Five years passed between Kings of Leon’s previous album, “Walls,” and the band’s recently released album, “When You See Yourself.”
That may seem like a long gap between albums. But in reality, Kings of Leon had the album finished in 2019 and were ready to begin the touring cycle behind “When You See Yourself” with some special shows in spring of 2020. But then the pandemic hit, and the album release was put on hold and tours were canceled. But the situation wasn’t all bad.
“We were so used to the, after you finish the record, you just slowly start your press and then play little shows and then it’s the world tour. So we were all geared up for that,” Kings of Leon singer Caleb Followill observed in a mid-July phone interview. “When it did all stop and we started to realize that that wasn’t going to be the case, it actually in a weird way, was educational in a good way for us. We were like I kind of like putting in all of the hard work of making an album, then like pausing and sitting back for a second instead of diving straight into it (touring) and wearing ourselves out. So there was some good to go along with the bad.”
The band, which includes three Followill brothers Caleb, Jared (bass/keyboards) and Nathan (drums) and their cousin, Matthew Followill (lead guitar/keyboards), appears to have gone into the pandemic and come out on the other end in a decidedly good place. The writing and making of “When You See Yourself” found the band members perhaps more in sync than ever.
“I feel like with this album, any song Ideas I would bring in or if Jared had some musical ideas or Matt, whatever, it felt like we were all kind of listening to the same kind of music,” Caleb Followill said. “Back in the olden days – not that old – but like the ‘Come Around Sundown’ days (of 2010), Jared was a young buck out on the town. So when he would come into the studio, you could tell he had been listening to music that had some dance to it. Meanwhile, I was kind of, I was in New York and I wanted to be home, so I was listening to like country music. So we were all bringing in our own new different things and we made it work and it ended up being an album I love. But with this one, it felt like we were all on the same page when we went in there. So it cut the conversation down a lot. We all just kind of knew what the vibe is we wanted and a lot of times, when someone had an idea, there would be more than one person singing it at the same time. So it was nice.”
Credit: Matthew Followill
Credit: Matthew Followill
The recording of “When You See Yourself” saw the good times continue, even though the sessions with producer Markus Dravs lasted 10 months.
“We enjoyed making this record,” Caleb Followill said. “We enjoyed being in the studio and we weren’t worried about the time and it felt like we were home because we were in Nashville and we were going home to our own beds every night. So there was a relaxed atmosphere, and we all had pretty high standards going into this and had a pretty clear picture of what we wanted to do.”
“When You See Yourself” finds Kings of Leon emphasizing a more moody and atmospheric side to the band’s sound on tunes like the “Claire and Eddie” (which has a bit of a Pink Floyd-ish feel), “Supermarket” and “When You See Yourself, Are You Far Away” (both of which make nice use of some chiming tones). Meanwhile, fans of the band’s more straightforward Southern-hued rock material get four strong rockers in “The Bandit,” “Stormy Weather,” “Time In Disguise” and “Golden Restless Age.”
As the making of “Come Around Sundown” suggests, things haven’t always gone so swimmingly for Kings of Leon, but the Followills have navigated their way to major popularity while continuing to bring new dimensions into their music from album to album.
The band, which played its first official band gig at Atlanta’s Smith’s Olde Bar, initially found success in the United Kingdom, where the first Kings of Leon full-length release, “Youth and Young Manhood” (2003), was lauded by Britain’s “NME” music paper as “one of the best debut albums of the last 10 years” and sold more than 750,000 copies overseas. The band’s popularity in the UK and Europe continued to grow with its second album, “Aha Shake Heartbreak,” and the third CD, 2007′s “Because of the Times.”
In the states, though, album sales were far more modest, and it wasn’t until the fourth album, 2008′s “Only by the Night,” that Kings of Leon broke through, as “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” became hit singles.
Probably the most uncertain period for the band came in touring behind “Come Around Sundown.” Most famously, there was a 2011 concert in Dallas where Caleb Followill abruptly stormed off stage in the middle of a show. The band canceled the remaining dates of the tour, and there was plenty of speculation that Kings of Leon had crashed and burned that night.
Instead, after a short break, the group got right back to work on a new album, 2013′s “Mechanical Bull,” which topped Billboard magazine’s Top Rock Albums and Top Alternative Albums chart and earned a Grammy nomination for best rock album. “Walls” followed three years later and became the band’s first album to top the all genre Billboard 200 album chart.
“When you look back to 2010, 2011, those times, that’s, we were pushing ourselves and working ourselves non-stop, really hard,” Caleb Followill said, shedding light on the issues that led to his actions in Dallas. “We didn’t give ourselves much of a chance to have some normalcy. I feel like now that we have that and now that we’ve all matured and have families now, it really puts it all in perspective. It makes you realize how good you have it. We’re all very fortunate.”
Kings of Leon are just now beginning the tour cycle to promote “When You See Yourself,” and will be minus Matthew Followill for the first leg of the tour, which stops at Atlanta’s Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood on Saturday, Aug. 7. He’s staying home with his wife following the birth of the couple’s new baby. Touring guitarist Timothy Deaux is filling in, with Chris Coleman taking on Deaux’s role as touring guitarist. That won’t stop Kings of Leon from trying to deliver the kind of dynamic show expected from top arena-level bands, although because the band will be playing in daylight on some of the amphitheater dates, the visual production may be a bit diminished.
“It makes it a bit more challenging because you’re dealing with the sunlight, trying to get the timing right to where the lights are most effective at the right times,” Caleb Followill said. “So for an amphitheater tour, I think a lot of times it really comes down to writing a good set list, writing something that’s going to keep people excited. After coming out of what we’ve all just been through, I believe people are wanting to have a good time. So yeah, I think for us it’s just about trying to play the songs that are going to make people happy and keep our energy up and yeah, hopefully the new songs that we’re going to be throwing into the set list are going to bring a whole new vibe that we haven’t had in the past.”
Kings of Leon
With Cold War Kids. 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7. $36-$110.50. Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood, 1932 Pryor Road, Atlanta. 404-443-5000, www.livenation.com.
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