Kings of Leon (from left): Matthew, Jared, Caleb, and Nathan Followill.
KINGS OF LEON
IF YOUTH AND FAME MAKE AN
explosive combination, Jared Followill is playing
with fire. The son of a travelling preacher,
Jared first picked up the bass at the age of
15. Within mere months, Followill brothers
Jared, Caleb, and Nathan—joined by cousin
Matthew—were recording their debut album
with producer Ethan Johns. Fueled by the
record’s raw blend of Southern garage rock
and post-punk, the Kings launched their
With blistering shows and stellar sales,
the band was quick to conquer Europe, Australia,
and New Zealand, but American
audiences proved somewhat less receptive.
That is, until now. On the band’s latest, Come
Around Sundown, Jared—now 24—shows
himself to be an old soul schooled in the low-end leadership styles of players like
Peter Hook, Adam Clayton, and Andy
Rourke. By paying tribute to that limb of the
bass playing tree and branching out to give
his own voice room to breathe, Jared has
positioned himself as one of the youngest
players to ably tend rock & roll’s flame.
What was your earliest exposure to music?
Our dad was a preacher, so we traveled
to churches in different towns, listening to
music in the car. My dad grew up listening
to bands like Led Zeppelin, Bad Company,
and Thin Lizzy, but he left that world to
become a minister. So we weren’t really
allowed to listen to rock & roll. My earliest
memories are sitting in the car listening
to Oldies radio stations. We would play a
game where we would each guess a band—
the Beach Boys, or the Ronnettes, for
example—and see which one of those bands
came on the radio first.
You were pretty young when you guys
started the band. What music were you into
at that point?
I was 15, but before I even started playing,
I was involved in [drummer] Nathan
and [singer-guitarist] Caleb’s musical lives.
They started out writing simple country
tunes, and then the songs started getting
more and more promising. By the time I was
12 or 13, I was listening to all kinds of stuff.
It all started when a kid in my Spanish
class gave me a copy of the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa.
That was one of the first bands that changed
the way I thought about music. By the time
we started the band, I was listening to the
Olivia Tremor Control and At the Drive-In.
I remember thinking Clinic’s album Internal
Wrangling [Domino, 2000] was amazing.
Once you joined the band, you were
under the scrutiny of engineers and producers.
What effect did that have on your
nascent playing style?
I think it handicapped the way I played,
but that’s somewhat of a good thing. I never
had a chance to become technically good;
I just had to be immediately creative, while
learning how to play the bass. Nobody else
could play their instruments very well,
either, so it’s not as if I had the luxury of
people writing bass lines for me. On the
first record, I was playing the most difficult
things I could play at the time. Of course,
looking back I can hear I was basically following
along with the chords the other guys
were playing. But back then we had a simpler
sound, so it worked out. I never had
the time to become a technical genius, and
I’m glad for that.
In your playing I hear echoes of Adam
Clayton, Peter Hook, John Taylor, and Simon
Gallup. Am I on the right track in terms of
the players you identify with?
Definitely. I listen to a lot of New Order,
and I love U2. I wouldn’t say British New
Wave is my favorite kind of music, but it’s
definitely some of my favorite bass playing,
because it carries so much of the melody.
When we first started the band, I was
almost disappointed to be the bass player,
because I didn’t know anything about other
bassists. But you learn so many things once
you start playing. You teach yourself how
to listen to the bass—to the point where it
becomes the only thing you hear. It’s at that
point I came to realize how many songs are
carried by their bass lines. I wanted to be
the kind of player who wrote those parts,
but it just never worked out for me. [Laughs.]
What’s the band’s approach to songwriting?
The majority of songs come in from
Caleb and me. If I bring in a song, I’ll try
to make it so it already has a verse, a chorus,
and a bridge. [Lead guitarist] Matthew
comes in with a good share, as well, often
with something that doesn’t have a full
structure—it’s just an awesome part. In
rehearsal, I’m usually the guy who figures
out the chord changes to go into a bridge
or chorus, while they hang on to their parts.
On a number of songs, it’s indeed your
changes on bass that mark different sections—
bridge, chorus, etc.—while the guitars
playing more sparsely up top.
That’s happened since early on, like on
“King of the Rodeo” [from Aha Shake Heartbreak].
Caleb had a guitar part we really
liked, and when I went to the chorus, he stayed on his part. We like that kind of
repetitive thing when the guitar keeps
on pounding and things change underneath.
That’s something you’ll also hear
in electronic music. It’s a trick LCD
Soundsystem uses that all the time, letting
one part go through the whole song
and building around it.
You’ve played a Gibson Thunderbird for
a number of years, but before that you
tended to favor a Gibson EB-3. What factors
into your decisions when it comes to
I’ve used a few different basses over the
years, but I’m pretty horrible when it comes
to knowledge on the technical side of things;
I basically started playing a Thunderbird
because Gibson sent me a free one. I tried
it out for one show, and it happened to be
a really amazing show—it sounded great,
and our soundman was really pleased.
Because of its longer scale, it was a lot
harder to play than my EB-3—which I could
just rip on—but in time I got used to it. It was a difficult transition, but it sounded better,
and it ultimately made me a stronger
player. It had clearer highs and lows, and
I could get a certain crunch that was missing
with the EB-3.
What’s your attitude toward effects?
I’ve always felt a little self-conscious having
a pure, straight bass sound—I like to have
something on it, whether it’s reverb, delay,
or overdrive. Live and in the studio, I use a
Boss ME-50B with delay, chorus, or whatever.
I’ve also used an Electro-Harmonix
Big Muff ? for a really long time. I’ve had
the same fuzz sound for the last three
records, so I’m shopping for something different
to switch things up.
How do you use effects in the studio?
They record at least two tracks—one
clean, and one with the effects—but I definitely
hear the effects in my headphones
while we’re tracking.
What’s your approach in terms of amps?
I have my live sound pretty much dialed in, but when we get into the studio and
the engineers bring out some sort of new
rig, I get totally sucked into it. I basically
try to get the crunchy sound I get with my
live rig, an Ampeg SVT Classic with two
8x10 cabs. Again, I don’t really get
wrapped up in the technical side of things.
In terms of our live sound, the changes
we make are generally to make it better
for our front-of-house engineer.
What do you do to get your live rig to
sound how you want it?
I turn up, and up, and up. [Laughs.] I
actually listen mostly to my sound from
the monitors, but I need that push from
the onstage cabinets. I used in-ear monitors
for a while, but it started turning me
into such a dork—I wouldn’t move around
at all on stage, because I felt like I was at
home listening to a CD in my room. It
sounded much better and made it easier
to play, but I had to sacrifice those things
in order to put on a better show overall.
What was your input in terms of getting
the right mix for the record?
I told our engineers that I want people
to be able to choose a part—bass, guitar,
or whatever—and hear that track through
the entire song. It’s sometimes hard to get
that message across without sounding egotistical.
It’s not necessarily about volume,
though. I don’t play much in the bass’s
lower registers, so I’m often fighting with
the guitar frequencies in order to punch
through. We tend to bump up the bass’s
higher frequencies. We do that at the
board, rather than on the amp; amps can
make the high end sound too doinky.
If you could sub for any other bassist
on road right now, who would it be?
That’s a touch question, because I’d
choose different people for different reasons.
I know that Peter Hook is on tour
playing a lot of Joy Division material, and
I love all those bass lines. But then there’s
a band like Phoenix, which looks like it
has so much fun onstage. It would also
be fun to tour in a smaller band. I don’t
miss the travel aspect of playing smaller
shows, but I love the way bass sounds in
a club; with the amp right behind you, you
can hear it perfectly.
In your estimation, how have you progressed
as a player?
I suppose I’m writing more complicated
parts now, but the main difference
is that I’m able to play what I hear in my
head. It used to be that I would come up
with a part and hum into my phone as a
voice memo, but back then it would be
too difficult for me to play.
Part of what I enjoy about your bass
lines on record is your tasteful deployment
of slides, grace notes, etc. Are those kinds
of details prescribed elements of your bass
lines, or do you tend to change them up?
I’ll change them up as much as I
can—until the guys get pissed! [Laughs.]
Sometimes when you take those kind
of gambles, you end up losing.
Do you practice while on the road?
We have a practice room at every
venue, but we never go in there and
play our own instruments—I’m usually
on drums or guitar. Our practice room is
there for us to learn other instruments.
How do you prepare yourself for recording?
Mainly by thinking about arrangements.
Live, the band seems to exude confidence
and attitude. Is that an accurate
We’ve always been competitive, whether
in terms of music, sports, or other games;
everything is a competition with us.
What’s a lesson you’ve learned about life
as a full-time musician?
I love playing with other people. I
recorded with Angelo’s band, the Jane Shermans,
and I’ve done a few songs with my
friends in the Honeymoon Thrillers. We used
to tour with Regina Spector, and I would
always go on and play with her before we
went on. It’s important to have other outlets.
What advice would you give a bass player
who’s just starting out?
I don’t really know, because I did it in
such an unusual way. I already had the
biggest motivation in the world: I was in a
band that needed to make a record in a
month or two. But I don’t think a person needs to take lessons to get better. Taking
lessons is like getting a personal
trainer—if you need a little motivation, you
might want somebody who can help you
along the way. But if you really want to
be in shape, you’ll do it on your own.
Basses Gibson Thunderbirds
Rig Live: Ampeg SVT Classic with two
Ampeg 8x10 cabinets; Studio: Ampeg SVT
Micro head and 2x10 cabinet, Audio Kitchen
head with Ampeg 8x10 cab, Avalon U5 DI
Effects Boss ME-
50B Bass Multiple
Boss RV-5 Digital
Reverb, Boss DD-3 Digital Delay, Boss TR-
2 Tremolo, Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler,
Voodoo Lab Ground Control Pro controller
Picks Dunlop Tortex, .88mm. “All I know is
that they have my signature on them,”
laughs Jared. “Because I’m a cheeseball.”
Strings “I change them every second show,
but the studio I like them to be broken in. I
find it a lot like shaving—at first, you look
good. But then you go through an awkward
stage where you just look like the Dirty Guy
Who Doesn’t Shower. And then you grow
a nice beard. If you leave strings on long
enough, they start to sound really good.”
With Kings Of Leon (all on
RCA) Come Around Sundown
; Only by the
Night , Because of the
Times , Aha Shake Heartbreak
, Youth and Young Manhood 
KINGS OF LEON PRODUCER ANGELO
PETRAGLIA ON JARED’S GRITTY RESOLVE
“I first started working with Caleb and Nathan when Jared
was still in high school,” says producer Angelo Petraglia,
who’s teamed up with the Kings from their debut through
their latest, Come Around Sundown. “When Nathan and Caleb got the record deal, I think the
record company was assuming they would surround themselves with established players. The
guys told me that Jared would be a great bass player for the band, so asked if he was any good.
They said, ‘Well, he doesn’t really play yet. . . .’ So we went out and got him a bass. It wasn’t
long before we got into the studio, because Jared is a man of great will. It blew my mind—I
watched him go from having never played bass to becoming one of my favorite bass players.”
“I showed him a bunch of stuff,” says Angelo, himself a guitarist, of Jared’s introduction to the
instrument. “Some of that might show in his tendency to play melodic lines way up high.”
“Jared is not the type of player who will just stay on the root of the chord,” Petraglia continues.
“And he uses more effects than most bass players I know, which I find very cool. For this
record, we almost exclusively used an Ampeg SVT Micro VR stack; Jared loved the way that
sounded. We also went through his Audio Kitchen head and an Avalon U5 DI,” adds Angelo.