Tennessee’s most A-list family burst onto the scene in 2003 with Youth And Young Manhood. Back then the band were hirsute hillbillies playing raw southern boogie-rock. Thirteen years later they’re chart-topping, less beardy superstars with an arena-friendly sound. And Jimmy Page is a fan. But they’re not resting on their laurels; for seventh studio album Walls they left Nashville and worked with producer Markus Dravs, known for his work with Coldplay, Björk and Brian Eno, among others. Vocalist/guitarist Caleb and bassist Jared Followill check in.
Jimmy Page said he really likes your albums.
Caleb: Yeah. He comes to our shows. It’s the most nerve-racking thing when you’re playing and you look over and he’s on stage. It’s like: “Fuck!” Especially for Matthew [Followill, lead guitarist]. And Robert Plant came to our show in Tulsa.
Walls is a big turning point for you.
Caleb: I think so. We wanted to really try to push ourselves as hard as we could on this album. And to get to a point where if something felt comfortable, then it doesn’t make it on the album.
Is Walls about the band leaving their comfort zone?
Jared: Very much so. That was one of the main reasons we tried to use Markus and do something different. It’s easy to fall into that comfort zone. Especially if your albums are selling enough to where nobody’s lighting a fire under your ass just yet.
And that ghost story in there (on the song Find Me), where Caleb’s wife [supermodel Lily Aldridge] had this encounter…
Caleb: That was the Chateau Marmont. John Belushi is the main ghost. And he’s the one that got my wife. When she tells me the story, I think it’s funny. But at the time she said it was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to her.
You recorded at Henson Studios, where Carole King, Joni Michell and John Lennon have worked.
Caleb: Yeah. It was beautiful, very inspiring. A studio’s a studio. And when you’re in the room there aren’t windows, and a lot of them can feel similar. But there was a great vibe.
Jared: You kind of started to feel like the seventies again, with all these bands coming in and out, and old friends, new friends. Paul McCartney was there, Chris Cornell, Empire Of The Sun…
Last time we talked it was about starting families. Now, except for Jared, all the band have kids. Has that brought you back together as a band?
Caleb: Definitely. We’re all big family people. I remember being a kid, and all our uncles and stuff were like our best friends. And they’re older guys. We still hang out with our uncles. And when I see Nathan’s daughter, or Matthew’s boys, we’re all just like: “Hey! What’re you doing?!” And all of our kids go to the same school… So it’s everything I’d dreamed of and way more.
You’re real foodies, aren’t you, with a taste for expensive wine, good food?
Jared: Yeah. There’s, like, a really romantic thing that they call people like us: ‘new money’ [laughs]. Really expensive wine, nice food… But we grew up not eating that stuff, so it’s a good experience to enjoy it.