Kings of Leon fine tunes the vibes and takes risks 

Night Time, Right Time

Kings of Leon
w/ The Walkmen
Sun. May 10
8 p.m.
North Charleston Coliseum
5001 Coliseum Drive
(843) 529-5050

Over the course of recording the album Because of The Times, and during the preparation of last year's Only by the Night, the Kings of Lean worked from a new blueprint. And the end result allowed lead singer/guitarist Caleb Followill, drummer Nathan Followill, bassist Jared Followill, and lead guitarist Matthew Followill to transcend the indie-rock underground to the top of the rock charts with great success — and they did it on their own artistic terms.

"As far as the songs go, we just wrote them the way we always do," says Jared Followill, speaking on the new album while doing a sound check in Florida this week. "From the beginning, a lot of the songs started lending themselves to a bigger sound. On the early records, we never got too into the production side of things. We went into the studio only focusing on our own part of it. On this last record, we wanted a bigger sound. We pulled off exactly what we were looking for."

The Kings of Leon initially earned attention with the release of a five-song EP titled Holy Roller Novocaine in 2003. Their full-length debut, Youth and Young Manhood (RCA) was released to rapturous acclaim from the U.S. and U.K. press. Critics dug what they habitually referred to as a "deep-fried Southern rock" sound within an indie-rock aesthetic — especially on tracks like "Red Morning Light" and "Spiral Staircase." Fan favorite and minor alt-rock radio hit "Molly's Chambers" epitomized the quartet's simplified, riff-heavy grooviness and coolness. The silhouette illustration of the long-haired bandmates on the cover resembled something from the rock world of 1975.

In '05, the Kings toured behind their second album, the upbeat and frantic Aha Shake Heartbreak (RCA). Produced by veteran studio guy Ethan Johns, it sounded even bigger, more focused, and, appropriately enough, more mature than Youth and Young Manhood. Polished but not slick, this collection stuck mostly with the raw, unfiltered sound of old-school, Americana-tinged guitar-rock, with Caleb yelping and hollering about hot chicks, bad romance, and the Devil's rascally ways. Jangly pop anthem "The Bucket" bounced with enough twang, melody, and wit to garner comparisons to Tom Petty's and R.E.M.'s earliest Rickenbacker-strummin' records.

The last time the Kings played in Charleston was in 2006, in support of Aha Shake Heartbreak. Since then, they've sold out Radio City Music Hall in N.Y.C.; opened for U2, Bob Dylan, and Pearl Jam; and headlined the legendary Glastonbury Festival and 02 Arena in England. They've ascended the club circuit and morphed into a bona fide arena rock band.

They dropped their third full-length, Because of the Times, in 2007. With Caleb's increased lyrical and vocal dynamisms and an even broader range of guitar tones — from the beautifully atmospheric to the downright frighteningly distorted — Because of the Times (named for a Pentecostal ministers' conference) signified a major musical detour. With Johns at the helm again, the band sounded more confident than before, and noticeably eager to aim toward a significantly grand overall sound.

"With each step, we felt like we grew as musicians," says Jared. "We're just now at the point where we feel really comfortable with our instruments. Now we'll start to see what the band is really going to sound like."

Produced by Angelo Petraglia and Jacquire King, Only by the Night debuted in the top five on Billboard's Top 200. It reached number one at the iTunes store, too.

"It was a lot harder, and there was a lot more stress involved," Jared says of the sessions. "We definitely felt some pressure once we started to involve ourselves in the production. We had to get the songs together and make sure they were good enough to break through. It worked out perfectly.

"Great production doesn't mean a ton of extra fancy stuff," he adds. "To us, great production is like Steve Albini or Brian Eno ... old Pixies records or Nevermind and stuff like that. That might not be what most people consider to be great production, but we wanted it to be classy and classic, with the right space and balance. The Stones, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Beach Boys, and Zeppelin — they all wanted to make the best-sounding records possible. They wanted to have timeless albums. Now, some people are trying to dumb-down their sounds, so they sound like they came out in the '70s. We kinda did our first and second records that way, but the time we came around to this record, we had bigger ideas."

Entertainment Weekly called the new album the band's "crowning achievement." In its review, Rolling Stone said, "They've already gone further than anybody could have guessed." But not everyone in the domestic music press was so impressed. "These are the same clunky Kings of Leon songs, just now presented in an incredibly weird context," wrote Pitchfork's Ian Cohen.

Jared and his bandmates don't mind the rough reviews. "We're open to criticism, and we'll listen to it," the bassist says. "There are some [in the press] who obviously don't like us, which is fine. There are some indie websites who will never like us. You just take it with a grain of salt. Oscar Wilde said it best when he said, 'The critic educates the public, and the entertainer educates the critic.' "



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