NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Kings of Leon are having a great time. Problem is, no one really believes them.
A very public meltdown in Dallas in 2011 led to some acrimonious tweets, the cancellation of 26 concert dates and a bunch of negative buzz that’s persisted a surprisingly long time. Since then, band members have played dozens of shows without incident, put down roots, married a few supermodels, had children and recorded an album. They’ve moved on, and they’re patiently waiting for their story to update.
“I think because of what happened in Dallas that was very much on the surface,” bassist Jared Followill said. “And people were like, `Wow, man, those guys are really not getting along,’ and people think, `Man, they really hated each other during that time.’ People should know that we have always hated each other. That was not any more than usual. That was just more in the press.”
“That was tweeted about,” guitarist Matthew Followill said, and everyone in the room is laughing at the joke.
The abrupt ending to the Dallas show and the resulting fallout was just a passing storm for the brothers Followill – Nathan, Caleb and Jared – and their cousin Matthew. A little bit of rock `n’ roll excess crossed with high heat, general exhaustion and ragged emotion flashing across the sky. Everything was fine two days later.
“We fight like brothers, then we hug and make up like brothers,” lead singer Caleb Followill said. “It’s just how it goes.”
“And the beauty of it is you can fight as a band or bandmates,” drummer Nathan Followill said, “but you make up as brothers or cousins.”
“It’s just a long, long, slow kiss, dry, close-mouthed,” Caleb Followill said. “No seriously, we hate Jared and Matt. We can’t stand them.”
And everyone in the room is laughing again.
It’s been like this a lot lately, and the Followills hope “Mechanical Bull” serves as a palette cleanser. They’ve played about 50 shows since Dallas without incident, including a string of well-received festival headlining dates that includes this week’s Global Citizen Festival in New York’s Central Park and next month’s Austin City Limits Festival. And bouncy new single “Supersoaker” is in the top 10 on Billboard’s alternative rock songs list.
The vibe is much different than that of 2010’s “Come Around Sundown.” “Bull” starts a new chapter in the band’s narrative. They rushed into “Sundown” in the aftermath of worldwide hits “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire.” That sudden popularity caused a surprising backlash with their original fan base, which was fervent but small. “Sundown” was recorded as the Followills were trying to sort out what direction they wanted to go, and the album sounds stressed and tired because of it.
“We went somewhere in the middle,” Jared Followill said. “They say strike while the iron’s hot, and we definitely struck while the iron was hot, but we kind of struck with a wooden hammer, you know? We kind of just didn’t go all out.”
They took much of a year off, disconnected from the rock `n’ roll grind, and slowly worked their way back into music. They remodeled an old industrial paint warehouse into a recording studio and worked in their own space for the first time.
“Once you start thinking about how much it costs to record a guitar solo, you’re already in the wrong head-space,” Caleb Followill said.
The lead singer was most enthralled with the new building.
“There are times if you don’t want to you don’t have to leave, you know?” he said. “I stayed here pretty late most nights.”
They took months rather than weeks to make the record. Practical jokes punctuated by the sound of fireworks and good times threatened to take over at one point.
“You know on the back of the comic books when we were kids where you could order any kind of joke trick?” longtime producer Angelo Petraglia asked. “I think that’s where they were ordering from. Things were coming in and you’d be like, `They still make these things?'”
Caleb Followill brought in 10 songs he’d been working on alone at home, something of a change in the band’s formula. And Petraglia combed through old work tapes, finding bits and pieces he’d bring to the band’s attention, like the “Use Somebody” era sound sketch that turned into “Beautiful War.”
“The whole thing was chill actually for those guys,” Petraglia said. “I felt like, let’s get back in there and be a rock `n’ roll band and get back to it. Things had gotten so big with the band, it was a chance to scale down, get in the clubhouse and kind of have fun and make a rock `n’ roll record.”
At the same time, they were falling into a stable pattern at home. Off the road for long stretches, everyone who wasn’t married settled down. Everyone has at least one child now except Jared, the band’s youngest member.
They also started their own record label, Serpents & Snakes, using it to sign friends; started fine food, wine and spirits festival Music City Eats that debuted over the weekend; and have generally blended into the environs in a way they didn’t before. They started the new rock `n’ roll renaissance in Nashville, but were never really around to enjoy it.
“It’s so funny, my wife, we’ve been married four years now, and this past year was the first time I got a chance to be a husband and just be normal, go on double dates and get to be a dad, and I think this past year I’ve planted more roots in one year than I have in the previous nine or 10 because I’ve been home so much,” Nathan Followill said. “Nashville’s great. I love hipster-watching at Whole Foods. One of my favorite things to do on the weekends.”
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