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Kings of Leon's Jared Followill on His Ambient New Band

Smoke and Jackal is side project with Nashville singer Nick Brown

September 6, 2012 2:30 PM ET
Jared Followill
Jared Followill
Steve Mack/FilmMagic

Jared Followill figures he's been touring virtually nonstop since the age of 15. Last November, after wrapping an Australian outing with his band Kings of Leon, the 25-year-old bassist was faced with an unfamiliar prospect: he had nearly a year off from the road.

"I knew that I would go a little bit stir-crazy just not doing anything and not having any artistic outlets," the youngest Followill brother tells Rolling Stone. Thanks to good timing and a close friendship with fellow Nashvillian Nick Brown, lead singer of the rock group Mona, Followill's outlet arrived in the form of a new band.

Smoke and Jackal, as the longtime friends have dubbed themselves, is the direct result of eight booze-filled nights spent recording in Brown's basement. The duo will release their debut, EP1, a six-song collection, on October 16th. The band, according to Followill, was anything but premeditated.

"It was super spur-of-the-moment," he says. The two friends' original intention, he says, was to record one song and "put it up on YouTube or something stupid like that for people to see. [Nick] sings amazing and I sing horribly, so we figured we could just go down there and try it one night."

The duo pumped out two songs on their first evening recording together; four more would arrive in just over a week's time. Before pressing onward, the two agreed on some basic ground rules. "We made a rule of 'no pressure,'" Brown says. "The second: if it's not fun, we're leaving. We'll go to a bar."

For inspiration, the pair spun "vibe-y" records by Beach House and Magnetic Fields and jammed over muted clips of some of their favorite movies, including Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 action thriller Drive. (Brown specifically recalls playing over "that fight scene in the elevator where [Ryan Gosling] is kicking the shit out of the dude.") The band's aim, according to Followill, aligned with their creation method.

"We wanted to create a soundtrack," he explains. "That's the kind of vibe we were both going for."

On EP1, the two rockers explore uncharacteristically ambient musical territory. "I think it was important for us to create a new identity and have our own sound," Followill says.

Brown is more direct in his assessment. "You had two friends getting shitfaced and just wanting to make cool noises," says the singer. "I think everything was based on vibe. We weren't even thinking songs. It was like, 'That sounds cool.'"

The spaced-out collection ranges from the reverb-heavy, mid-tempo tailspin "No Tell" to "Save Face," a brooding, Radiohead-style séance. There's also a free-spirited rocker ("Ok Ok") more reminiscent of the musicians' other bands. Followill says this wasn't intentional.

"All of the songs were kind of a specific sound that our other bands did not go for," he says. That's not to say that either musician brought in music originally intended for their other crews. "We made a point of [not doing] that," Followill adds. "We both love our own bands, and we weren't trying to step on any toes. That would have been weird for us."

In fact, the bassist says that his brother Caleb has been supportive of baby bro's new band – albeit in his own distinctive manner. "Caleb is a big animal lover," Followill says, "so when he told me that [the album] sounded like pussy shit, I think he's talking about a beautiful kitten."

Followill says they'll have to wait and see if there's a demand for the duo to perform live. "We can always pull something off," he says. "We just have to try to remember what we're playing and just figure out what to do." He is confident however, that Smoke and Jackal will release another set of music. "I think at least we will go back and do another EP at some point. It might not be this year. It might not be next year. Us being friends, it's bound to happen again."

In the meantime, the recently engaged musician is keeping busy. Followill says Kings of Leon are in the beginning stages of plotting the follow-up to 2010's Come Around Sundown.

"We're just trying to have fun with it and just have a relaxed-type thing," he says. "We're just meeting with producers and stuff. I think we're going to try and start it this year. We'll see."

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