Kings of Leon talk Come Around Sundown
With their new work proving to be 2010's fastest selling UK album, Kings of Leon are rightly excited about their latest effort. Here The Biggest Band in the Whole Damn World sit down and talk through the recording process and give The Music Fix an insight into the stories behind some of the songs.
Title of the Record ...
Caleb: I think “Come Around Sundown” can mean so many different things. Like, “come around, sundown;” like you’re wanting the sundown to get here. But, it’s actually saying, “I think I’m gonna go have a cup of coffee, come around sundown.”
Jared: Some people interpret it as “come around sundown;” like “come over my house at sundown.” I don’t see it as that. I see it as like “come around sundown, we ‘bout to get down.” Ha-ha!
Matthew: And you always think about, in your free time, record titles and stuff like that -- fun stuff. I was listening to some song and the person said, “come around sundown.” I said “maybe,” so I just told the guys and they’re like, “yeah, that’s awesome.” I just expected it to be thrown in the hat with a bunch of other names, but it was kind of immediate. Pretty much from day one, that was the title of the record.
The End ...
Jared: When we play “The End” live, I don’t know what I’m gonna do! I’m gonna look like Quasimodo; I’ll be hunched over, playing as hard as I can. It’s the hardest bass line I have ever written! I do it with my fingers, it’s so fast. You can’t really – it’s kind of a muffled sound on the record. But if you can hear what I’m doing: I tried to do a Tom ___ kind of thing. But it’s way too hard for me. I’m gonna literally have to play it with my back facing out – ‘cause I’m going to be making a face that no human should see outside the realms of hell. Ha-ha!
Caleb: Well, starting the record off with “The End”… I mean it’s definitely one of those songs that comes in one piece at a time. That’s always a good way – it layers itself – to start a record.
Matthew: I think we needed a strong song to start the record.
Nathan: It’s got a bit of irony to it being “The End” and the beginning.
Caleb: The song has a little bit of what we were doing on the last record. For someone that was a fan of the last record, when they put this record on, it’s not going to scare them away.
Matthew: Radioactive” is one of the first songs that we started on and it is wasn’t until the last week that anything came together. We just weren’t sure what was going to happen.
Jared: When we first started writing “Radioactive,” it was a song called “It’s Alright.” And literally, I think that it was either right after we wrote “Aha Shake Heartbreak” or during the writing of that record.
Nathan: To be able to put a song on a record that was written two records ago, but for some reason just didn’t quite fit – I think it says a lot about the strength of the songs.
Caleb: Yeah; it started out as a very punk-rock song that we ended up scrapping. But, then we ended up using that melody for the new idea which was that boom-de-da-deh. But when we got in there, the verse and chorus were too similar. It didn’t feel like it went anywhere.
Jared: We had to completely restructure the song. And that’s what we did going into this record. We just thought, “we’re not going to throw away a song; we’re gonna to make every song as good as possible.”
Caleb: And one night -- we had been there all day, and Nathan had gone home. And Jared had gone home… and Angela had gone home. It was just me, Matthew and Jacquire. We were playing darts and I was pretty bummed that it wasn’t going to make the record ‘cause I thought it was strong. I said, “Hey, Jacquire, just record and I’m go in here and a do a thing” And I went in there and just, “The road is carved up yonder..” and just gave it a lot more space. And by doing that, it made the chorus so very powerful. The next day, we got in and I was like, “play that.” When he started playing it, Nathan, Jared and Angela -- everyone walked in: “what is that? What is that song being sang very drunkenly?” And it ended up working. It ended up giving new life to the song.
Caleb: “Pyro,” I had actually written some verses because I was watching this piece on these radical Christians that live up in the mountains and somehow the FBI got involved and pretty much went and killed them. And so I started writing kind of about that and about a guy that was kind of fed up with it all and he thought that the world that he was living in wasn’t the perfect world to him so he kind of goes and burns it down. It’s just one of those songs where it’s like it starts out with someone thinking they know how it’s supposed to be and at the end it’s like, “I can’t even be that way.”
Jared: “Pyro” is the funnest one to play live right now.
Matthew: “Pyro” is the most fun and it’s the most difficult. It’s, uh… God… I remember the first night we played it. I was so nervous and so mad at them for making me play it. It’s because I was so anxious to do it, but, thank God, it worked out and I didn’t mess up.
Caleb: And I think it’s always a song that’s like intimate and very much the vocals are up front. That’s always the difficult one for me because at times you feel like you’re carrying the weight. Like, a song like “Pyro,” is kind of like… It’s kind of a quiet song so the vocal to me needs to be pretty perfect and going back to what we were saying earlier, to me, perfect doesn’t mean perfect. It means to have the emotion to really carry the track and to get the audience and the listener to really relate to what’s going on.
Caleb: Mary is something that I was writing at the very beginning of Only by the Night. It was something I wrote in my house one night, drunk. And it had such an energy to it and I loved it but for some reason, it didn’t make the cut.
Matthew: I think that was for the last record and it just never happened and then somebody played an old demo and we were like, “Man, we’ve got to bring that one back around.”
Caleb: We were going through the song titles and everything that we had and Angela was like, “why don’t we try to record ‘Mary’ again?” And I could see everyone kind of go like “ehhh,” but I was like, “Please!” “Mary” is something that I’ve always loved and I think that it would have been a travesty if it didn’t make this record.
Jared: On the demo, it was really kind of distorted-sounding and it really had a Neutral Milk Hotel or a Olivia Tremor Control vibe. It sounds like… There’s a song called “Holland 1945” by Neutral Milk Hotel that it really kind of… It’s this kind of bar song that’s like really fast. And I mean, when we recorded it, we kind of took it more of a Phil Spector way as opposed to the distorted, you know, Affan’s band kind of vibe. But I think you can still feel some of that stuff in there.
Nathan: I think one of my favorite intros ever by us is “Mary.” Because it goes “woo-doo” and then it’s just right in your face, like right off the bat.
Matthew: The background vocals, really, like the first thing you hear really, I was really excited. (Jared agrees) I don’t know who came up with that line, but when they did, I was like, “Man, that’s awesome.”
Caleb: It’s called “Mary” and it’s M-A-R-Y, but I’m actually talking about marriage. I said, “Marry if you wanna. I waive my right.” I think that was when I was kind of disgruntled about Nathan moving out of the house and getting married. Then, in the second verse, I talk about Nacho, and I say, like, “We’ll dance like we’re boyfriends in sheer delight,” because me and him used to go out and party. On this album, we were experimenting a little more and wanted to show our countrier side at times and our throwback side and wanted to give people like a brief history of what Kings of Leon have been trying to achieve all the while.
The Recording Process ...
Caleb: There’s a lot of vulnerability on this record and that is the fact that a lot of it wasn’t rehearsed and, I mean, back in the, back when people were making real music, that’s what you loved when you could hear a pop here or a crack here, a door opening. And I remember when we were doing Youth and Young Manhood, I forget which track it is, but if you listen closely, and we’re probably the only ones that can hear it, but while the track is being played, you can hear someone playing pool in the background. You can hear the balls cracking. And you know, it’s like, “that’s awesome,” you know, it’s got to stay.
Jared: We always try to record live and we get as much as we can on tape live and then if we have to go back and fix stuff, then you do.
Nathan: I don’t think we’ve ever been a band to have the stopwatch out for that radio hit, ya know--It’s gotta be two and a half minutes to three minutes long or something like that.
Caleb: No, we don’t like to ever over-think anything. I mean the amount of times we go in there and actually record a song… It’s unbelievable. I mean, we’ll go in there and play it three times and if they say, “Give us one more,” we’re all like, “Come on, we gave it to you three times. That’s what the song is going to be.”
Matthew: There are definitely a couple of songs on this record that were almost completely live. “Mary” was for me, every single bit of the song is live, even the solo. I wanted to redo the solo so badly and they were like, “No, just leave it. It’s really good.” So I was like, “Fine.” But yeah, that one was completely tracked live for me.
Caleb: We aren’t going in there and separating everything and having everything sound as perfect as we can because I really, I’ve really never been into perfection that much.
The Immortals ...
Caleb: With “Immortals,” I actually sat down and wrote the lyrics for that. And it took me about 20 minutes; it was pretty quick. And I actually sat down and played it for my girlfriend. She welled up with tears and said, “those are some of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard.” And Jared, yesterday, he told me he thinks that it maybe the one of greatest choruses that we’ve ever written.
Jared: Yeah, to me, the chorus is – if not the very, it’s one of the very best choruses we’ve every written as a band. It’s huge. The lyrics are special; I really like the lyrics on the chorus – they really hit home. Just the instrumentation – just like I said: it goes from something super fast and then out of nowhere the bottom drops out and it’s like you’re free falling.
Caleb: In I way, I kind of wanted it to be something that I could say to my children. It really says it all in one chorus. Here it is: go out and be who it is you wanna be and at the end of the day, before you’ve gone, make sure you’ve loved…
Back Down South ...
Caled: I knew with “Back Down South,” I was so excited to record that song. I didn’t write one lyric to that song; I free-flowed every bit of that. But, Matthew, one day, we were in the rehearsal space and he had a lap steel.
Matthew: I brought one and I didn’t know how to tune it or anything, but it was in the tuning and I played around for a while. Then the guy kinda showed me how to do certain things – So one of the first things I’ve played on it –
Caleb: Kinda went like, “Berr, bah-bah, berr, buh-buh buhm.” And immediately I said, “come out and dance, if you get the chance… ”
Matthew: And I was so excited and I knew it was so far away, but I couldn’t wait to show the guys that line! I was so happy when I showed it to them, everybody immediately tried to start writing parts for it. And that’s the best feeling ever.
Nathan: “Back Down South,” Good lord, who’s not on the back-end of that one? --
Caleb: The kitchen sink! –
Nathan: It was just one of those, like Caleb said, we had a round of everyone singing it. then kinda got distracted and played darts or whatever – had a drink.
Matthew: It was one of the best times we’ve ever had in the studio! For some reason, we started drinking whiskey so early, at like right when we got there. Like, “hey! Gonna take a shot?” And everybody’s like, “yeah!” So, at the end of the night, we were like, let’s just sing some backup vocals in the end – just sing what Caleb’s singing. And twenty people – all the crew, everybody that worked there – we’re all in the room with a couple of mics.
Jared: I was actually out sick for a couple of days. I was so depressed, sitting at home. I couldn’t do anything. But, they’d send me e-mails of the songs! And I’d be like, “ugh! I wanna be there so bad!” And then they sent me that and it was just like, “why don’t you stab me in the back!” I leave for 5 seconds and you guys have a pizza party on Friday!
Nathan: You know, I was glad for a song like “Back Down South” to make this record because we could have so easily gone in there and tried to give them six “Sex on Fire”’s and six “Somebody”’s. It was good to see “Back Down South” on there because that was us going back to not only our roots as where we’re from, but also the type of band we’ve been from day one!
Beach Side ...
Caleb: Yeah, well, “Beach Side” is funny because the reason it’s called “Beach Side” is because it was declared a “B-Side” on the record. And, so, the whole time it was on the board it was written down as “B-Side.”
Jared: ‘Cause it was really simple; it was about two and a half minutes long. And when [Matt] started to do his lap steel thing, it took it to another level. But, still, it’s the most simple song on the record. The easiest to play. Like, the most easily put together.
Matthew: Nathan had a very 70’s drum tone that we were all really excited about that. Had the lap steel, but hadn’t really written a part for that yet, but I knew I wanted to use it. So, me and Jared got into the guitar room and wrote a part. And it ended up sounding beach-y and 70’s.
Caleb: And I was like, “man, we can’t call it ‘B-Side’. We started to really like the song at that point. And my little brother had went to a Beach House concert the night before. And he walked in with a Beach House shirt on and I said, “I got it. Let’s call the song ‘Beach Side!’” and everyone’s like “yeah!. It’s perfect”. And then after having said that, it’s almost as if the sound of the song in all of our heads started to sound beach-y.
Nathan: Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely different from anything that you’d know from Kings of Leon. Do I think that it’s odd for us to have that in us musically? No, not at all. I think we’re barely scratching the surface right now of our potential musically and as us as musicians and the songwriting and all that stuff. So, it’s a departure of what you’d normally expect from us, but, once again, it’s another glimpse of the window that is Kings of Leon.
No Money ...
Jared: “No Money,” to me, had a vocal like the Misfits.
Matthew: When you start with a song called, “No Money,” you know what direction you’re going to go with. You know it’s going to be punk rock. You know you want it to sound dirty and raw. And really big at the same time – I mean there’s only one thing to do: put some buzz on that bitch. When I put it on the solo –
Jared: When I rock I use fuzz petal – only my hardest rocking songs I use fuzz petal: “Crawl,” “Black Thumb-Nail,” “No Money”… It’s my go-to thing to make my bass loud and put in “in your face.” And with that song, I knew immediately: going for the big muff.
Matthew: Yeah, Nathan had played a drum part for a long time that was just so bad-ass and I couldn’t step away from it. During sound checks I’d always go, “dude, play that drumbeat.” And it was really hard for him to play it. And he’d play it for so long and I try so hard to write a guitar part for it. And then finally one day, after playing it for months on tour, I finally came up with a guitar part. I remember playing that and he was like, “that’s awesome” and everyone started playing with it. And I was thinking, “thank God,” because I love Nathan’s drumbeat so much! And it’s the only rockers on the record.
Pony Up ...
Nathan: “Pony Up” is definitely fun, as far as the drumming goes. Because there’s so much start going and I’d think many people listening to that would guess that’s me playing all that at one time. I had a drumstick with a shaker tapped to it, playing the cow bell, the tambourine and all that in one. And if you listen to it, it sounds like four things going on at once, but – that songs – every record I’ll have one song that – well, my buddy calls it “math-rock.” It’s like a drum part you’ve really got to think about while you’re playing it because it might be simple, but a beat might be so simple that you get off because you kinda lulled into the same thing – kind of repetitive. “Pony Up” is definitely one of my favorite ones to play on the record. There’s just so much stuff going on and who doesn’t like a cow bell?
Sequencing the album ...
Caleb: Well, to sequence a record is always a tough deal for us because at time there are certain songs we liked better than others.
Jared: I always knew that “Beach Side” should go after “South Bound.” There’s just something about the laughter going to the drum fill that leads into “Beach Side” that sounded really cool to me.
Caleb: It’s one of those things when you all go and sequence it, then you get back together and whatever is the closest out of everyone’s -- it usually they’re all is pretty similar – but there’s always a couple little things –
Nathan: And you’ll have your book-ends. You’ll have your two: “that’s definitely the song that has to start the record and that’s definitely the one has to end it.” Then the other parts are interchangeable as far as, like he said, it comes down to looking at everyone’s and going with the general consensus.
Matthew: I think people don’t realize – I never thought about it until we did sequencing that it’s pretty important. I mean, it can change the way the whole record feels completely. It can make it a completely different record.
Caleb: In the process, the ending of that song sounds really great going into the beginning of this song. It’s actually one of the more fun parts of making a record.
Pickup Truck ...
Caleb: I wrote “Pickup Truck” around a campfire. And I looked at the coals on the fire had started to turn to white and I said, “cracklin’ woods gone white.” And everything felt so manly and so strong. We were out there makin’ fires! Cookin’ our own food! We were fishin’ for our food and cookin’ it and doing all these things. And that’s when I started thinking about a pickup truck. And they said there was some ranger coming over and he was gonna check on us. And I thought it was going to be some tough dude and when I saw the truck that he was driving, I was like, “you call that a pickup truck?” And that song just kinda morphed into this idea of – you wanna add an aspect of love to it, but at the end of the day it’s this man sayin’ “I’m a bigger man than you.” And then he ends up getting his ass whopped!
Jared; We’ve always loved the romance of a southern man: the southern guys that drive pickup trucks and go to campfires and get in fights a lot. It’s the life we would have led if we didn’t join a band. And the chorus to that is so literally and just so easy, but it’s so real. And we’ve seen it and it happens that’s what we would have been.
Matthew: I definitely love the romance of a southern man –
Jared: Me, too –
Nathan: “Pickup Truck” is definitely drum-wise, is a song that’s a “builder.” Then it goes back down again, then back up and down again. And I think it’s just one of those things where I really had no choice, it’s just the type of song it was. And I could have tried it a gazillion different of ways, but it wouldn’t have sounded as good as that. And sometimes the simplest way of doing something is the best way of doing it.
Jared: On “Pickup Truck,” we do a break down and then a build back up. But we’ve always liked that kind of thing, in a lot of songs that we really like -- that mean at lot to us, like, “With or Without You” is kind of did that. “Ceremony,” by New Order does that, breaks down a lot. Another song, “Renegade” by Thin Lizzy does the exact same thing.
Caleb: There’s a song by Thin Lizzy called “Renegade” and we all love that song so much. And at the very end, it starts to slow down and it goes to the click – from the snare to the click. And then the song rebuilds itself. And then we new immediately that this song was our “Renegade.”
Come Around Sundown is out now.