Kings of Leon: Southern Men
GW If a band member quit, would Kings of Leon continue?
CALEB Depends on if it were me or not. [laughs]
MATTHEW I don’t know—it may be. I mean, if I quit, they could probably find another guitar player and become a really boring band, and then…you know…fail. [laughs]
CALEB Obviously, I’d continue making music, and I’m sure everyone else would too. But yeah, it’d be weird to be up there onstage with a different person. I don’t know if we’d have the same chemistry. There’s just something about being onstage with your blood—that’s something special. What we have, the combination of people—and maybe it’s because we’re family, I don’t know—it’s giving us the chance to be extraordinary.
GW How do you go about the process of songwriting? Do you sit around on a couch and play guitar? Do you watch films or read books to get inspired?
CALEB It depends. Some songs I mess around with for a few days or weeks, and then I show ’em to the guys. Other times, songs just pop up out of nowhere. I do have one rule, though: I don’t write lyrics until we’re ready to record. I like to do a kind of recap of my life, see what’s going on. The words are fresher that way.
MATTHEW Sometimes one of my guitar licks will inspire a song. “Use Somebody” started out that way. There’s a bunch of ’em. It’s weird: Jared will come up with a bass line, or I’ll have a part, and we’ll work out the music. Sometimes there’s a lot of guitar parts to wade through, but it usually starts out with one person and everybody will start adding to it.
GW Caleb, as a guitarist, you’ve stuck with your Gibson ES-325 for many years. What do you like so much about it?
CALEB I don’t know. The guitar was just made for me. It’s crazy, because now that we’re playing these big places, I’ll have issues with the sound, and I’ll start to think, Well, maybe if I do this differently, or maybe I’ll try that… So I’ll put on a new guitar and it’ll sound full and rich, but the second I play one of our songs with it, it doesn’t sound like Kings of Leon. The 325, though, that guitar sounds like us. It’s got everything.
When I got it, it was in mint condition, and now it’s showing a lot of wear and tear. There’s a hole in the body near the pick guard from my strumming. I worry about it. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep it. I have a few backup guitars, but the 325 is what gives me the sound, you know?
GW Matthew, you seem to favor a few different guitars.
MATTHEW Yeah. When I first moved to Nashville [Matthew grew up in Mississippi] and hooked up with the rest of the guys, I bought a Les Paul and a Marshall. That was the rock thing to do, right? But it didn’t work for me; it was just too loud. Then I kept going through different guitars and amps until I found combinations that worked for me. I like these Ampeg Reverb Rocket amps and hollowbody guitars. I used an Epiphone Sheraton for a long time, and now I use a Gibson Elite. Gibsons just give me the sound I want. And amp-wise, I’m more a fan of smaller amps turned up loud than big amps turned up halfway. You’ve gotta get the full grit of the amp, you know?
GW Speaking of sound, you guys have evolved rather quickly from your first album. You started out as a tight, gritty rock and roll band, and now your albums are more expansive, sonically and structurally.
CALEB We always try to do something different, and the songs we’re writing right now, they sound different from anything we’ve done before. Some songs are driving rock and roll and some things sound like…I don’t know, Radiohead almost. For me, the hard part is making these songs make sense as a whole. Diversity is great, but you’ve got to make it sound…complete.
MATTHEW I hear my guitar sounds changing a bit. I’ve been using more pedals and delays. The Edge was probably an influence on me. I remember when we were on tour with U2 in 2005, I went up onstage and looked at his rig—he’s got a crazy setup. More and more, I like opening up the guitar sound. I don’t want to sound, you know, “ordinary.” I like playing around with crazy sounds, like in the song “Closer,” I’m literally singing—screaming—into my guitar pickups. That stuff is so cool to do.
Artists:Kings of Leon
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