It's just after 10 p.m. on a Monday night in New York City and the album release party for the Kings of Leon is just starting to kick into high gear at the Dream Hotel.
An open bar, coupled with smiling waiters walking around with mini grilled cheese sandwiches and models dressed in nothing but black body paint fill the Electric Room, along with new music from "Mechanical Bull," the Kings' sixth studio album. The rustic leather couches and antique chandeliers are a natural complement for a band that sprouted from the Deep South and the wood walls only help with the acoustics of the new record.
The only thing missing from the party is the Kings of Leon.
The band, whose lead singer once walked off stage to go vomit and have a beer, in that order, left well before 9 p.m. and headed home to their families. The Followill four -- Caleb, Nathan, Jared and Matthew -- who for years were known as single malt drinking ladies men, have already left to rest up for their "Good Morning America" performance.
"The call time is like 4 a.m. or something like that," Jared said just before the Kings were ushered out of the venue. Is this the same bassist who once said that "everything" was better with a cocktail? Is this the same band? Yes and no.
|"It just seems like we're not so lonely."|
The Kings of Leon were founded by the three Followill brothers -- Caleb, 31, singing lead vocals, Nathan, 34, on drums, Jared, 26, on bass -- and their cousin Matthew, 28, who took lead guitar. All four grew up in Oklahoma and Tennessee, influenced by the patriarch of the family, Pentecostal preacher and the brothers' father, Ivan Followill. It wasn't until all four members made their way to Nashville by 1999 that the Kings were officially born, along with the possible belief that rock music was the way of the devil.
From 2000 to 2010, they were veritable rock stars in every way. By 2008, hits like "Sex on Fire" earned the band its first Grammy win, with three more coming the next year for "Use Somebody." But with success also came excess. The 2011 documentary "Talihina Sky" shows a pre- and post-stardom band, adapting to fame by drinking, smoking and fighting with each other.
The band's last album "Come Around Sundown" was released in 2010 and since then, everything has completely changed. Today, all four are now married; three have kids. Matthew and his wife Johanna welcomed son Knox in 2011, followed by Caleb and his wife, Victoria's Secret model Lily Aldridge's daughter Dixie Pearl in June 2012. Finally, Nathan welcomed his daughter Violet at the end of last year. From the pictures posted on Tumblr of Dixie's first birthday, fully equipped with Mickey Mouse, a bounce house and a ball pen for the kids, you'd never know this was the same Kings who told CNN in 2009 that they could "consume more alcohol than any other popular band." The band welcomes the transformation.
"Traveling is definitely different, today everybody's with us -- the kids and everything," Matthew said. "It just seems like more fun for some reason now. Just having everybody together like a big family on the road. It just seems like we're not so lonely."
Lonely, they are not. The Kings' flight to New York was the epitome of a traveling circus. The plane was teeming with rock stars, wives, babies and nannies -- 21 people in all.
"We basically had the whole plane," he added. "We took everyone on tour in England and it was the best of my life; to be able to come home and not have just a dark hotel room."
At only 2 years old, Knox may not understand what he's part of now, but Matthew is adamant that when he's old enough to appreciate his famous family, he'll let the "little turd" know he rocked out with Kings of Leon on a world tour.
Tour dates for "Mechanical Bull" will be announced in October, the first tour since the band cancelled a number of shows in 2011 due to "internal sickness & problems," according to Jared's tweets. There were also rumors of a drinking problem and even rehab for frontman Caleb. But despite "still using the F-word in one song," Jared said having families now in the mix, the music and new tour would reflect that.
"We obviously didn't go in there thinking like we're going to make it more kid friendly or change anything necessarily about the music," he added. "[But] if anything maybe the music sounds a little bit more childish in a sense."
|"Last night it would have been Jameson shots. Instead, I'm just hung over from tasting too many wines."|
And it appears the wives had added more than just bundles of joy to a band that released its debut album "Youth & Youth Manhood" in 2003 -- a record The Guardian gave five stars. The ladies have given the band a fresh take, but only "behind closed doors," said Jared.
In the Kings' latest bio, Caleb admits he knew he was onto something with this new record when he'd be trying out songs at home and Lily would open her door, shouting "What is THAT? Record that!"
"Like Lily would never say anything in front of us," Jared responded. "[But] you definitely love having that extra opinion. You ask [the wives] what's standing out to them, if they don't like something, if they do like something."
With that said, marriage and rug rats may dominate the band's time and take up a few extra seats on tour, but the Kings are still rock stars. They still know how to unwind after spending hours in the studio -- albeit, maybe in a different way. The night before the trip to New York, the band hosted a food and wine festival in Nashville. Jared and his wife Martha didn't refrain from partaking in a more mature offering of libations.
"Last night it would have been Jameson shots," he said. "Instead, I'm just hung over from tasting too many wines."
Jared, the youngest Followill by at least two years and the only member of the band without child, added that having a child with a world tour looming would be insanity. Plus, he was just married last year. So, while he's not actively trying to for a kid, he's just enjoying his role as hip uncle.
"I get to play with them until they start crying," he said. "Then they go back to their daddies."
Through it all -- diverging from a devout religious upbringing to form one of the biggest bands in the world, along with drinking and partying to the brink of implosion, to come full circle and become the family men they are today -- it looks as though the four princes have learned what it means to be Kings.
|The Kings and Klipsch: "It Was Always Kings of Leon."|
The Kings of Leon are known as a band that doesn't sell out. That is until they met Paul Jacobs, CEO of Klipsch, a speaker and headphone manufacturer out of Indianapolis. Klipsch will be the title sponsor for the band's North American tour next year.
Jacobs said that while Beats by Dre and other companies have been signing artists for years, his company wanted to find a partner that would stay true to their brand. "This company is like a family. The Followills are a family," Jacobs said. "There are a lot of musicians that will sign up for crap. But the one group that never signed a deal was the Kings of Leon."
Jacobs said he got to meet with the band and their families and knew the Kings were the band for them. "We started with 100 bands in the vetting process and it was always Kings of Leon."