Six years ago, the Kings of Leon were four scraggly kids who could barely play their instruments (or stay sober). Sixteen years ago, they were preacher's sons living under a strict religious mandate that prohibited music other than church songs, movies and short pants. Today, they're the hottest band in America, bringing their dirty brand of Southern rock & roll to sold-out arenas around the world while traveling in luxury planes and running up $10,000 bar tabs.
Rolling Stone's Smoking Section columnist Austin Scaggs first saw the Kings play New York's tiny Mercury Lounge in 2003 and knew he'd write their cover story one day. For his feature, he traveled to the Kings' Tennessee homes and Australia, where he got the dirt on all the Followills' brawls and Nathan and Caleb's early days as a country-singing duo while partying with famous faces who were all drawn to the Kings (Chris Martin, Pete Townshend). Grab the full story in the new issue, on newsstands now, and get a playlist of the band's 10 best tracks here.
Plus, check out our two Kings photo galleries (snaps from the family album and portraits taken in their Tennessee homes), and click above for exclusive footage from our cover shoot in beautiful rural upstate New York, where photographer Max Vadukul shot the Followills on a seemingly endless stretch of farmland. Frontman Caleb reflected on the day and his first-ever RS cover: "It's one of those things I'm pretty sure will sink in down the road, like, holy shit."