Kings of Leon: The Bruised Brothers

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Caleb has had a hard time navigating the baby-proofed rooms in the house he shares with his wife, model Lily Ald­ridge, and their 15-month-old daughter, Dixie Pearl. "I couldn't get into the toilet, couldn't get into the kitchen," he says, talking about a recent night when he came home late, drunk. "She double-proofed everything. They just go overboard."

The brothers reminisce about England, where they've been huge ever since their manager scored them festival gigs with Interpol and My Morning Jacket in 2003. "We got up there and played, and these seasoned bands saw us as a threat – we loved that competition," says Caleb. Adds Nathan, "And it was our first taste of the debauchery, the rock & roll lifestyle."

Over the next several years, they earned a reputation as the hardest-partying band on the road. "I was in the belly of the beast for a while," Nathan says, recalling one depressing-sounding New Year's Eve in the mid-2000s: "Me, Caleb and Nacho" – the brothers' cousin and guitar tech – "went to New York and were like, 'We are going to do so much cocaine that it kills us, or if we live through this weekend, we're going to never do it again.' We holed up in an apartment in Union Square. Delivery guy would come three times a day. We went home and our mom looked at us and cried immediately because we were all skinny and pale."

Caleb stops chewing, shooting his brother an uneasy look. "Let's lighten the mood here," he says.

The Kings didn't become American superstars until five years after they hit big in Europe, when they traded garage rock for a more polished, reverb-soaked sound, which they found after opening for U2. 2007's Because of the Times wasn't a big hit, but the following year's Only by the Night was a monster. Some old fans felt betrayed. "I don't want to write about my sex parts being on fire just to have a huge song," said My Morning Jacket's Jim James. Liam Gallagher said, "It seems to me they've gone for the bucks."

The Kings disagree. "We used to grow our hair out really long, wear tight clothes – we were being kind of fake back then," says the band's guitarist, cousin Matthew Followill, sitting near a spotless white Gibson hollow-body after smoking a cigarette under the chimney of his hotel suite. "Now we're just normal and comfortable with ourselves." Jared says he's embarrassed by their early videos: "God, I hate it. And I can barely listen to our first and second records. It's very cringe-worthy for me. To me, Because of the Times is like our first record. We were finally being ourselves."

But by the time they made Sundown, the band felt burnt out and torn about who to please. "I would say, 'We need to try and write some hit songs so we're not one-hit wonders,'" says Matthew.

"Matthew would say the word 'radio,' and Caleb would get so pissed off," adds Jared. The tour wasn't much better; the bandmates traveled in separate buses. "We played the same set list for three years because we couldn't be bothered," says Jared. "The only time we had fun was onstage. Everything else fucking sucked."

The low point came on July 29th, 2011, during the group's show at Dallas' Gexa Energy Pavilion. The Dallas Observer described Caleb as yelling at the crew to bring him towels and water between erratic performances. After 40 minutes, he raised his arms and announced, "I'm married to the prettiest girl in the whole fucking world," adding, "I'm gonna go backstage and I'm gonna vomit, I'm gonna drink a beer and I'm gonna come back out and play three more songs."

He never returned, but Jared and Matthew did. "It's really not our fault," said Matthew. "It's Caleb." Added Jared, "Fucking hate Caleb, not us." (Today, Jared says, "That's exactly what management told us to say.") The bassist also tweeted, "I can't lie. There are problems in our band bigger than not drinking enough Gatorade."

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