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Pop Music

How the Kings of Leon were begat

The Followill brothers grew up with foot-stompin', tent-shakin' gospel music. Then one day they learned how to rock 'n' roll.

July 27, 2003|Dean Kuipers | Special to The Times

The title track, "Holy Roller Novocaine," is also a stretched-out mini-epic powered by jangly guitar, focused on the tale of a pervy minister abusing his power with the women in his church. When asked if this is about their father, all four boys shout, "No!" then laugh.

"It's about a certain preacher," Caleb explains, "and if you listen to the lyrics, I'm sure you could get it. He's the kind of guy who used women and got out of it what he wanted. We're callin' him out a little bit."

"The fact that it's got a Southern edge to it so far has not been misinterpreted as Southern rock," RCA's Ralbovsky says. "There is some element of traditional Southern rock 'n' roll, soul, gospel, but they listen to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Strokes, the Soledad Brothers, White Stripes. They take a more primitive music as a template, then they bring their gospel and soul elements to that."

They also have a heck of a story to tell. "Novocaine" is more indicative, they say, of the "psycho" material they developed for their full-length, which includes songs about church but also "chicks good and bad, transvestites, murders."

They did most of the recording at Shangri-La with producer Ethan Johns, producer of Ryan Adams and son of Zeppelin producer Glyn Johns. But they're not going for polish.

Case in point is "Joe's Head," a breezy, delightful little tune along the lines of the Allman Brothers' "Little Martha," exploding at moments with Caleb's choked, hoarse vocals.

"We're going for the natural thing," Caleb says. "We're not worried about making hits. I like the little songs. We recorded a song right here on the couch with acoustic guitars, microphone, boom. Cousin was playin' pool in the background. We live for that kind of stuff."

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