Less than two weeks ago, four self-described "hairy Southern boys," all named Followill and together a rock band called the Kings of Leon, had their New York moment. The band occupies cultural real estate somewhere between William Faulkner and the Allman Brothers, and its members have a Waltons-gone-bad back story that plays well with American urbanites who find the rest of the country somewhat mysterious.
Now just might be their time, the Followills feel. Their second album, Aha Shake Heartbreak, came out on Feb. 22 and is getting the big, all-American push from RCA. The release was surrounded by the kind of antic swirl that can happen only in New York, a place where hype is systematically and enthusiastically manufactured. (The band's first record, Youth and Young Manhood, released in 2003, did extremely well in Europe but sold only 120,000 copies in the US.)
And so there was a video to be made, groupies to spurn, multiple television appearances, two sold-out shows with lavish after-parties, a clutch of media opportunities and the announcement that the band would be opening for U2 on that band's forthcoming tour.
Just another rock 'n' roll daydream, except that a lot of time and energy went into lifting Kings of Leon from its cult status to a band that can actually sell records.
The future is hardly assured, but these four supposed rustics from Tennessee -- three brothers and a cousin -- who seem to know plenty about fame and its discontents dived into their Manhattan media moment joyously last week and reveled in its squalid, splendid glory. What follows is a look at four days in the life of the next big thing.
The video shoot
Two weeks ago Monday, Dance'N Style in Rockaway, New Jersey, swarmed with Western line dancers. The director Patrick Daughters took a somewhat literal approach to shooting King of the Rodeo, the second song on Aha, and booked local people to line dance their way through the hard-rocking song.
Onstage, two women played a mournful, two-part harmony version of the chorus: "Rise and shine, all you gold-digging muthas, are you too good to tangle with the poor, poor boys?"
At stage right, the four "poor, poor boys" waited their turn to perform in the mock competition that was the conceit of the video: Nathan, 25, drummer, oldest brother and sage of the group; Caleb, 23, singer/preacher/guitarist; Jared, 18, bassist, token teenager and the butt of many jokes; and then the cousin, designated shy guy and lead guitarist, Matthew, 20.
The biblical bent of the brothers' given names is no accident. Their dad was an itinerant, hard-drinking Pentecostal circuit preacher in the South, since lapsed. His name is Leon. His sons are his gift to the world, perhaps not in a way that he intended, but still.
The Followills are all skinny as a swamp reed, a fact that is etched by pants that are so tight that they said they keep pliers in their bunks on the bus to enable quick exits. The three younger band members spend as much time futzing with their hair as a sophomore girl -- Nathan, with a huge untamed mane on his head and on his face, is the exception -- but that is about all the rock star affectation they can muster.
Instead of hiding in the tour bus, they actually watched the video shoot and caught smokes outside with the locals. Matthew tried on a few line dance steps outside and said: "You can't beat these line dancers. I think there is no other kind of dancing can touch it."