“It’s a coming-of-age story, a true rags-to-riches story about real American kids making real American rock music that have become one of the biggest bands in the world,” said director Stephen Mitchell. “Even so big that the majority of Americans don’t know that side of them.”
The film documents the band’s meteoric rise, but not before digging through all the trials and tribulations that shaped the quartet.
Family — more so than the music — is at the heart of the documentary and the group. Brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill formed the band in 1999 with cousin Matthew Followill after years of traveling with their father, a Pentecostal preacher who led backwoods revivals across the South. It was a strict upbringing with strong Christian morals, and the rebellious boys eventually channeled their inner demons and Southern roots into a sonic product that was indisputably authentic.
“The pure force they were putting off in those early days, it was really connected to America, and they took it overseas and really shook people up with it,” Mitchell said. “People overseas got it.”
Kings of Leon’s monstrous success in Europe finally was matched stateside with the 2008 release of its fourth album, “Only by the Night.”
“People have asked me if they were from London,” Mitchell said. “We kind of wanted to show people that these kids were from where you are from.”
The film is centered on the yearly Followill family reunion in the small Oklahoma town of Talihina. It opens up to a lifetime’s worth of home recordings, road footage and sibling bickering.
“That’s a neat thing, that the guys at that level are willing to open themselves up to the world like that. They went through a few years with a chip on their shoulder, scratching and clawing to put themselves into a position where that success would come,” Mitchell said. “When it does, you find there’s a backlash. That’s been a battle for them, but now, I see them very comfortable, confident and excited about growing up and putting their families’ lives in place.” —Joshua Boydston