God, the Devil and Kings of Leon

Page 2 of 3

Nathan Followill is always "fixin"' to do something: "I'm fixin' to get some grub," "I'm fixin' to play golf," "I'm fixin' to whoop Caleb's ass." One crystal-blue morning in Sydney, where the Kings are playing 11 sold-out arena shows, he's fixin' to get a beer at 11 a.m. We walk to the Opera House, where the cafe serves Beez Neez, his favorite, on tap. Whatever town he's in, Nathan dives into the local culture. In Sydney, he visits both Bondi and Manly beaches, dines at Michelin-star restaurants and sneaks in a round of golf. He wants to sign up for a walking tour that scales the arches of the Harbour Bridge, but he's pretty sure he would be denied admission after the mandatory Breathalyzer test. When he sees an outdoor blood drive, he's ready to donate. "I don't know what I got," he says. "But I know the shit's universal." That night, at Tetsuya's, Sydney's toughest reservation, Nathan and his fiancée, Jessie Baylin, whom he met in 2006 in a bathroom line at Bonnaroo, are tucking into the house special: a confit of Petuna Tasmanian ocean trout with konbu, daikon, fennel and nine other things.

Nathan constantly talks about marrying Baylin, hopefully in Italy, and by dessert the couple have decided what to name their firstborn. When Nathan proposed to Baylin, in 2007, Caleb says he felt betrayed. "Back then, we lived in the same house," says Caleb. "Nathan was settling down, and I was like, 'What the fuck am I supposed to do?' Luckily, I found Lily" — his girlfriend, the model Lily Aldridge, whom he met at Coachella in 2007. After 4 a.m., on a clear, warm night, we sit on Caleb's hotel-room deck with a view of the Sydney Opera House and a low-hanging yellow moon. Caleb and Aldridge are talking about buying an apartment together in Manhattan. Drunk on wine, Caleb is quite the romantic. "You gotta come to New Zealand, man," he tells me. "The flowers are so beautiful that everywhere you go you want to pick one for your lady." The next day, a relatively sober Caleb spots three different brides posing for photos in front of the Opera House. "Three men's lives just flushed down the toilet," he says.

The Followills have always been lucky with the ladies. "Preachers' kids are the equivalent of rock stars in the religious world," says Nathan. "When the girls started filling out, we were running a racket of flesh. Once a year we'd have these conferences where all the churches would come together for a week and have services, so you'd run into seven or eight girls that you'd professed your love to, and they'd all be standing there, like, 'Damn it!'" When I suggest that these church camps sound like sex farms for repressed teenagers, Nathan says things weren't actually so wild. "The stuff we were doing that I felt so guilty about was chump change, like touching a girl's nips. And I'd feel so guilty about it until the next service. Then I couldn't wait to touch the next pair of AAs."

At the Kings of Leon's farmhouse in rural Tennessee, a few days before the Australian tour, Caleb stands behind the stove, whipping up spaghetti puttanesca. A dented frying pan hangs above his head, fa reminder of one of Caleb and Nathan's brawls from a few years ago. "Caleb is the sorest loser ever," says Jared. "Every fight that Caleb's been in has to do with losing in shuffleboard, or getting his ass beat in pool." The frying-pan fight came after Caleb lost a game of poker and started making fun of Nathan's date. Nathan attacked, and Caleb whacked him across the forehead with the pan, drawing blood. "They're a weird couple," says Jared. At 3 a.m., their mom was summoned to break up the fight.

The weather today is cold and gray, but the afternoon light shines across the Kings' 75-acre expanse, reflecting off the endless bottles of hard alcohol and wine that cover nearly every inch of counter space. (I calculate there's enough booze in the house to keep a raging alcoholic shitfaced for at least five years without restocking.) Richard Manuel's forlorn voice singing "Tears of Rage," from the Band's first album, plays quietly on a vintage gramophone.

Caleb and Nathan, who both have places in Nashville, share the property as a second home. They come here to fish in the lake, shoot trap and skeet, cruise around on ATVs and throw parties. The boys plan to build new houses on the property, as well as a studio, a bar and two holes of golf. Nathan wants a "French colonial" country house, and Caleb is leaning toward a Spanish-style villa.

At the peak of their partying, the Kings went as hard as any band on the road. I joined Nathan and Caleb for one epic trip to the Bonnaroo festival in 2006 — over the course of the weekend we got profoundly twisted on LSD, 'shrooms, MDMA, uppers and downers. "There were times when I was a pretty fucked-up guy," says Caleb. "There was rarely a moment when I was sober enough to make a point."

Caleb has settled down since he met Aldridge. His whiskey days are over — now he sticks to wine, beer and the occasional shot of tequila, and his self-destructive alter ego, dubbed "the Rooster" by the rest of the band, hasn't surfaced for a long time. "When my grandpa Washington was drinking whiskey, he was the same way,", says Caleb. "I'd drink whiskey knowing that I was going to turn into [the Rooster], but I didn't care. I had so many insecurities that stemmed from putting my faith into things that ended up breaking my heart."

When Ivan left the pulpit, Caleb became disillusioned. "I was going to be a preacher — it was everything I knew," he says. "My heart got broken, seeing that it was impossible to be perfect. So I said to myself, 'I have to go the opposite way.' I couldn't be a sober man. When I started getting fucked up, I got fucked up. I thought I was going to hell. I had nightmares about money and girls. The sky would open up and the Lord would take my soul."

"Caleb would sleepwalk a lot, more like drunk-walk," adds Jared. "Like, he'd wake up in the lobby buck-naked. If a fire alarm goes off in a hotel, you know Caleb's naked somewhere and he suddenly woke up and freaked out." The Kings employed a security guard primarily to protect Caleb from his own antics. "We were going to put an ankle bracelet on him," says Nathan. "But his tight jeans won't fit over it."

Like his father, Caleb suffers from nerves, and he regularly vomits during performances. "Our whole family is like that in pressure moments," he says. "I think when times got tough, my dad just turned to the bottle. We all do." Ivan now lives in Oklahoma City with his wife, Kathy, and he keeps in touch with his boys, dropping in on their performances.

"We don't really have the time — or make the time — to have that day-to-day relationship," says Caleb. "But there's still that same love between us." "I don't want to make it sound like my dad's a horrible alcoholic fuck-up," adds Nathan. "We had great times, there were great years."

I've met Ivan Followill backstage at various Kings shows over the years. He's always jovial, proud of his boys and a bit of a loose cannon. At the All Points West festival in New Jersey last year, Ivan shoved a couple of unidentifiable pills into my hand after he heard me say my back was hurting. I asked, "What will these do to me?" For the rest of the afternoon, he repeatedly mocked me, saying in a fey voice, "What will these do to me?" Caleb quit high school during his junior year, in 1999, and began working construction in Jackson, Tennessee. "He was settling into the life of being one of those hardened guys that starts doing hard labor, and the next thing you know, you're 35 with an overweight wife," says Nathan, who was attending college in Henderson, about 30 miles away. But Caleb, whose hero growing up was Chris Farley, held on to dreams of one day becoming an entertainer. "I always knew I'd be on Saturday Night Live," he says. "I just didn't know I'd be singing."

Nathan recognized Caleb's desire to make something of his life. "He wanted to help me, and he did," says Caleb. "One day he came out of his room and said, 'Check it out, I wrote a song.'" It was a "shitty-ass" country song, says Caleb, but it emboldened the brothers. "We'd devote hours a day to writing songs," Caleb says. "We'd get three or four a day." Caleb bought a notebook, drew a heart on the cover and poured out sad songs. His lyrics were about the same themes that he draws inspiration from today: "Religion and alcohol and women and love."

If they hadn't found music, Nathan says, "Caleb and I would have ended up like in Step Brothers. It would be me and him, in our 40s, living at Mom's house." Caleb agrees: "I'd-a been rubbin' my balls on his drum set."

Around this time, Betty Ann had fallen for an insurance executive living in Nashville. Soon, Nathan quit college and Caleb quit his construction gig to rejoin their mother and Jared in Nashville. (Betty Ann still lives in the area, and her sewing skills are regularly called upon to tighten her sons' superskinny pants.)

Driving away from the construction site in his Chevy Blazer, Caleb turned on the radio. The Mungo Jerry classic "In the Summertime" was blaring through the speakers. "I remember having the windows down, smiling ear to ear, thinking, 'I'm going to Nashville. I'm going to fucking do it.'"

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Kings of Leon perform at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, California.
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Long Walk Home”

Bruce Springsteen | 2007

When the subject of this mournful song returns home, he hardly recognizes his town. Springsteen told Rolling Stone the alienation the man feels is a metaphor for life in a politically altered post-9/11 America. “Who would have ever thought we’d live in a country without habeas corpus?” he said. “That’s Orwellian. That’s what political hysteria is about and how effective it is. I felt it in myself. You get frightened for your family, for your home. And you realize how countries can move way off course, very far from democratic ideals.”

More Song Stories entries »