The kid brother in Kings of Leon, Jared Followill, talks to Scott Kara about the band's wild early days and their new album which goes back to their roots.
Jared Followill - at 23 the youngest of the Kings of Leon - was just 15 when he hit the road with the good-time Southern boys for the first time.
By 17 he'd played festival dates with the Cure, the Pixies, and the Strokes ("I felt my life was complete"), he'd already done a fair bit of dabbling in the Class-A excesses of rock 'n' roll ("We did what every band does when they first start"), and by the time he was 20 he'd been to 30 countries.
"It was the most fun I've had in my life. It was unbelievable. And it changed my life in a positive way," he says on the phone from his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. He's about to head to Atlanta, in neighbouring Georgia, to play a show as part of the world tour for latest album Come Around Sundown, which is out on Monday.
So far, he says, the new songs are getting an okay response from American audiences who only took a liking to the Kings en masse after last album Only By the Night.
"They're kinda listening, trying to take it in, and obviously people aren't going to dance around to something they've never heard before," he says with a cheeky chuckle.
Come Around Sundown is the band's fifth album in seven years, which is not a bad hit rate for a band who, it's fair to say, went berserk with their new-found fame in the early to mid-2000s. Back then his elder brothers, frontman Caleb and drummer Nathan, were father figures of sorts to him - not that they were the most reliable role models considering Caleb especially was consumed by sex, drugs and alcohol.
"So I had to teach myself to be a man," he says. "And obviously there are no restrictions when you're on the road. No one can stop you from doing anything because when you're playing in bars somehow people assume you're of age."
It's been a decade since the brothers, and their cousin Matthew formed the band in Nashville. In that time they have gone from thigh-slapping hicksters on songs like Molly's Chambers, to making it big in Britain, Europe, and - finally - in their homeland to become one of the biggest bands on the planet and the festival headline act of choice.
In New Zealand, where they have played four times before, they built up a staunch fanbase with Youth and Young Manhood (2003) and Aha Shake Heartbreak (2005) before their popularity soared in 2007 with Because Of the Times (30,000 copies sold) and 2008's Only By the Night (with sales in excess of 75,000).
"It seems like a lifetime since we started," says Followill. "We went through everything and then came back. We're pretty much like old married couples now. We're pretty boring at this point."
Well, his brothers and cousin are, because while they have settled down and got engaged, young Jared split up with his wife-to-be last year. "I talked everybody into getting girlfriends and then I split up with mine. It was a strategic move," he jokes.
And musically, reckons Followill, everything has changed too, especially since their first two albums.
"When we first started we didn't really know what kind of band we were. For the first two records it took a while for us to figure the sound we were going to go for and we were winging it."
Those albums were raw and, at times, unruly which is what made them so thrilling. For Because of the Times they took a more refined and polished approach and started taking on a more stadium rock sound (albeit it with raucous thigh-slapping tendencies on songs like Charmer).
"A lot of people had trouble with the changes and thought our earlier stuff was better - and we don't necessarily disagree but we just always wanted to do what we could do best. And the sound we've got now is what we do best."
If they got the sex, drugs and supermodels out of their systems on Because of the Times, and Only By the Night was mostly about getting back to reality, then Come Around Sundown is about getting back to their roots. It was time for the Followills to head back home.
So it's more downhome sounding and a little more country than the grandeur of Only By The Night. There are no real scorchers like Sex On Fire. But there are songs like Back Down South, a meandering fiddle-infused ditty; No Money is a distorted and wailing thumper; and Mary is like a 60s Phil Spector wall of sound-meets-stomping southern porch song.
"We've been kicking that one around for a while now," says Followill of Mary, "and we all have a lot of fun playing that one. We were all really excited when we were in the studio recording it because it was a lot like the vibe we liked when we were growing. We loved Phil Spector stuff but [our] interpretation of it has more twang to it.
"We try not to set rules, we just like to go in there and write the best songs we can and record them the best way we can. So a lot of the songs are in the same progression as the last record but there were a couple of songs where we wanted to spread our wings a little bit, using more instruments than we would normally use. It opened it up a bit more."
They may have got back to their roots yet strangely they decided to record the album in New York. "Being up there and being away from country music completely made you want to get back to it - and that's what we did."
And in contrast to other recording sessions, where there have been fights (Because of the Times) and they spent more time playing wall ball and getting drunk than recording (Only By the Night), they worked harder than they ever have for Come Around Sundown.
"It was a lot more like a job. We would go in there and we just worked all day.
"We went in there knowing that given the success of the last record we had to be on top of our game - but we really wanted to surprise everybody too."
Who: Kings of Leon
New album: Come Around Sundown, out October 18
Past albums: Youth and Young Manhood (2003); Aha Shake Heartbreak (2005); Because of the Times (2007); Only By the Night (2008)