of-a-band story: Nathan, Caleb and Jared Followill grew up wandering the South, raised by their father, Leon, an itinerant Pentecostal preacher, and their mother, Betty Ann, who home-schooled them. Secular music was forbidden in the Followill household, but the brothers would secretly listen to the oldies station late at night, the radio tucked safely under a pillow. Everything changed when Leon stopped preaching and divorced Betty Ann.

Loosed from their strict lives, the Followill boys decided to form a band and play the music that had been forbidden to them. They enlisted cousin Matthew Followill as an extra guitar player and off they went, quickly recording an E.P. and hitting the road. The British music press latched onto the Followills' Gothic back story and started championing the band's debut album, 2003's "Youth and Young Manhood." Opening gigs for Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan and U2 soon followed, as did another critically acclaimed album, "A-Ha Shake Heart Break," in 2004. Prior to the release of the band's third album, "Because of the Times," Kings of Leon's lead singer and main songwriter Caleb Followill spoke with Salon about how his band's story has been told and the lingering traces of his past.

-- David Marchese

Why do you think people were so intrigued by your story?

In the U.K. they have this infatuation with the South and also we were so young and our dad was a preacher. It became such a big thing. At one point [the press] even stopped believing that we could be family -- it just carried on and on and on. There's a lot of stories that come from those magazines in the U.K. -- the tabloids. That's how they do it; they try to get you with their words and hook you into the story. They made us sound like gorillas.

Was it hard to cope with the change to your lifestyle?

When you're on the road that long, after a while it makes you not family, it makes you just four guys in a band with egos and mind-altering problems -- girl problems and all that shit. We came back home and finally got to clear our heads; we weren't surrounded by people who wanted to get us fucked up and wanted to give us anything we wanted. We had to become people again.

Once you get out there, you work so hard and you have to take things to keep you going. Your lifestyle changes; your ego gets bigger. You turn into an asshole. But now we've realized there's certain things you have to do if you want to be able to stick around. That's one good thing about going on tour with big bands: You get to see that the thing that keeps you going is a little bit of luxury. Every now and then I want to sit down and have some wine that I shouldn't be paying for and some good food. You can still have pretty girls without going to the dive bar. It's better when the place has lights so you can see who you're going home with.

What do the people you grew up with think of what you're doing?

There's a lot of jealousy. They try and paint it as concern but that's not really the case. People that know us best know we haven't changed that much. I mean, we've changed, but we still have good hearts and want to have a good time. I think everybody's secretly proud of us; they just don't want to admit it. We were like the preacher's kids, like the little rock stars of the church. Then we ended up looking like we turned our backs.

I don't think we've given up on our values. I think now more than ever we feel good as people, ... and feel good as far as making music. As far as religion goes, we're all sinners. But I think it's a good thing that we at least know we're sinners. Most people don't know they are.

By Salon Staff

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