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Vertigo 2005: Kings of Leon are Ready for What's Next

To U2 Fans: "Thanks for Giving an Opening Band a Shot"

@U2, March 19, 2005
By: interview by Scott Calhoun


Kings of LeonAfter a wild week taking on New York City to promote their sophomore album, Aha Shake Heartbreak, the four young men who are the Kings of Leon set out due west to tear up the countryside. Playing on the road for most of March, sometimes with four shows in a week, they're making their way to San Diego by March 28 only to turn around and do it all over again. This time, however, it will be to open for U2 on the first leg of the Vertigo//2005 World Tour.

They're from Tennessee. Two of them are teenagers. They are all Followills: brothers named Nathan, 24, Caleb, 22, and Jared, 17; and Matthew, 19, a first cousin. Leon's the name of their father and paternal grandfather, and dad's a former Pentecostal preacher. Right now they are much hotter in Britain than in America. Their 2003 debut album, Youth and Young Manhood, has almost sold double platinum in the U.K., and rock stars of the likes of Mick Jagger, Elton John, Chrissie Hynde, and Noel Gallagher came to their shows. Oh, and Bono came, too.

They have only recently started listening to U2's music. They don't know quite what to expect from touring with U2, but they are confident and eager to attend rock school, U2 style. Nathan, the drummer, talked to @U2 recently from Oklahoma City.

@U2: What are the Kings of Leon doing this month to get ready to go out with U2? It's a pretty big commitment you're facing in a few weeks, right?

Yeah, totally. We're just, I don't know...Luckily for us we are just so busy and we've got so much stuff going on right now that I guess it's kind of a blessing in disguise that we don't have a lot of time to sit around and get worried or anything like that.

What's it mean to you to be on tour with U2?

We're excited, it's going to be great. We're going to play awesome sized venues. To get to watch them every night will be amazing. It's just definitely going to be a great chapter in the book of our lives.

How are you getting ready to play out to crowds of 20,000 every night?

It's going to be a little intimidating and a little crazy. Luckily for us we played Glastonbury last year, and we played right before Oasis so there were probably 100,000 people there. That was our first show for the new record we played since we left the studio, so that was kind of a good ice breaker for us in the sense that was probably one of the bigger crowds we'll ever see.

I don't think the size of the crowd is ever going to intimidate us that much or make us that worried. We'll still keep our tiny little set together and keep all our instruments within earshot of each other. We're looking forward to it and we're just going to have fun.

Are you planning to pull out any special tricks for the tour?

I don't know...we're just going to play it by ear and see how it goes. There might be a couple of surprises in store.

Do you plan to stick around for each night to hear U2's set?

Oh yeah, definitely. As much as possible.

You're not afraid of overdosing on U2, are you?

Aww, man, look -- they've been around for a while so I think they're pretty good at keeping people's attention.

A lot of the online talk among U2 fans is about how they just aren't too thrilled about seeing you guys. They just want to hear U2. How do you prepare yourself to go play for people who aren't there to hear you?

I want to say that's a no-win situation, you know? The worst-case scenario is they come to the show and we surprise them and they become fans, you know?

Are you going up to Vancouver to practice with the stage design before opening night in San Diego?

I don't think we are. We've pretty much got shows all the way up until the tour starts. We're going to be pretty busy.

So you're just going to show up on March 28 and that'll be the first time you'll see the stage?

I think so.

You don't have any idea of what it looks like?

No earthly idea.

Has U2 talked to you about what to expect while on tour with them?

No. I mean, we met the guys and hung out with them in England a few months back, but that was before the tour had been announced. You know, we really haven't had that much contact or talked that much about tour. I mean, they are all nice guys and we're all nice guys so I'm sure we'll strike up quite the friendship.

Why do you think you got this gig? What did U2 like about you?

[Incredulously] Man, I don't know. I don't know if it's the fact that we are all very close and we are family oriented and we've stuck close to home. And they are all, you know, Irish lads that I think have stayed pretty active but have stayed in Ireland and kept it as close to what it used to be. I don't know...that's the million dollar question. It could be for any reason; we're just glad that there was a reason.

A lot of people say going to a U2 concert is like going to a really intense church service. Does that make sense to you, how a rock concert can be like a church service?

Definitely. With the emotion and the anticipation and the, you know, expectation of everyone there. I mean, you're going for a purpose and you believe in it enough and you're going to get that. That purpose will be the rat and the cheese, so I can totally see how those two can be tied together.

You guys have played a lot of church services, haven't you? You used to play before your dad would go on.

[Laughs] We've been to a lot of church services. I was the only one who ever played in church. I played the drums.

Do any of those experiences come back to mind when you're out there playing, now?

Not really. We're just having a good time with each other. We'll hear someone mess up and crack up at it and you're the only person that really caught it. No one will really hear it and you kind of look around and there's always one band member who caught it and you're like, "Yeah, you thought you got away with that one."

I read that when you were growing up you weren't allowed to listen to U2. Was that the case?

Yea, not just U2, but secular rock music in general. We weren't allowed, you know, it just wasn't a part of our lives. We went to church all the time, so pretty much the only music we heard was in church. We never really listened to the radio that much, never bought CDs or tapes. We were kind of oblivious to the whole world of music outside of the church.

It sounds like, at the time, someone thought secular music wasn't very good for you?

Well yeah, it was just that, I guess the stories that they told or the message behind the music was viewed as tempting, or whatever.

I guess things have changed since then?

Rock music is great -- that's how I make a living! It's awesome. It's good that we get to discover stuff now that came out 30 years ago and that we weren't tainted by all these horrible music scenes that went by. Most times, you know, you have to endure a lot of shitty music to get to a generation of great music. Luckily we can now sit back and just kind of select the greatest albums from the greatest bands and actually kind of boost our musical pedigree.

Who are you talking about? What albums are you listening to?

The Band, they're amazing, with their several records, like Big Pink. The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds -- absolutely amazing.

Is U2 in the category of "greatest bands" for you, or are you still getting to know their work?

Yeah, see, with U2, we haven't, um...Joshua Tree, I bought that in the past year or so and just kind of started discovering it. That's one of the U2 records all my friends had that I never had growing up.

That's the thing that excites us the most about this tour is we are going to get to discover U2 on the largest stage in the world. It's going to be mind-blowing and I'm sure we're going to be totally floored. It's just going to be a great learning experience.

There's four guys in U2 and there are four guys in your band. Do you feel there are any other connections between the two bands?

It's awesome to see the four of them as a unit to have been able to sustain for this long and still make music that is relevant and people want to hear what they have to say and want to hear them grow. It's very uplifting to a band like us that's only been around for a couple of years to have that model in front of you saying, "It can work; you can make great music for 20 or 30 years; you don't have to go through a shitty period; and always try to do better on the next record than you did on the last record." They are just a prime example of a band that has been able to withstand every genre and are still some of the coolest motherf--kers in music.

Is your dad coming along on the tour?

Dad, I'm sure, will rear his head at a couple of shows.

Will he stick around for U2's set?

Definitely. All our friends are all so excited, they can't wait. It's going to be great.

Have you guys heard of the "U2 opening band curse"?*

No, and I don't think I want to hear it. Let's save that one until it can be discredited and we won't even know what we are discrediting.

For the U2 fans who are looking forward to seeing you, do you have anything to say to them?

Man...thank you for coming out. Thanks for coming out and giving an opening band a shot. It's cool. We're always the same if we're playing to five people or if we're playing to 50,000 people. It doesn't matter, we get up there and play as loud as we can and we're honest with everything in our music and our playing. U2 fans are obviously great fans of music and I think any true fan will at least give someone a shot. So thanks for giving us a shot and hopefully they can be Kings of Leon fans as well.

The Kings of Leon will open for the 28 shows on the first North American leg of U2's Vertigo//2005 World Tour, starting in San Diego on March 28 and ending in Boston on May 28.

* The "U2 Opening Band Curse," which I never did explain to Nathan, goes like this: Throughout U2's tour history, many of their opening bands have either broken up shortly after their time with U2 or never surpassed the level of success they had while opening for U2. See: Red Riders, the BoDeans, the Pixies, Fun Lovin' Criminals, the Sugarcubes, Rage Against the Machine, Smashmouth, PJ Harvey, etc.

� @U2/Calhoun, 2005.

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