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A ‘Refresh,’ With a Tip From Harry Styles

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How does a rock band that scored enormous hit singles in the pre-streaming era approach the process of selecting a single in 2024? For Kings of Leon, the answer is: they don’t.

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“We don’t know what we’re doing,” bassist Jared Followill declares, then lets out a laugh, when speaking to Billboard about the modern hit-making process. The Tennessee quartet has been steadily releasing albums every three to five years since bursting into the mainstream in the late 2000s with crossover smashes “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire,” both from 2008’s Only By the Night; the former song won the Grammy for record of the year in 2010, while the latter’s official U.S. streams top 650 million, according to Luminate.

Those hits helped balloon Kings of Leon’s listenership during a very different iteration of the music industry; 15 years later, Followill admits that he and his bandmates (brothers Caleb and Nathan Followill, plus cousin Matthew Followill) wouldn’t even know how to attempt to replicate that crossover success of those songs.

For new album Can We Please Have Fun, out tomorrow (May 10), the band went with the shaggy rocker “Mustang” as the lead single due to their team’s recommendation, and the song has peaked at No. 3 on Adult Alternative Airplay and climbs to No. 5 on Alternative Airplay. But Followill says that they could have easily gone with the mid-tempo sway of “Actual Daydream,” or the spry sing-along “Nowhere to Run,” if that had been the feedback they received.

“Our only rule is to not have any songs on the album that we would be embarrassed if they were a single — so we try to make the album great, because we don’t know anything about the business side of things or algorithms or which song will do well,” he explains. “Now, it seems like you just need a great 15-second piece of a song to make it big on TikTok — slow it down, reverb it, make it huge. But we don’t know what works anymore, and I don’t think anybody knows … You just have to play ball a little bit, and hope that you’re with the right people who know what they’re doing.”

Kings of Leon surrounded themselves with a new cast of characters for their ninth studio album: after working with Markus Dravs on their last two full-lengths, the quartet tapped Kid Harpoon last year to helm the follow-up to 2021’s When You See Yourself. Kid Harpoon was in the middle of a red-hot streak when Kings of Leon came calling, after co-producing smashes like Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers” and Harry Styles’ “As It Was”; in fact, a recommendation from Styles helped steer the band toward the veteran pop-rock producer, after they had started the writing process for the album at the top of 2023.

“We’re buddies with Harry, and he had worked with [Kid Harpoon] a ton and had great success,” Followill says. “We met him and it was just the right vibe. He’s almost childlike in the studio — so happy, trying anything, no negativity. He’s not judgmental at all, so it was just like having a buddy in there.”

Meanwhile, Can We Please Have Fun is Kings of Leon’s first album with new label home Capitol Records, after spending nearly the first two decades of their career on RCA’s roster. The band played the new album for prospective labels at Kid Harpoon’s L.A. home last year, and it was the pitch by Tom March, recently named Capitol Music Group’s chairman and CEO, that they found most appealing. “He just seemed on board, and bought in really quickly,” Followill says. “We’re very hands-on, which can be weird for a new label who’s excited to bring their own stuff to the table. But it’s been perfect — they’ve been super supportive, and it’s been a great relationship so far.”

Kings of Leon will head out on the road in August for a 26-city North American tour, and will be releasing visual components for every song on Can We Please Have Fun along the way. More than anything, however, Followill hopes that listeners can identify the new album as a progression for the band — a looser, more playful entry in their catalog, at a moment when Kings of Leon could have stuck to a tried-and-true formula.

“We’re not completely reinventing ourselves, but this is definitely a refresh,” Followill says. “It was a gradual thing, but we’ve evolved and changed ourselves. We’ve put a lot of effort into letting people know that we’re still here, and we’re not phoning it in 20 years down the road, just trying to squeeze a few dollars out at the end. We’re still trying.”

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