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Q&A with Kings of Leon's Caleb Followill

Caleb Followill
Kings of Leon’s singer on brawling with his brother and hanging with Dylan

When kings of Leon singer Caleb Followill woke up after a night of partying in Birmingham, England, recently, he had more than 50 text messages on his phone. They were all congratulating him on the Kings’ three Grammy nominations – the band’s fourth disc, Only by the Night, got a nod for Best Rock Album, and its smash single, “Sex on Fire”, scored two nominations, for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance.

“It was a huge shock,” says Followill, checking in from Miami. “I didn’t even think we had a chance.” It’s the culmination of a big year for the Tennessee rockers, which has found them headlining the Glastonbury Festival, filling 20,000-seat U.K. arenas and, in late January, playing New York’s Madison Square Garden.

With the band due in Australia next month in support of Only by the Night – the highest selling album in the country in 2008, with six times platinum sales – Kings of Leon are in the finest form of their career. “I’m feeling really good about life right now,” says Followill. “I feel like a better person now than I’ve ever been.”

“Sex on Fire” is your most successful single yet, but it was almost cut from the album, right?

Yeah. I started to look at it like a Weezer song, something that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I don’t want everything in our career to be so serious. I wasn’t trying to save the world with that song.

I hear that you wrote quite a few versions of this song.

Yeah, there’s a version about a couple who have nothing in common, and they hate each other, but the sex is on fire. I had a dirtier version that was completely perverse – it was pretty bad. In the end, I did put in that line about “head while I’m driving”. That’s never happened to me before – I’m a very good driver, and I’d be very scared to drive while getting head.

You guys performed in front of 100,000 people at Glastonbury last year. What was that like?

I was throwing up all day. When I walked onstage, everything went quiet. I knew people were cheering and I could see their hands flailing, but everything was quiet, like in that Kevin Costner movie [For Love of the Game] where he walks out to the pitcher’s mound. I said to myself, “This is just another Kings of Leon concert and there just happens to be a big crowd all hopped up on goof balls.” It was amazing. Halfway through the first song, it was my show.

You toured with Bob Dylan in 2006. Did you get to say hello to him at all?

Yeah, we met with him a few times, and he was really cool, a soft-spoken guy. We were all shocked at how much of a fan he was. We thought that someone in his camp had asked us to open for him, but he let us know it was actually him. He asked me, “What’s that last song you played in the set?” I said, “‘Trani’,” He said, “That’s a hell of a song.” Later, when I was in bed, I thought, “Did he really say that?” [Laughs]

Do you guys like to jam covers during rehearsals?

We did a Pretenders song for a VH1 special. And we also play a pretty good version of Joy Division’s “Transmission”. When I heard that My Morning Jacket and Eddie Vedder did the Band song “It Makes No Difference”, I literally wanted to die. My Morning Jacket always do stuff right before we get a chance to. I was like, “Damn it, they got us again!” Somebody suggested we do “Sweet Home Alabama” at the Garden – I told them to fuck off.

How did you become the singer? Nathan’s older than you, and he’s got some pipes, too.

In the beginning, we wrote songs together, and if he was writing a song, he’d sing, and vice versa. It came to a point where I knew I wanted it, and as opposed to us literally fighting for it, I just went to him and said, “Look, man, if we’re going to do this, we need a clear vision, and I think you should play drums and I’ll sing.” There were some tough times between us, but I pretty much said, “I’ll do it. I’ll be the singer. I’ll take all the girls and all the drugs. I don’t want to, but I will.”

You had a big fight with Nathan and broke your arm before you started working on this album. What was it about?

We still don’t know. It was a big one, though. We were really drunk, and one of us said something really deep and hurtful, and that was it. Our assistant shuffled people out the door when he knew it was about to go down, and once the house cleared, it was like they let two dogs off their chains – we went crazy. Just a good old Wednesday night in Nashville.

Austin Scaggs

Taken from Rolling Stone Issue 689

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