Let’s be honest: Kings of Leon are an easy band to hate. In their career, the band has had its share of run-ins with fans and celebrity personalities. Back in 2009, at the Reading Festival in England, lead singer Caleb Followill criticized the crowd, insinuating that they deserved more respect because they’re “the god damn Kings of Leon.” Earlier this year, they publicly feuded with Glee creator Ryan Murphy about licensing one of their songs, telling him to “see a therapist.” (Granted, Murphy himself is kind of a douche, so, that one might be justified). And on top of all of that? They’re from the South. And, c’mon, who likes the South? (I kid, I kid.)
Beyond that though, as the band’s fame increased their sound changed — and at least in my opinion, for the worse. It’s not that they’re making bad music now, it just seems as though they’ve conformed to a style they were trying to avoid. Before the multi-platinum release of “Only By The Night” in 2008, KOL carried a unique, southern blues-rock sound that was hard to find anywhere else in the musical landscape. Specifically on their debut album “Youth and Young Manhood”, the boys’ vocals soared over gritty, raw guitar licks and harmonies best suited for dive bars and Jack Daniels, not Top 40 radio stations. Simply put, they rocked. But as their style became more populist and their music was recognized by the mainstream, it seemed that KOL forgot where they came from. They got lost in the fame and fortune of rock ‘n’ roll stardom. Their music morphed into Nickelback-esque arena rock. Sure, they were making more money and probably having sex with more women, but they’d abandoned what got them there. And when they did that, it felt like they abandoned all of the fans that got them there. With Talihina Sky, first time filmmaker Stephen C. Mitchell attempts to tell us what exactly happened and why — and he succeeds.
Labeled a “work-in-progress,” the documentary chronicles the inception of the band (comprised of Nathan, Caleb and Jared Followill and their cousin Matthew) in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee through their current global takeover. We learn that the brothers’ upbringing wasn’t the greatest. They spent their childhood traveling in an Oldsmobile with their father Ivan Leon, a Pentecostal preacher, as he worked revivals around the South. The boys were always able to sing and the film gives us some fun home videos of Nathan and Caleb dressed in their Sunday best singing hymnals, but as soon as they were old enough they discovered the joys of secular rock ‘n’ roll and marijuana and as they say, the rest was history. But Talihina Sky, though subtitled “The Story of Kings of Leon,” isn’t just their story. Instead, the focus is more on what that story has done to the band and, more specifically, what that story means to the band.
Thanks to a wide assortment of interviews with family, friends and band members captured through various filming techniques, we learn that KOL came from a very tough and difficult background. Some judgmental eyes may call their family in Oklahoma the definition of, for lack of a better term, “white trash,” but as we get to know them we understand that there’s more below the surface. We learn why the band acts the way they do. We understand the struggles they born into. We identify with their crises, their pain, and hell, even their happiness. The result is an intimate portrait of boys who somehow found a way to make it work despite all the hate.