Essential 50 Extra - Zane Lowe Interview

The Radio 1 DJ discusses his love of Kings Of Leon...
zane lowe.jpg
On hearing that Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe was something of a big Kings Of Leon fan, Clash tracked the man down to discuss the Nashville foursome to coincide with their ‘Because Of The Times’ album featuring in our Clash Essential 50 countdown.

Read our focus on the band’s magical third album HERE.

- - -

Did you think ‘Because Of The Times’ sounded different on first listen?

Yeah, I just thought ‘progression’. I thought, ‘Great, they’ve evolved, they’re confident’. As soon as it started, I was like, ‘Okay, this is a nice mellow start’, then I looked to see how long the song was - seven minutes! Excellent! It’s a bold move for a band to start a new album when they have been pigeonholed to a certain extent in a certain style of music and creating these two to three-minute garage rock pop numbers, then to come out with an album which starts with a seven-minute tune that doesn’t really kind of... You know, it escalates a couple of points into the song but it very quickly goes back to where it started. I just thought it was brilliant and I think it sounded so fresh at the time to have an outro that lasted three minutes; just hollering that coda in the background over and over. It just showed total confidence and it had me locked in from the start, because as soon as I heard that I was like, ‘Okay, well if that’s how they are starting their record then they are clearly on to a winner’.

Was it an instant thing? For me, I remember listening to the second album and thinking, ‘This is a bit different to the first one’, and then the third album was different again.

As a Kings Of Leon fan, I’ve always thought that they were going to end up going down the road of The Eagles or Creedence Clearwater Revival, you know: big tunes not necessarily being hemmed in by these 2001/2002-era songs, when everyone was playing The Strokes and all that kind of stuff. To me, I always thought Kings Of Leon had this classic Americana in them, that a lot of their contemporaries didn’t have, and they could go anywhere with that. So as soon as I heard ‘Knocked Up’ I was like: ‘Great, they’ve tapped into country’. They are from that part of the world, and they have tapped into that part of the world. It’s kind of where they came from too, as well. Initially the two brothers, Caleb and Nathan, were very much writing songs as a duo before the band came together, before they got their brother and cousin in. So, growing up in that part of the world could only have had an impression on them, and ‘Knocked Up’ is a classic example of a band that are going back to what they were originally inspired by, as opposed to being stuck in the one time. I think that seven minutes of ‘Knocked Up’ is kind of responsible for their future really, the way they are now.

It doesn’t sound retrospective though. It’s influenced by that, but it doesn’t sound rooted in it.

No, not at all – it’s still very much Kings. To be honest, I think the next song, ‘Charmer’, is the most un-Kings Of Leon sounding song on that record. That’s the one that made me go, ‘Whoa, what the fuck is this?’ And that was great. The other thing that I got immediately, especially in the first four (songs), was that Jared really stepped up - it was a bass player’s record. Most bands that make a classic album, you find the bass will really step up; it stops being about guitars and vocals and it starts being about groove. If you look at all the great records of the last twenty or thirty years, so many of them are about the rhythm section and about the groove. As soon as you hear the basslines of ‘McFearless’ or ‘On Call’ or ‘Charmer’, those three songs alone are all started by the bass. So that just made me think, ‘Fuck man, this is going to be wicked’, because they have all stepped up as players and they have got the confidence to let their little brother lead with his lines - and he improved so much as a player.

Upon first hearing the drums on ‘McFearless’, I said to Nathan, “Are you seriously going to play that every night?”

You mean with the machine gun fill? Yeah, and he does! That is one of my favorite songs on the record.

Do you think that album was a stepping stone to what they have become, just a year later?

Yes, I do. I think that record has afforded them the ability to become the biggest new band in the world. (NEW band? – Ed.) It was that record which, if you are going to make direct comparisons, was their ‘The Bends’, the one that allowed them to go out and be even braver with the next record. I’m not saying ‘Only By The Night’ is ‘OK Computer’ - it’s not anywhere near it - but from their point of view, it blew the doors wide open, and the debate will now be had by Kings Of Leon fans around the world for a long time to come: do you prefer ‘Because Of The Night’ or do you prefer the second album, ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’? In fact, ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ is probably their ‘The Bends’. That was probably the one that, as you say, was different, and it didn’t really pick up where the last one left off in terms of hype or anything else, but it really cemented their audience and kept them going, and gave them the confidence to make ‘Because Of The Night’. So, in a way I think ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ was the one that was instrumental in breaking them out of the whole skinny jeans, Chuck Taylor kind of crowd; that whole 2001/2002 indie-rock scene. They have always been more ambitious. And also, I think touring with U2 and Pearl Jam and seeing how those bands do it... very different bands, but also bands that have had very long careers and tour well. U2 do it like nobody else, you know – they do it on jets and fly-backs. They did a long tour of America with that and they saw how you can do it. And with Pearl Jam, they saw how you can do it and be a classic Americana band and schedule your surfing trips around your touring, you know? And I think that what they realised was that they wanted to be a band that had a long career, enjoy what they do, not struggle and so ambition all of a sudden doesn’t become such a dirty word anymore.

They were tainted by that sort of fun-loving, model-shagging, come over here and lock up your daughters...

Yeah, and we’ve seen it all before with bands - it’s temporary. It’s great copy for a year and then it’s like, ‘Okay, how good are the songs?’ If the songs don’t follow up on that story, the story disappears very quickly.

You would have seen them live on this tour. Do you remember hearing the live versions of the songs for the first time, thinking how they went down?

I didn’t actually seen them on the ‘Only By The Night’ tour. I saw them at Glastonbury - that’s the last time I got a chance to see Kings Of Leon - but I thought that the new stuff I heard at Glastonbury sounded massive, and I remember they started again. They really are masters of the brave move; they’re not afraid to take a risk early on, whether it was what we talked about with ‘Knocked Up’, or starting the most-anticipated and high-pressured live performance of their career starting with a new track. I mean, that’s just fucking gangsta, you know? You go on stage in front of sixty or seventy thousand people - some of whom are actually questioning whether or not you should be there - and you start with ‘Crawl’? It’s like, damn! What was amazing being out in the crowd at that gig was watching people around us all going, ‘Aw, did they do this one?’ Or, ‘Ah, I know this one!’ And that happened a lot. That’s why we said on Radio 1, when we were doing the trails for the big Maida Vale thing that we did, the line that we came up with on the spot was: ‘The biggest band in the world - you just don’t know it yet.’ I think that’s why bands like Kings Of Leon are perfectly positioned now, because all of a sudden America discovers them, and wait ‘til America starts digging deeper! Wait ’til they hear ‘California Waiting’! Oh my God, they’re gonna freak out.

Yeah, any minute now.

It’s happened; it’s just a matter of time now before they actually go, ‘Well okay, let’s check out their other records too’.

There are four very disparate personalities in Kings Of Leon. Matthew is very timid and shy, yet his guitar solos are wailing... What do you think each member brings to the music?

Caleb is the frontman, and in essence it’s Caleb’s band. I get the impression that it’s Caleb’s band - and I don’t mean that in the dictatorial sense, I just think someone has to take, even if it’s just one percent, more responsibility with the decision-making. I get the impression it’s Caleb, and so he wears it heavy on his shoulders. And I think now, with the success, Caleb will probably be going through one of those transition moments where he’s like: ‘Okay, I’m finally achieving what I want. How is that going to impact on my life, and how is that going to impact on my music?’ Caleb and Nathan, they are the backbone, because they founded the band, so there’s going to be all sorts of creative chemistry and tension between those two guys - not just because they are brothers, but because they are the founding members and the cornerstones of the band. Nathan is the backbone musically, but also he’s the backbone in terms of age and wisdom. He’s the one who seems to bring a certain level of groundedness to everybody. I think Jared, to be honest, is musically the engine. I think his basslines are so instrumental to the band now that really it comes down to him a lot for the music, for me. I think the guitars are really important, and the drums are really important, and the melodies and vocals are really important, but I think the point of difference with Kings Of Leon is Jared. He just goes from strength to strength as a player, I can’t believe it. And, as you just pointed out, Matt is Mike McCready. Matt is, like, your secret weapon guitar player who can just get on there and rip the face off a tune when he wants to. He’s been learning a lot; he sounds like he has been listening to The Edge, Mike McCready and great guitar players like Jimmy Page and stuff, and you can hear it filtering through his music. I think it’s great. What he brings on the record and on stage is just electricity. Really, Kings Of Leon would be a lot more rootsy and a lot more… almost countrified rock if it wasn’t for Matt. Matt brings the rock.

Do you have a favorite song on that album?

It was ‘Black Thumbnail’ for a long time, because that just lifts off. I really do think actually, for me, it’s probably ‘McFearless’. I think that that’s the album cut which people sleep on; I think it’s the one that people don’t necessarily immediately think of... I remember talking to Brandon from The Killers about that album, because we both love it and he’s a big Kings fan, too. I remember we were talking about our favourite songs, and I said ‘McFearless’, and he’s like, ‘I love that song!’ That’s kind of the one that’s like the melody one, when it goes, “It’s my show”, and he raises and he reaches for the note that’s almost unattainable, even for someone with his range. You just feel the arenas calling when you hear that song.

Does the album deserve to be at Number three?

Yeah, I think it should definitely be top ten. I don’t know about top five... yeah, why not?

Kings Of Leon are one of those bands that a lot of people have liked for a long time. Do you think that their massive success now has made our dirty little secret go public?

No, it’s been perfect - timing’s been perfect. They’ve done the graft, man. They’ve put the time in, they’ve toured hard, they’ve earned the critics’ respect, they’ve earned the covers, they’ve earned the festival slots. There is no way a Kings Of Leon fan would be begrudge it going, ‘Oh, there goes my secret band’. I mean, we’ve had three albums to ourselves. I couldn’t be happier seeing them selling out Madison Square Gardens, because to me, what that says is that we’re going to get more music out of them. Bands can only survive on a certain level of success when they have ambition like Kings do. It’s not long before you start to feel the music change and their priorities change and the vibes change. I think that Kings Of Leon will be a band like The Killers or Coldplay or Green Day. These are bands that respond to success; they respond to record sales and they go and make bigger and bolder records, because it’s in their make-up as a band to be popular and successful - and there is nothing wrong with that. Especially now - we fuckin’ need more of them.

So, next step: world domination?

They are already there, man. They are the hottest band in America right now, from what I’ve been told. They are certainly the biggest rock band in Britain - maybe with the exception of Coldplay, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are doing Coldplay numbers. In Europe, they kill it, and in Australia and New Zealand. They played the Vector Arena in Auckland and that’s like eight or nine thousand people, and that was before ‘Only By The Night’. They could headline the Big Day Out if they want. That really is a sign of world domination, when you can walk into any festival territory and snag the headline spot.

- - -

The Clash Essential 50 so far…

50: The Killers, ‘Hot Fuss’
49: Kasabian, ‘Kasabian’
48: Deerhunter, ‘Microcastle’
47: Bat For Lashes, ‘Fur and Gold’
46: Vampire Weekend, ‘Vampire Weekend’
45: MGMT, ‘Oracular Spectacular’
44: Portishead, ‘Third’
43: Elbow, ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’
42: Amy Winehouse, ‘Back To Black’
41: Santigold, ‘Santigold’
40: Late Of The Pier, ‘Fantasy Black Channel’
39: Sigur Rós, ‘Takk…’
38: Efterklang, ‘Parades’
37: Liars, ‘Drum’s Not Dead’
36: The White Stripes, ‘Get Behind Me Satan’
35: Hot Chip, ‘The Warning’
34: Fleet Foxes, ‘Fleet Foxes’
33: Benga, ‘Diary Of An Afro Warrior’
32: Feist, ‘The Reminder’
31: Broadcast, ‘Tender Buttons’
30: Battles, ‘Mirrored’
29: Klaxons, ‘Myths Of The Near Future’
28: Tunng, ‘Mother’s Daughter And Other Songs’
27: The Libertines, ‘The Libertines’
26: Kanye West, ‘The College Dropout’
25: Apparat, ‘Walls’
24: Burial, ‘Burial’
23: Gallows, ‘Orchestra Of Wolves’
22: Caribou, ‘The Milk Of Human Kindness’
21: Broken Social Scene, ‘Broken Social Scene’
20: Sufjan Stevens, ‘Illinois’
19: Soulwax, ‘Nite Versions’
18: The Bug, ‘London Zoo’
17: Brian Wilson, ‘SMiLE’
16: Isolée, ‘We Are Monster’
15: My Morning Jacket, ‘Z’
14: Franz Ferdinand, ‘Franz Ferdinand’
13: Joanna Newsom, ‘Ys’
12: Modeselektor, ‘Hello Mom!’
11: Bloc Party, ‘Silent Alarm’
10: Animal Collective, 'Merriweather Post Pavilion'
9: J Dilla, ‘Donuts’
8: Arctic Monkeys, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’
7: M.I.A., ‘Arular’
6: LCD Soundsystem, ‘LCD Soundsystem’
5: The Knife, ‘Silent Shout’
4: TV On The Radio, ‘Return To Cookie Mountain’
3: Kings Of Leon, ‘Because Of The Times’

What do you make of our picks? CLICK HERE to register and get commenting on our Clash Essential 50. If you're already part of the gang, just add your words below...

Have your say

Sign in or Register to leave comments
-