Kings of Leon drummer on debut of new material, sharing a festival with folk singer wife

by Ryan Snyder

When Kings of Leon were just a hard-rocking quartet out of Nashville Tenn. composed of four boys in the Youth and Young Manhood Days, singer Caleb Followill lamented that the band just might not have enough material to make it through their hour-long set at the 2004 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. As compensation, the band gave the then-jam heavy festival audience a six-minute dose of “Trani,” a song that would become widely regarded by fans from the beginning as their “Freebird,” the epic that often served to define Kings of Leon’s live sets in their pre- Grammy material days. The song was never a chart success, despite being obsessively requested at shows since. Like many great bands that arrived prior to Kings of Leon, however, before they were writing hits, they were writing classics.

When the band takes the main stage at Bonnaroo’s 2010 edition as the Friday night headliner, they’ll have plenty of both under their belts. Just like when Caleb said, “Alright f**k it, let’s play something new,” at the 2004 show and produced a song from an album that would be released six months later, they’ll have that option again as well. The band has been working on a brand new album in New York City before returning home to Nashville recently to apply the finishing touches. While there are scant details in regards to the album’s direction or even title, drummer Nathan Followill hinted that the album could be a retreat from the heavy pop influence of the quintuple-platinum Only by the Night during a recent conference call.

“We thought we had come out with a little more darker record because we had done all our records either in Nashville or LA where it’s a little more chilled out, not as much hustle and bustle,” Followill said. “And I’ll be damned if we didn’t go in there and make a fun record that man, it’s got songs that are beach-y, it’s got songs that are a little more like our Youth in Young Manhood days.”

He says that the band will start debuting new material on their forthcoming tour, but also suggests that the Tennessee-heavy crowd at Bonnaroo, which takes place 45 minutes from their hometown, could be the launching point for the many of the new songs, given the band’s two-hour time slot.

“It’ll be tough to not play the whole thing at Bonnaroo. We’re going to try to be very selective of what we play, but there will definitely be some new tunes for sure,” said Followill. “Our set list at Bonnaroo — I think it’ll be a lot of oldies, a lot of goodies and probably a few more new ones than people are expecting for us. We’ve got 30,000 cousins that live in Tennessee so I know at least half the crowd’s going to be into it.”

More than just cousins will be into their show, as drummer Nathan’s wife Jessie Baylin will also be in attendance, not only as a spectator, but as a performer as well. The smoky-voiced folk singer will have a set at one of the festival’s smallest stages early on Friday, but Followill says he’s happy to simply watch his wife from the side of the stage, though his words offered the possibility that his brothers and cousin that make up the band might catch the show as well.

“I think I’m just going to play the role of supportive husband and we’ll be just singing harmonies under my breath on the side of the stage,” Followill said. “There’s a chance she might play on Saturday too so who knows? I might hop up on the bongos, you never know.”

Followill adds that seeing her set so early in the day will be a great chance to take his mind off of arguably the band’s biggest show of the summer and ease his pre-show jitters before so many hometown viewers.

“It’s going to take my mind off of our stuff for a little bit and it’s great for her. She’s very supportive and I’m very blessed to have such an amazing wife that’s understanding, especially me being gone as much as I am,” Followill said. “She’s going to start a new record that’s kickass, so I’ll be interested to hear how the new stuff comes across but yeah, man, we’re psyched to be the first couple of Bonnaroo for this year.”