A PAIR OF KINGS
There is something amusingly cocksure and faintly daft about bands who wear shades indoors during daylight hours. It must be like driving round all day with your own personal blacked-out windows.
They can see us, but we can't see them. Is it supposed to make us mere mortals more inquisitive? Are we supposed to ask who's really inside?
And is 24-hour shade-wearing, anyway, just one of rock and roll's last great affectations? Like wearing leather trousers in the desert? Or sulking in your dressing room if you get the wrong colour towel?
I once interviewed Electronic - the coupling of Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr, both wearing shades - and sat there growing ever more depressed as I talked to my own reflection for 20 minutes. What were they hiding?
So Kings Of Leon's arrival for our interview fills me with dread. They have the part swagger, part slouching gait of men who walk like a rock band. They barely utter a word before we go live on air. They both - brothers Caleb and Nathan - wear shades.
I can see this interview screaming disaster back at me, but what we get is (ironically) quite revealing. The old Leon, who used to write songs by the lake back home and reply to your questions with a southern-drawled "yes sir" are still here. They might be falling over rave notices for their new record wherever they go, but they're still disarmingly humble in front of a microphone.
Could this partly be because the UK has been so good to them? And because - despite their massive success in Britain - they've still to date failed to really make a breakthrough in the States (their last album Because Of The Times topped the chart here and peaked at 25 in America)?
Caleb says that the UK "feels like home" with the same emotion that a passing hobo uses to thank his hosts for their hospitality on The Waltons. But don't be deceived (not even by the shades). It would have been very easy for the Leon to lose their way over the past couple of years. Beckoned into a world of free booze and supermodels on tap, the group have become part of that alt-rock royalty that people invite to parties and the press pore over on a daily basis. America might not have bought their records, but it's been quick to try and assimilate them into the cult of the celebrity.
Yet amid all this they disappeared back home to make a new album, which arrives this week and will by rights be Number One on Sunday.
Only By The Night is a good, sometimes confusing, album. It sounds in some ways like a back to basics record; as if they've escaped the limelight for a while and reminded themselves why they started a band in the first place.
While a number of British groups have had their first identity crisis on album four, the Leon seem to be more assured about where they're heading now than ever before. There is some characteristic insecurity in the lyrics, but it feels like they've come to terms with who they are. It's very balanced I think.
It is a hard-working record which has a hedonistic side; a lonely record which enjoys being close to people; and a big gesturing rock album which also sounds very human. It is the old Leon meets the new Leon.
"As a band we're definitely more balanced," admits Caleb. "We get along much better. I think you eventually get to see the picture of what you wanted [originally]. And I know, for us, we always wanted the opportunity to do this. And it's been a slow build for us but we never wanted immediate success in a way that kills a band. We wanted to have a box set career."
Certainly the ambition is there - and the reference points. By turns the album sounds like they've been listening to Led Zeppelin, Bob Seger and Radiohead (the latter two they admit to being fans of) without stooping to pastiche.
"For this album," Caleb adds, "we all went in there and we did it really quickly, but it felt like we were taking our time. We went in and said let's try whatever we want to try. If you have a crazy idea then we're not going to shoot it down straight away."
So you get the anthemic, slightly ambiguous, Use Somebody ("a really sad lonesome song....we'd been fighting the night before"); Crawl, which could end up being their ultimate Neil Young rock-out; the late-night, self-destructive Revelry; a terrific slow-burning I Want You; and the crazy-drum-delivery of Be Somebody and Manhattan, which hint at their experiments mixing rhythm with riffing (yet more balance!).
Some of the beats, Nathan explains, were him mucking around in the studio, but they stuck. It sounds like they had fun. By this stage in our chat Nathan has even removed his shades. And it's at this point that I realize why he's been wearing them.It is not affectation. It looks like he's been up all night.
There must be a song in that, surely?