Why is it that so many American bands make it big in the UK before they make it in the States?
According to Kings Of Leon manager Ken Levitan, it isn't anything esoteric. It's just, basically, a smaller market. And, unlike the U.S. where media and radio play are built market-to-market, the U.K. offers quick coverage and quick impact.
"We felt that it was a story the U.K. press and people would really love," Levitan told POLLSTAR. "So, we brought them over there first and hired a publicist. It was while we were starting to tour here as well, but really went for the full press there, and it worked."
Last year, NYC's The Strokes and Detroit's The White Stripes were stars in the U.K. while still developing a fan base Stateside. Nashville traditionalists Pinmonkey garnered a lot of press during a recent seven-day visit.
"We'd probably pull 8,000 to 10,000," KOL's Nathan Followill told POLLSTAR, if his band flew to London right now. "It's crazy. Our first show in the U.K. ever was in a tiny little shithole bar in a place called High Wycombe. You probably could fit 200 people in there and there was probably 400 people. ... I have no idea what's going on with them people, but we're glad."
The band's agent, Scott Clayton at Creative Artists Agency, has been watching his artists take wing lately. Not only has John Mayer moved from college dates to arenas in short order, but he's sitting on other "10-baggers" - as Wall Street would say of emerging stock - in My Morning Jacket and Kings of Leon. (He also reps Sound Tribe Sector 9, Steve Winwood, Train, and Guster.)
Since its first U.K. showcase in February, Kings Of Leon has seen its album, Youth & Young Manhood, debut there at No. 5 and go gold in about two weeks, all before its debut in the U.S. (It didn't do too bad here, either, debuting at the top of SoundScan's new artist chart.) NME said Youth is "one of the best debut albums of the last 10 years."
KOL band members are London celebrities with their late-night partying already semi- legendary, according to the music mag. An NME Awards Show appearance at the New Bands Tent included audience members Doves, Primal Scream, The Thrills, Noel Gallagher, and Travis "taking notes."
Here in the States, Rolling Stone has named the band one of its "10 to Watch." KOL was signed to RCA by A&R exec Steve Ralbovsky, who signed The Strokes. Since then, members of the two bands have become good friends, and The Strokes are taking KOL with them on an upcoming tour. KOL recently played the second stage at Lollapalooza, where it had to adjust to crowds of 100 people, versus touring Japan, where it saw 8,000 screaming fans a night.
Levitan stressed the international approach to this group. After KOL's stint with The Strokes, it's back to the U.K. and then, in 2004, to Australia. Clayton agreed.
"These guys are a touring machine," the agent said. "They haven't had any time off since this record got released. ... If the band's not touring in the United States, chances are they're touring in Europe or Japan or Australia or some other part of the world. They're constantly going to be on the road."
Here is a quick fact sheet: KOL consists of three brothers, Nathan, Caleb and Jared Followill, and cousin Matthew. It is named after the brothers' dad, Leon, a Pentecostal minister who took the kids with him as he drove from town to town. The Followills learned rock 'n' roll when their mom was out of the car and Leon could turn the radio to the rock stations.
Kings Of Leon
September 29, 2003
Last year, Nathan and Caleb had a publishing deal with Levitan, then signed with him for management. Next up was a trip to New York City, where they met with nearly 10 record labels in a day and a half.
"RCA was the only one who hugged and gave a handshake, and we knew they were good people," Nathan said. "That's the kind of people we are, I guess."
With a record deal under their belt, it was time to put the band together, adding their cousin on second guitar and younger brother Jared on bass. They recorded their first EP last July. By August, agents were coming to their Nashville home to watch them practice.
"Darin Murphy and I went over there to see the guys and were totally blown away by their show, even though it was in the basement," Clayton said. "Usually, I do a lot of organic, grassroots touring before the record comes out [but] in this case, there was such demand for them from the very beginning to play in Europe that we haven't been able to do quite as much touring over here."
"I'm sure that in the coming months, things will change," Nathan said. "We learned so much in the last year. I've aged 20 years, it feels like, as far as how much I know about the business as opposed to when we went in there all doey-eyed.
"I guess the way to put it is we're very simple, and not in an ignorant way, but in the way we live, the way we think. It's great that all this stuff is happening, and we're happy that people are digging it, but we also know it can be taken away as quickly as it can be given to you, so keep your head straight no matter what."
Booking Agency Creative Artists Agency (North America) Scott Clayton 615.383.8787
Helter Skelter (Worldwide) Peter Nash 44.20.7376.8501
Management Vector Management 615.269.6600
Record Company RCA Records 212.930.4000