by Natasha Lewin
It’s completely normal for a band to change, to mature with age, evolve over time, steep in brown liquors, random women and hard drugs. But who knew it could all happen so fast? And, more importantly, why in the world would you want it to? I had the rare pleasure of interviewing Tennessee’s Kings of Leon—brothers Nathan, Caleb and Jared, along with cousin Matthew—twice. Once prior to their major musical success, before they were even legal to drink at a local bar; and once after their tour with the Strokes, after U2’s decision to have the Kings as their opening act, after the band’s second album Aha Shake Heartbreak went double platinum in Europe. And let me tell you, I saw lots of change. And while it may be inevitable, it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Although young and virile, the Kings made good and sure the world knew they were no Hansons with their debut album, Youth and Young Manhood. I must have listened to Manhood a million times. And every time I hear it my reaction is the same: brilliant. An unkempt, toe-tapping classic-rock revival—it wasn’t how you’d expect the family of a Pentecostal preacher to make music, but it sure as hell was how you secretly hoped they would. Raw, loud and extremely sexy, when I first heard the disc I was actually afraid of doing the interview. They were underage after all. But I’d also been clued in to the fact that “these boys really enjoy their reefer,” so I rolled a few, double-checked the age limit for consensual sex in New York State and set off to ask the fellas some questions and check out their live show. I sure am glad there was a tape recorder present because all I truly remember about our first meeting is that I lost my keys, fell down trying to take pictures and called in late to work the next day.
Representing the stoner side of the band, Nathan and Jared were called in to speak to me. An amalgam of tight jeans, long hair, beards and cigarettes, they were everything anyone could ever ask for in a Southern rock band—a deadly combination of excitement, awe and energy. It was hard to imagine these down-home hellraisers were once little boys playing “church,” re-creating their father’s sermons, striving for the same fiery fury and somber eloquence that the traveling evangelist brought to his pulpit. Even more difficult to envision was that these blood-conjoined, babbling spitfires were eventually to take their various instrument lessons and contort them into the very music they had to hide under pillows from their folks growing up.