Kings of Leon reach for Talihina Sky

The Followills talk religion, sex and rock 'n' roll in the week a documentary about their lives hits cinemas
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The Independent Culture

The story of how Kings of Leon came to fill stadiums around the world with screaming fans can be compared to tales you heard at school of parents who were so strict their little darlings ended up on more drugs than Keith Richards and pregnant before the age of consent.

Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon, a feature-length documentary about the rise of the Followill brothers Caleb, Nathan, Jared and their cousin Matthew (also named Followill), is an incredibly revealing portrait of their strict Pentecostal upbringing in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

It includes comment from their parents and extended family and reveals their early Christian-focussed music careers and includes accounts of them falling into raptures in church and speaking in tongues.

The footage has been gathered over 8 years and has largely been filmed by the band themselves on handheld cameras. What holds it all together is new footage from an annual clan reunion in a deep South shack setting that makes you realise quite how far the Followill brothers have risen from their humble roots.

The film takes us to the house “that was barely liveable” where the three brothers grew up and where Matthew regularly came to stay. Caleb remarks on an early struggle with his faith in the impoverished setting: “If we live our whole lives for god then why are we living here?”

The story of their reach for a taste of life outside of this sheltered sphere, particularly for the three brothers, is intertwined with the disintegration of their parents’ marriage, the realisation that their upstanding preacher father has a weakness for alcohol, and a thirst for material things.

A description of the moment when Caleb and Nathan manage to rig up a makeshift television from an old computer and watch Sesame Street late one night, is quite hard to believe in the modern world. They explain that it was their first encounter with “the one-eyed devil”, as their mother calls the television set.

But how do they reconcile their faith with the life of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll they have chosen?

“As soon as I knew we were getting a record deal I never slept. I knew I was going to hell and I wasn’t going to be a preacher,” Caleb said.

“You can’t reconcile it, you have to basically ignore it,” Jared said. “Obviously if we still had the same beliefs as before then we'd have to quit the band and start going to church. You just have to act as if that didn’t happen, live our lives for now and think that maybe one day if you decide to you could go back to that.”

But religion helped shaped them into the performers they are now as the old films of “angel voiced” Caleb and Nathan as teenagers singing soaring hymnals with closed eyes, fresh faces and looks of exultation attests.

Their vast extended family features heavily. How did they feel about becoming famous? “They were a little apprehensive,” Matthew said. “They were really proud,” Jared added. “They felt like movie stars.” Their grandparents Mildred and Leon, and old soak called Cleo are just three of the huge personalities the documentary introduces us to.

The film also reveals that the band gained its name from their grandfather: “Leon is our grandpa. He’s a funny old man. He’s hilarious. We all got our sense of humour from him. He’s a quiet type. We all got the band name from him. He’s just always been a big part of our lives,” Jared said.

Judging from the exuberant reaction of the 65,000 strong crowd in Hyde Park last night for the London leg of the band’s tour it looks like the Kings of Leon will be filling stadiums for some time to come. So will they document the next 15 years? Matthew: “Why not?” Jared: “I definitely think we should. I think we should have a reality show in fact [Laughs]. Only kidding.”