The members of Kings of Leon know that some around them -- such as label executives and management -- would prefer they not play the new songs from their as-yet untitled and unscheduled fifth album on their current tour. But the group would not have it any other way.
"If we were to go out there and play a concert and not play new music, it would feel like we had our hands tied, and I think we would be bored with the show," frontman Caleb Followill told Billboard.com during a conference call to promote the band's summer tour. "We didn't want to go back out there and give 'em the 'Only By the Night' tour, part two. It's inspiring to be able to go out there and play new songs...Not only are you testing the songs out on the crowd, but we have that, 'Oh, s***!' moment when we're looking at each other -- 'Are they gonna like this? Are they gonna sit down because it's not 'Use Somebody?' "
Fortunately, he said, the reaction has been just the opposite.
"The crowd response has been unbelievable," he noted. "We've already had people that on certain new songs there'll be a [lyric], and right when I get to it every time a whole group of people sing it with me. That makes me feel really good." Drummer Nathan Followill concurred, adding that, "We're pretty pleased with the reaction we're getting. It's great to see the reaction from the kids that haven't heard the stuff before."
Kings of Leon has so far premiered four songs slated for the followup to 2008's platinum and Grammy Award-winning "Only By the Night," which have been identified with the working titles "Mary," "Immortals," "Radioactive" and "Southbound." Nathan Followill said the group has been careful to choose "the ones we have together the best and feel the most comfortable playing," but there's the possibility that -- with the band on the road until Sept. 23 in North America, plus a pair of V Festival performances Aug. 21-22 in the U.K. -- more might make their way into the set lists.
"If it was up to us we'd play every one of them, the whole record, every night," Nathan said. "I'm sure...on a night when we're all feeling cheeky, we'll throw some other new ones in there."
Nathan also took the opportunity to clarify his previous description of the new material as "beachy," which has prompted a rash of ambivalent fan reaction on the Internet. "I was amazed at how many people jumped on that," he said. "When I said beachy, I meant a record you could take and listen to at the beach, one that has kind of a musical journey, a little bit of everything. I think this record has a little bit of something from every era of Kings of Leon up to this point. I don't know if people expected the new stuff to have the Jamaiccan tin drums or something. To me it has kind of a chill, laid-back vibe, something you just beach-out to."
Caleb, meanwhile. confirmed that the group and producers Jacquire King and Angelo Petraglia also expanded the sound of the new album, which was recorded in New York City, to include instruments such as fiddle, trumpet and lap steel. "I think every one of them really complements the songs," he said, "and I think having done that, it's really gotten us excited for the future and where we can go with the band and what we can do."
Most of the lyrics, he added, were "just off the top of my head...I would say 75 percent of the lyrics were completely ad-libbed. I just lived in the moment." And, Caleb noted, they're generally happier than on previous Kings of Leon albums. "I'm in a better place right now. I used to write all these sad songs and stuff...Now I'm just doing a lot of storytelling. I would go hang out in certain types of bars just to get the vibe of what the lyric was that I wanted to say...and then I would go in [to the studio] and try to make up the lyrics off the top of my head."