Over the course of four critically acclaimed albums, Nashville's Kings of Leon have gone from indie-rock darlings to one of the biggest bands on the planet, their fame bolstered by melodic, Grammy-winning smashes "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody."
The Kings were one of the most popular bands at the Gorge Amphitheatre’s annual kickoff gala, the Sasquatch music festival, in 2009. And the Followill clan – brothers Caleb on vocals and guitar, Jared on bass, Nathan on drums, and cousin Matthew on guitar – can’t wait to unveil new material there on Saturday when they headline a bill that will also include Idaho’s influential alt-rock outfit Built to Spill.
“You can’t say enough about that venue,” Caleb said during a conference call previewing the new tour. “In my opinion, it’s hands down the most beautiful thing we have ever played. I used to always watch a bunch of old westerns and stuff, so the one time that we saw it, I felt like I was in an old John Wayne movie, and it was beautiful.
“To be able to go back and play it on our own is crazy and the fans there are nuts, man,” he said. “We saw a lot of kids out there with their faces all painted and lots of (flashing) and crazy stuff.”
“I saw Sasquatch,” chimed in Jared.
“Yes, he saw Sasquatch, actually,” Caleb replied.
“Then I noticed it was just Nathan,” his brother quipped. “He’d just woken up.”
Their admiration of the Northwest extends beyond their love of its most rustic venue. The brothers talked about how much they’ve been influenced by Pearl Jam and advice Seattle’s biggest rock heroes have given them en route to the top.
“Well, I was learning from Pearl Jam before I even picked up a guitar,” Caleb said. “You know, I was 14 years old in high school and the first time I heard them I was pretty mad at the world. And I heard them and I was just, like, “(Heck), yes. This is something that I can live with for the rest of my life.
“The first time I saw Eddie Vedder, we were actually on the road with U2. And there was a knock on the door and the door opened – it was him. He said, ‘Hey, I’m Eddie.’ I was, like, “No (kidding). You’re (freaking) Eddie.
“All those guys, they’re really quick to pull you aside and say, ‘Hey man, don’t let people push you too hard,’” Caleb said. “ ‘Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Don’t let this stuff – the stress and the pressure of what it is – (destroy what) you’re doing. The thing that comes first is that you, as a band, remain (a) unit.’
“Eddie, in particular, when he gives you a phone call or he shoots you a text message, it’s always the most well-thought-out thing you could ever see,” Caleb said. “And those guys are just champs, man. They make you want to keep going and they make you want to get better every day.”
Of course, the biggest buzz around the new tour surrounds new material the Kings are unveiling from their forthcoming album. The brothers spoke to reporters on May 27, the day they wrapped up recording sessions for the as-yet-untitled follow-up to the 2008 smash, “Only by the Night.”
“We’ll play as much as we can,” Caleb said. “We’ll play the stuff that just feels best live. You know, the way technology is now, it’s kind of hard to play too much because you don’t want people to listen to the songs on YouTube for eight months, and then when they come out, it loses a lot of the romance of hearing the record for the first time.”
Among the songs various sources have reported being on the set list are fresh cuts “Immortals,” “Southbound” and “Radioactive.” Caleb went on to describe the evolving aesthetic.
“There are times when it’s very tropical and beachy, but there’s always that dark chord in there that makes it Kings of Leon,” he said.
He also hinted at a twangier direction. “We have fiddle on this album. We have lap steel on this album.”
Listen to excerpts from the Kings teleconference online on the Tacoma Rock City blog.