Interview: Kings of Leon
Tue, 28 Apr 2009 14:09:07
"I can't see us coming off the road anytime soon," says Kings of Leon's lead guitarist Matthew Followill. "In the last six or seven years, the longest break we've had was four months long. Even then we were calling each other to book studio time. Some bands will take a year off. I feel like we'd go crazy if we did that. I'd end up being 300lbs, eating all the time and never leaving the house [Laughs]."
Given the band's insanely stacked arena tour schedule, Matthew most likely won't have to worry about that. Kings of Leon live to play. It doesn't matter if it's on stage or in the studio. That's instantly apparent after one spin of their latest album, Only by the Night, or a glimpse at the band performing. Their love for the game is tangible, and it permeates each and every note. In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com, Matthew discussed the band's inspired songwriting process, why they don't sound like U2 and keeping it all in the family.
Only By the Night possesses a cinematic quality. When you begin writing songs, do you have certain stories in mind?
I don't know, man. We get asked these questions, and it's weird because there's not really a straight answer to them. You know? The songs just come. We'll start playing, and they'll come. We don't ever really have an idea of what we want to sound like. Sometimes we'll start a song, and we'll say, "We want this track to sound dark." But it'll typically be a situation where Jared starts with a bass line and we all build around it. The next thing you know, we're in the studio and we have a full song. We simply get the sounds together like that. It really is what it is, man.
So it's based on feeling more than anything else?
Yeah, definitely. I know some bands will try to play something like Sgt. Peppers or whatever. We don't really do that. We seize whatever comes. It's hard to explain. We try to write good songs, and that's about all that goes into it. For the next record, I know we're thinking about maybe going back to the sound of the first two records where we don't use stuff like reverb. I don't know though; that's just something we're talking about right now. It could be different when the time comes to record. You never know. It's one of those things. What comes will come.
The band has evolved logically with each album. You've preserved who you are while naturally progressing and changing in a way that makes sense.
If you're going to stay recent, you have to change. You can't ever really stay the same. That's just the way we've felt—we have to change with the times. That's why we called our last album Because of the Times. We knew it sounded different than the other stuff, but we thought it was necessary to move in that direction with a little bit more of a modern sound. Before that album, we sounded a little older.
It's not necessarily "modern" or "old." Rather, you're simply Kings of Leon. You've found your own sound as time progressed.
I definitely feel that way too. On the first record, we were trying to be punks and badasses. We were nervous about being a band, and that shows. On each record, we became more comfortable. On the second record, we started looking more comfortable. Then, on the third record, we really got comfortable. We knew we had some fans and we weren't worried about it, so we did what we wanted to do. It worked out. I feel like the fourth record and the third record sound the most together. Some people say they don't, but I don't know. I think you're right. We have found our sound, but we'll still try to spice it up and make things different.
It comes with embracing who you are as you tour, record and play more. It doesn't matter what anyone thinks anymore. You're already established very respectably.
That's definitely true. We just listen to music—whatever we like. Caleb likes one kind of music, Nathan likes another and so on. It all comes together. We have different elements in our records. Only by the Night has "Revelry," but it also has "Use Somebody" and "Sex On Fire." All three songs are so different.
People need that because most rock bands don't challenge the audience anymore with a full record that demands to be listened to from start to finish.
When you listen to a record, you should be able to listen to the whole thing without getting bored. That's one of my favorite things to do. There aren't that many bands you can do that with anymore. You're going to get bored and change the song. We're always nervous about that, and we hate that feeling. When we're putting a record together and trying to sequence the songs, we don't want people to get bored after the third song. We try to get good sequencing together. To make an album that you can listen to from start to finish is tough. There are very few bands that can do it. We really try hard though.
It also must be challenging as a guitarist because on Only by the Night you're trying some new things.
I don't know what happened. I bought some pedals that had a bunch of stuff on them. We would rehearse and I would play the parts without the pedals. Then I would plug them in, and it would always sound better. I was like, "I'm bored. I might as well start using the pedals." I get to be creative, so it's worked out. Some people would say, "You sound like The Edge." To me, there aren't that many guitar players that don't sound like The Edge these days. If you use a pedal or any kind of different sound, you're going to sound like The Edge. I hate when people say that though. All I did was start using pedals. If I had the same guitar parts without the pedals, they wouldn't say anything.
You sound more like Jimmy Page though, in terms of incorporating different tones and sounds into each song. It's not really like The Edge. It seems like there aren't any boundaries for what you're willing to try with the guitar.
Right on! I wish more people thought like you [Laughs]. I get flack sometimes from the band. They'll say, "You can't have guitar parts like that anymore. We don't want to hear anymore U2 comparisons" [Laughs]. I'm like, "Dude, whatever." All of those people that say we sound like U2 aren't really listening, and they don't really know music.
Kings of Leon sounds different, so it's easy for people to just drop the "sounds like U2" line.
When we first came out, we "sounded like The Strokes." They were popular, so if you were in a band you were either, "The Southern Strokes" or "The English Strokes" and so on. Now, since we toured with U2, people are like, "They play like U2 now." I don't know.
Whatever happened to just being rock band and doing what you do? People need to be more accepting these days.
Definitely, I'm sure they will be. Two more records down the road, they'll think we sound like someone else. Whatever, as long as they're listening, that's fine [Laughs].
Coming from Nashville, do you feel like you have music in your blood?
You don't really feel like that. As a boy, I just wanted to play guitar because it looked cool. I don't know. I feel like music comes very naturally, if that answers your question at all. It's definitely fun to play music. I've always listened to music, and I've played since I was 11. It comes really natural, and I think it comes natural to all the guys really. We're in a band, and it's kind of our job. Maybe it is in our blood? I'll ask the other guys that question later [Laughs].
Does it help that you're all family?
I definitely think so. I don't know how other musicians have done it. It's weird and it sounds kind of cheesy, but it's really like, "We're family, and we know what's going to happen because we're psychic" [Laughs]. It does feel natural when we're in the studio I look at Nathan, and we'll know where every part fits. Maybe it does help out that we're family. There's definitely a comfort level to know that nobody's feelings are really getting hurt. They can tell me whatever they want to.
Are you constantly writing riffs?
I'm pretty much always writing riffs. It just sucks because there are so many that I just don't remember. We're always playing. We don't even sound check our songs, we just go up. I don't know about the lyrics, but I'd say we could easily put out a double record at some point. Every time we go into the studio, songs come really natural to us. We're lucky. A lot of people get writer's block, and we're showing no signs of that.
How do you feel like your live show has evolved?
Oh God, it's really evolved a lot. We used to be so nervous, but now we're really comfortable on stage. We've got a light show. We're playing bigger places, and we have a lot more songs. We spread the set list out over the four records. You play so much you're going to get comfortable doing this stuff. Our live show is better than ever, and it's only going to get better. Our live show might be the thing that we're most proud of. People say we're great live, but it feels so good because they also say we have great records. They're supposed to go hand-in-hand. Some have even said our live show sounds better than the record, which is the best compliment ever [Laughs].
You have that classic rock attitude mentality and attitude. You put out records consistently and stay on the road. Fans need that these days.
We look at it in a smart way. We know our time could be short, or we could keep going on. You've got to strike while the iron's hot.