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Kings of Leon's Caleb Followill: Stories behind the songs

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Jimmy Marble

As Kings of Leon return with their seventh LP, WALLS, out now, the 34-year-old frontman, Caleb Followill is sharing never-before-told tales of what inspired his band’s biggest hits — from “Molly’s Chambers” and “Wasted Time” off the group’s 2003 debut to the Grammy-winners “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” off 2008’s Only by the Night, and more. 

“Molly’s Chambers,” Youth & Young Manhood (2003)

“I was a big fan of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Whiskey in the Jar.’ It’s not actually their song, it’s an old Irish song, but he says, [sings] ‘I went to Molly’s chambers…’ We wrote around that, making it about this girl who had this secret power that would take you over. I remember playing it for my little brother [Jared, Kings of Leon’s bassist], who was 13, and being like, ‘Do you think kids at your school would think this was cool?'”

“Wasted Time,” Youth & Young Manhood (2003)

“‘Wasted Time’ was just a little barnburner. We were in this headspace that was like, ‘Let’s play music really fast!’ And obviously our country-side came out, so it was this country-punk music that no one else was doing. I’m proud that people enjoyed it, because I feel like it was something that had never been done before. [For the record] I went back and redid the vocal and I regret it. I feel like the vocal on the EP [Holy Roller Novocaine] was better. It sounded really tiny and doinky and it was cool that it sounded like that.”

“The Bucket,” Aha Shake Heartbreak (2005)

“We got back from this tour in the U.K., where we were massive. Everyone had grown their hair like us. But coming home, no one knew who the hell we were. Our mom was at the airport with her sign, like, ‘Welcome home, boys!’ Every day we would go to the store and get some Miller High Life, some beef jerky, and some chocolate snacks, and write. ‘The Bucket’ was one of the first ones everyone liked. It was about me being famous for the first time and about the girls I had finally experienced.[Laughs]”

“On Call,” Because of the Times (2007)

“When we were making Because of the Times, we had just bought land in Tennessee with this old farmhouse. We would set up our amps on the front porch, so there were these wide, open spaces. From that, we started to play with reverb and more grandiose sounds. It’s the simplest song we’ve ever written; I [sing] the same thing over and over. If you listen to our previous albums, I’m definitely a fan of good lyrics. Maybe at that point I was just exhausted. [Laughs] But I still think I’m saying something nice. It was a pleasant thing to say.”

“Sex on Fire,” Only by the Night (2008)

“I had shoulder surgery [in 2008] and my doctor said, ‘You can’t play guitar for eight weeks.’ He gave me a bunch of pills, and then I took my sling off that night. I could barely move my arm, so I could only play high up on the neck, and the first thing I did was that opening riff. I don’t remember exactly when I said [the lyric] ‘sex on fire,’ but I know that I was joking. I remember the guys going, ‘That’s it!’ I was like, ‘Oh boy…’ But I have more pride in that song now than ever. I play that first part and the place goes f—ing nuts! You don’t know how many of those moments you’re gonna get.”

“Use Somebody,” Only by the Night (2008)

“[This song also] came out from when I was healing from [my] shoulder injury…and away from everything out at my farmhouse. In that moment, I became more honest with myself and allowed myself to be vulnerable in my writing. No longer trying to be a tough guy and admitting I need the people around me — mainly referring to Lily [Aldridge, Followill’s wife] — to get through it all. I wrote it in one sitting, very late.

“Pyro,” Come Around Sundown (2010)

“I watch a love of TV shows about people that have f—ed-up situations. This one was a pretty famous deal [known as Ruby Ridge] where the FBI came to this family’s house to raid it and the family locked themselves inside. When [the authorities] killed their dog, it turned into this huge gunfight. There was something about when the son had gotten killed that I was thinking, ‘What if he had lived?’ I started writing from that mentality. It turned into burning a city down.”

“Supersoaker,” Mechanical Bull (2013)

“I started working on [Mechanical Bull] quickly after I got home [from tour in 2011, where, after a disastrous Dallas gig, the band canceled the remaining dates and went on hiatus.] I went out to my farm and I didn’t know if it was going to be Kings of Leon or something else, but I got very inspired. I remember coming up with the guitar part and it feeling throwback, like something off of Aha Shake Heartbreak. So I started writing about those times, about one person in particular from another band and how they lost their inspiration.”

“WALLS,” WALLS (2016)

“I found that melody on the road, and when I played it during sound check, everyone jumped on, immediately. I had, [sings] “When the walls come down…,” but for the rest I would just mumble. When we got in the studio, I opened my mouth and it just poured out. It’s like a gift from the gods. I was in the right place at the right time and said something that now, I mean, I’m getting texts from everyone like, ‘Man, that song really touched me,’ from big football players to my mom.”

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