Kings of Leon lead singer Caleb Followill is a rock and roll bad boy with an altar boy's heart

By Barry Divola
Updated April 12, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: James Minchin III

Because of the Times

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One minute Caleb Followill of Kings Of Leon is talking about the Bible, the next he’s talking about brothels. In Followill’s world, God and the devil seem to get equal time. Along with his two brothers Nathan (drums) and Jared (bass) and his cousin Matthew (guitar), the Kings’ singer/guitarist is intimately familiar with both subjects, having grown up in the church — his father, Leon, was an itinerant United Pentecostal preacher in the U.S. South.

Now, Caleb and the boys are living the rock and roll lifestyle: touring the world in tight black jeans and pointy boots, hanging out with Bono and Eddie Vedder, indulging their love of golf, buying a little real estate in Nashville, and, oh yeah… releasing the third Kings Of Leon album, Because of the Times, which has been hailed by the critics with almost religious fervour.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s the song you all sing together just before going on stage every night?
CALEB FOLLOWILL: It’s a gospel song called ”Just A Little Talk With Jesus.” [Sings] ”Now let us have a little talk with Jesus/Let us tell him all about our troubles/He will hear our faintest cry/He will answer by and by/Now when you feel a little prayer wheel turning/And you know a little fire is burning/You will find a little talk with Jesus makes it right.”

Just about everyone knows that your father had to leave the church because of his drinking. Was he a popular preacher in his day?
He was a big deal. He was in the upper echelon. When we walked into a church, everyone knew it. We sort of had this rock lifestyle before we became a band. It was good for meeting girls. We had our pick of the litter. The only thing is we couldn’t do too much. Mostly kissing. But it taught us how to kiss, man. To this day girls think I’m a great kisser.

The name of the new album, Because Of The Times, is a religious reference, isn’t it?
It’s the name of a church conference we used to go to as children, and we hold it dear to us. Because of what we’ve done as a band and because we haven’t really blown up to a level where people hate us, I think a lot of people are trying to scare us into thinking this is our make-or-break record. But they say that with every record. The title sums up everything that could potentially happen. If it’s a huge record it’s because of the times; if it flops it’s because of the times. After I talk to you, the interviews are going to become a lot shorter, because that’s going to be the answer to every question. [Laughs]

Where did you write these new songs?
I was on my front porch of the farmhouse where Nathan and I live, about 45 minutes out of Nashville. I was getting to enjoy the normal life and being at home. The last record was a lot about honesty and going for it and pushing myself into having the confidence to let people know exactly what I think. I got a lot of stuff out of my system, so with this record I was able to sit down and write about the things I really wish I had that I don’t have, things that fame and all this stuff don’t really bring.

And what kinds of things can’t fame bring you?
It doesn’t bring you a relationship that you don’t get sick of after 25 minutes.

Now you’re just bragging. You can last 25 minutes?
[Laughs] At times I want a real relationship and at times I don’t. The grass is always greener. I see other people, both in my band and in other bands, and they have relationships, and most of the time I’m feeling sorry for them because for me the hardest thing is when the girl’s not around and on the phone she’s telling you what she did that day, and it’s so anti-climactic. Then you get to tell her what you did that day. After a while it just seems the whole relationship is you bragging about the things you’re getting to do. That’s the last thing I want to do. I wish it could work, but I don’t know. It’ll take a while before I turn into the relationship guy, unfortunately.

So for the time being you’re the 25-minute man?
I guess so. I get to have too much fun, I guess. But I’ve still got time to get serious. Well, I say I do, but I’m getting kind of old.

How old are you?
I’m 25. Born on January 14, so I’m a Capricorn. That means I don’t like change much. Except with our music.

”My Party” is actually about your last birthday party, right?
The chorus is. I got kind of lonely when we weren’t touring, and I took a liking to Rachel Bilson from The O.C. I had my birthday in Los Angeles, and beforehand everyone kept asking me what I wanted. I kept saying, ”I don’t mind, as long as Rachel Bilson’s there.” It was a total joke. Anyway, we had the party at this big club. There were a lot of people there, not just for my party, but there were other things going on there, too. We walked in, and as God is my witness, the first person I saw was Rachel Bilson. She wasn’t there for me, of course. But she must have recognized us because she waved. I just froze up. She had her boyfriend of the time with her, so I couldn’t just go up and say, ”Holy s—! You’re here!” So I put that in the song. Hopefully she’ll read this.

The new song ”Knocked Up” has you and your pregnant girlfriend driving off into the distance to start a new life. What’s going on there?
That song started with the melody and it started chugging along, then the first thing that came into my head was, ”I don’t care what nobody says, we’re going to have a baby.” Everyone just looked at me in the rehearsal room and I threw my hands in the air and said, ”I don’t know what to say — it just came out.” I think the reason I talk about having a baby is because of my fear of an actual relationship. I can actually see myself having a kid before I can see myself getting married, and I know that goes against everything we were raised to believe, but the whole marriage thing…I don’t know if it really works these days, which is unfortunate. It just seems divorce is inevitable. So for me talking about having a baby in that song, it’s like the glue that might keep things together, or at least an excuse to make it last a little longer.

Why did you write a song about Arizona?
I hold that place close to my heart. I love the desert and always have. But the story behind that song is kind of bad. I can’t really get into it. It’s about when Nathan and I went to Arizona, and…well, we had quite a few different substances in us, and we decided to go to this brothel. I guess I am telling you now, aren’t I? This really is a heartbreaker. We walked in and I looked around and there was this one girl who was so beautiful that all I could think was, ”What happened in her life that could bring her here?” as opposed to me thinking, ”Yeah! I’ll take that one!”

So you left?
No. I took an ugly one. I knew why she was there.

That’s a pretty heavy story from a preacher’s son.
I think there’s always two sides to your personality, be it when you’re drunk or sober, or at home or away, or whatever. Our song ”On Call” is about the grounded part of you. It says, ”And when I fall to pieces, Lord you know I’ll be there waiting.” You could take that in a Biblical sense. The Bible says that David, or Daniel, or one of those guys, was a man after God’s own heart. But he was quite a messed-up person. So if he’s the man after God’s own heart, well, maybe when you’re at your roughest moment, that’s when He’s watching over you and smiling.

Because of the Times

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