Imagine for a second you’re a member of the Kings of Leon: You’ve got a new record, Aha Shake Heartbreak, that’s been out since November in the U.K., where it’s sold more than 600,000 copies and yielded back-to-back #1 singles. You’ve played in front of 90,000 people at massive outdoor festivals like Glastonbury and T in the Park and you’re mobbed by fans at every tour stop.
Then you return home to America, and all anybody wants to talk about is how you just shaved off your Skynyrd-style mustache.
“Yeah, we didn’t know our hygiene was so closely monitored. Every interview we do, that’s all people talk about,” Kings drummer Nathan Followill sighed. “And we have to tell reporters, ‘Actually, Jared [Followill, Nathan’s brother/bassist,] and Matt [Followill, Nathan’s first cousin/lead guitarist,] can’t even grow facial hair yet, and Caleb [Followill, Nathan’s other brother/frontman,] could wash his upper lip and the dirt would fall off.”
This is the way it goes for the Kings of Leon, three brothers and one cousin from Nashville who grew up under the strict guidelines of their father, a preacher, and weren’t allowed to listen to top 40 radio or watch MTV.
“In the U.K., people think we come from a fantasy world. Like, we all live in a house together in the country with no running water, and we all have long hair and beards and drink moonshine and don’t wear shoes,” Nathan said. “I think they were fascinated with how our lives are the total opposite of anything they’d ever seen. It’s the same reason the Stones and the Beatles were so big in the U.S. – their long hair and their simple ways.”
So now they begin the U.S. promotional cycle for Aha Shake Heartbreak, doing interviews about their former facial hair and playing venues half as big as they’re used to. But all that will change on March 28, because that’s when they’ll move from 600-seat venues like Portland, Oregon’s Aladdin Theater and into the 14,000-seat San Diego Sports Arena as the opening act on U2’s Vertigo 2005 North American tour.
“We did a TV show called ‘CD:UK’ in London, and U2 were on the show too. We played, and then they played, and then we were getting ready to leave and their publicist said ‘Hey, Bono wants you guys to stay. He wants to meet you guys,’ ” Nathan recalled. “So we had some drinks, and he was pretty cool and complimentary of our record, but just like a normal, down-to earth guy. Like a month later, our manager called us and was like, ‘We just got the U2 offer.’
“I still can’t believe we’re going to be opening for U2. They’re the biggest band in the world,” he laughed. “Since the news first came out, we’ve had calls and e-mails from about 300 of our friends and family asking us for tickets.”
Nathan said he and his bandmates aren’t much affected by the pressure of opening for such a huge band.
“Growing up, we weren’t allowed to listen to U2, so an album like
The Joshua Tree, we just discovered that like two years ago. If we were a band that had grown up listening to U2, we’d be a hell of a lot more scared than we are,” he explained. “But what we do take from U2 is the realization of how great it would be to be a band for 20 years. We can only fathom how great we could potentially become as long as we keep our heads on straight and don’t get married and divorced two or three times.”