For more than a decade, Nashville rock group Kings of Leon never stepped off the "make a record and tour" wheel which essentially either makes or breaks bands. But after 2010's Come Around Sundown, it was time the sun set on the quartet for just a little bit.
"I don't think people realize just how hard we had pushed ourselves from the release of the first record in 2003 until we were able to take the break," drummer Nathan Followill says before the band's mid-August appearance at Britain's V Festival. "It was very important for us to clear our heads and get to be dads and husbands for a little while and not have that pressure of getting back out there too soon.
"Jared got married and Caleb and Matt and me and my wife all had kids. It was the first time in 10 years we got to be normal for a second and mow our own yards and housework and take out the trash. And get to know our wives because from my engagement and getting married until now my wife was married to the husband who was either in the studio or on tour."
The group's trio of brothers -- Nathan, singer/guitarist Caleb and bassist Jared -- and cousin Matthew Followill (guitarist) took about a year off before heading back into the studio to create their new album Mechanical Bull. One huge asset was converting an "old paint factory" into their new recording studio.
"We ended up sneak-ishly turning it into a studio," Nathan says. "By the time anyone even realized we were thinking about doing another record we were, I would say, 85% of the way done with it," Nathan say. "I think it was important for us to get in there without the pressure of the label, the management or people wanting to come in and hear stuff too soon. It was like back to the good old days when we went in, picked up our instruments and just had fun again making music."
Mechanical Bull, out Sept. 24, is something Nathan says is "15,000 times better" than Come Around Sundown. There are definitely a few keepers on it outside of the first single Supersoaker including the groovy Family Tree and bombastic ballad Tonight. One of the biggest highlights however is Don't Matter, a lean punishing jewel Nathan says was written and recorded "in less than two hours."
"We took a page from Queens of the Stone Age's book and from beginning to end kept a beat that was pulsating," he says. "It was one of those things where it was over before it even began. We were like, 'Holy s---! That's a kick ass song but that's a single-worthy song!' That's one that literally developed out of thin air. We played two or three of the new songs live and that one with the crowd is just a no-brainer. They've never heard it before but they know it's a rocker."
Perhaps the only downside to Don't Matter is the fact the drummer will be tested nightly with this hellishly-paced tune, something he's up for. "It was definitely one that as soon as we recorded it I was like, 'Damn, I'm going to have to play that every single night,'" he says. "It's fun to look down at the set list and go, 'Okay, I got three songs until I have to blow it out here.' I truly believe the guys are trying to see if my arms will literally fall off on stage. But it's fun, it's fun to get our sea legs back under us."
The group teased fans in Europe this summer with a few tracks from Mechanical Bull but will be in full touring mode once the album comes out. An extensive North American tour with Canadian dates is being slated for next spring but Followill says "there might be one show this year in Toronto."
As well, support acts are still being determined although Followill says bands from the group's own label Serpents and Snakes Records could join them sometime on the tour.
"We haven't really locked anyone in yet so far," Nathan says. "U2 haven't returned our calls, we're not sure, we're still holding out for that. But we'll see."
Finally, the group aren't engaging in any acrimonious "knuckle dusters" or "trips to the hospital" but rather celebrating the fact there's still a Kings of Leon in 2013.
"It's very rare to get to make five records let along six records in this day and age," he says.
Free KOL full of laughs
Kings of Leon staged a free concert earlier this summer streamed on YouTube as part of the American Express Unstaged series. And as Vampire Weekend had Boardwalk Empire star Steve Buscemi direct their concert, Kings of Leon used former Saturday Night Live and Portlandia star Fred Armisen.
Nathan Followill says a series of skits leading up to the concert and posted on YouTube took a physical toll on the group.
"A good ab workout, trying not to laugh at him (Armisen) is probably one of the best ab workouts in the world," Followill says.
"I mean as soon as that thing was over, we were like, 'Oh my god my stomach hurts so bad from holding in the laughter.' I think me and Matt did a pretty good job of holding it together. I think Caleb and Jared had a little tougher time keeping it together in a few of the scenes.
"He's just such a sweetheart of a guy and he's so awesome and welcoming. He made us feel like naturals and it an absolute pleasure to work with him. He's a really great guy and we developed a friendship that will last a long time."
Almost as humorous are conspiracy theories regarding the band's album cover for Mechanical Bull.
"It's so funny, the little conspiracy theorists are like, 'Well, we saw on one of them a checkered flag which usually means the last lap,'" Followill says.
"'So that's their way of subliminally saying this is the last record they're going to make. Just stuff like that, it's so funny. That was one that just we all collectively agreed on and it seems to be well-received. Like all of our friends in other bands and in the industry say that it's a pretty classic record cover.