When You See Yourself

When You See Yourself

“Life is the vein that runs through this album,” Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill tells Apple Music of his band’s eighth LP. “I wrote songs about youth, I wrote songs about being at the age where everything feels like it's going so slow you want to get out of your reality. A lot of the lyrics are just coming to terms with what’s to come and what has already happened. I don't know what was going on—maybe I was smoking weed or something.” Though it was completed months before the pandemic hit in early 2020, When You See Yourself still finds the Nashville rock outfit in an especially contemplative frame of mind, setting moods and settling into songs in a way that feels new and organic. It’s a less direct approach—some distance from 2008’s “Sex on Fire,” but just as impactful. “There was a lot of talk about getting back to a place we were earlier, where we made music that we put a little bit more effort and thought into,” bassist Jared Followill says. “And not to say that we didn't on other stuff, but we just talked about respect more than hits—making stuff that we respected and that we thought the people that we respected could respect. We put radio and business on the back burner and tried to make an album that we loved.” Here, Caleb and Jared take us inside some of its key tracks. The Bandit Caleb Followill: “I really dug deep into my love of Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson and stuff like that. I was like, ‘I'm going to write a song about a bandit, and then a bounty hunter who’s paid to find this man.’ In the meantime, they become such a part of each other's life that they're the two people that matter the most to them. The chase is more thrilling than the catch.” 100,000 People CF: “I witnessed my father-in-law go through—I feel bad for not knowing the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia—one of those very frustrating diseases that just slowly takes you down and takes your brain. I felt like I could write a love story about it, this man who is still in love with this woman. And maybe she's gone, maybe she isn't. Maybe he's gone, maybe he isn't. It's one of those things where the whole song is just kind of searching for something.” Jared Followill: “It was originally called ‘100,000 People in the Old Folks' Home.’ Caleb likes to be a bit more ambiguous, and he hates anything being obvious. The common denominator in all of it, the one thing that could bring him back, was this other person in his life.” A Wave CF: “That was a song that started with me and a piano and just the lyric. Never did I think that it was going to turn into a kind of surfer beat. We recorded it several times, several different ways, and we were always disappointed. When we finally landed on the thing that's on the album, it was probably the most comforting feeling we've ever had as a band, because we've never struggled with a song like we have with that one. I think it has to stand out as one of the proudest moments in our career.” Claire & Eddie CF: “Me and Jared really hashed it out. He goes on a lot of rants about stuff, but he says it in a way that makes you go, ‘Hmm, maybe he's right.’ It was about the Earth and how people have been bad. But we wrote the song about mankind talking to Mother Earth. They find a kinship, and it's a beautiful love song about man and Earth, or woman and Earth.” Echoing CF: “I was trying to figure out what I was going to write about, and at first, the lyric was ‘waiting on a melody.’ But when it changed to ‘waiting on a memory,’ I got to a point where I was like, ‘All right, well, what does that mean?’ I landed on a love story about a couple of people that just want to get out of the hellhole that they're in, two people that are institutionalized for mental reasons who are trying to escape. There’s this big fantasy of big oceans and sunshine and all the beautiful things. And they’re waiting on a memory because they've been fed pills so much that they don't remember. I think I had just watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, so that probably inspired it a little bit.” Fairytale JF: “That was one that came really easily. Musically, we did a few things that we've never done before. We usually have references of other songs that we definitely try not to take literally from. But it was just a more ethereal, less structured song—like ‘Reservations’ by Wilco.” CF: “When you put on the radio, every now and then, there's a song that makes you go, ‘Fuck, man. This really fits the moment.’ I have these moments a lot. A lot of times it's Tom Petty or Velvet Underground or something like that. But ‘Fairytale’ is one of the songs that obviously no record label would choose as a single. But I guarantee you: If you're driving home after a stressful day and you hear that song, you’d just be like, ‘Fuck yeah. This song makes me feel something.’”

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