Kings of Leon: The Bruised Brothers

The Followills were the biggest band in the world - then the bottom fell out. Can rock's new underdogs battle back?

Kings of Leon
David McClister
December 25, 2013 10:00 AM ET

"I need some pain pills right now," Caleb Followill mumbles in a husky drawl. On a recent drizzly London evening, the Kings of Leon frontman sits in the corner of the art-deco bar of the band's five-star hotel, his weary-lumberjack face illuminated by candlelight as jazz plays. "I jumped off the top of that fucking yacht again." The accident happened a couple of weeks ago on a break between shows, when the band hit golf balls into the sparkling Mediterranean and threw a toga party. "Two a.m., pitch-black, drunk. Landed on my butt in the water. For a week now, I can barely sit, barely stand."

The Night That Tore the Kings of Leon Apart

He taps on his leg nervously, discussing his pillow options for the flight home to Nashville. "The doughnut thing? I'll fucking sit on it. I don't care. I might have to get Vic'ed up. I can't sit for that long. It kills me."

A friend at the table points out that this is Followill's second yacht mishap – he bruised himself on a boat in Italy in 2010. Jet-setting party injuries are an occupational hazard for the Kings, who are back on tour after two years, their biggest break in a decade. The last time they started a tour, they were arguably the biggest band in the world, filling arenas on the strength of their huge pop-radio hits "Use Somebody" and "Sex on Fire," from 2008's Grammy-winning Only by the Night. Many expected the follow-up, 2010's Come Around Sundown, to take them even further. Instead, it sold poorly in comparison, moving 731,000 copies, about a third of what Night sold. "I pretty much checked out for that record," Caleb says now. The band ended its U.S. tour early, canceling 26 dates after a disastrous Dallas gig in July 2011.

Now, the Kings are back on the road supporting their new album, Mechanical Bull, which touches on all of the group's identities of the past decade: revved-up garage rockers, Southern-soul disciples, masters of arena bombast. "It feels good to be the fucking underdog," says bassist Jared Followill. "We're a comeback team. I'm glad we took that time off and there's all this controversy. It pushes us up against a wall, and we work best that way."

Caleb, who's a little more reserved, tells me he just listened to the sequenced new album on the plane for the first time. "I was actually kind of into it," he says.

That evening, the Followills unwind after a day of photo shoots and British press interviews at one of their favorite restaurants, the Mayfair seafood hot spot Scott's. "You don't really have to order anything," says long-haired drummer Nathan Followill, choosing two big pieces of Dover sole, sides from octopus to summer squash and the first of two £178 bottles of Australian chardonnay for the table. "Not bad eatin' for an interview," says Caleb.

The oldest Followill brothers are hardcore foodies – this month they're curating a food festival back in Nashville, their home for more than a decade, where they've both finished home renovations to accommodate their baby daughters. Nathan describes his home as "a wooden UFO hovering in the trees." (He says his wife, singer Jessie Baylin, wants to get it in an architecture magazine.) But with all the recent activity, he's spent only nine days there.

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