Interview: Kings of Leon’s Jared Followill on the band’s pranks and a new chapter

After taking some time off to lead regular lives, Kings of Leon return Sept. 24 with “Mechanical Bull,” the Followill family”s sixth studio album, its follow-up to 2010″s “Come Around Sundown.”

The set, recorded in the band”s own studio in Nashville, is a lively, loose-limbed affair, bolstered by such rollicking tracks as “Don”t Matter” and “Family Tree,” the gentle “On The Chin” and “Beautiful War,” and first single and modern rock hit, “Supersoaker.”

Bassist Jared Followill, who joins his brother Caleb and Nathan in the band, as well as his cousin Matthew, tells HitFix that the hiatus did them good, both musically and personally.  Below is our conversation, edited for space.

You guys have laughed when reporters have asked ask if there was a chance that you were going to break up, especially after Caleb walked off stage in Dallas in 2011 and your canceling the rest of the U.S. tour, but it”s certainly not unheard of for brother acts to split. Was this hiatus always planned or did you think you may actually break up?  

Actually, we started talking about [taking time off] after [2008″s] “Only By the Night.” After that album cycle, we were going to take some time off. Then “Only By the Night” kind of  blew up and [the label]  wanted us to make another album and we were like, “Let”s go ahead and do it and ride the success.” While we were in the studio for “Come Around Sundown,” we were like, “We can”t believe we”re already back. We”re going to be immediately back on the road doing all this stuff over again.”  So we said, “You know what? After this record cycle, we”re going to take a year off.”

When we cancelled the tour, we actually finished the touring cycle after that. We went to South Africa and we went to Australia for a month. We did Canada for a few weeks, but people think we just canceled Dallas and then took a year off.  Any spat or any argument that we”d gotten in was made up the night after Dallas. It wasn”t after a long drawn out thing. Having that year off was not because we thought we were going to break up or we necessarily needed to be away from each other as much as we wanted to have a little bit of time off and have a normal life.

Not that you”re asking for sympathy, but it can be very draining living on the road.

Our job isn”t necessarily that hard, it”s just very time consuming. And there”s tons of travel and stuff like that and a lot of people think, “Man, traveling the world, that”s amazing.” And it absolutely is. But if you do that as a job, it becomes a little less glamorous and it takes a little bit of the romance out of traveling the world when that”s… what you do for a living. I mean we never thought that we were going to take five years between an album or anything like that. We just wanted one year to go home to Nashville, sit on the internet, go to Whole Foods and not do anything, just be normal people for a little bit.

All the band members contribute to the songwriting process. How quickly do you know if you”re got a song or are just riffing on something you should abandon?

That”s hard to say… we”re not super quick. When we go to the rehearsal space and start writing. We will literally jam on a song and play it for an hour straight. Sometimes you have to sift through an hour and 20 minutes and you always skip it towards the end because that”s when you really start to get into it. But we”ve jammed on some pretty songs for about two hours before we knew that we wouldn”t use them.

But you”re having fun…

Exactly. You kind of know once you listen to them You can do something that is really fun to play and then you”ll take it home-our sound guy will burn it to a CD  for us- and listen to ourselves jamming  and it might be really fun to play it, but it sounds kind of cheesy or it just wouldn”t work for us.

You guys were playing pranks on each other all the time in the studio with shock buzzers and whoopee cushions. Having grown up together, it seems like the element of surprise would have long gone away when it comes to pranks.

I know. The weird thing is it”s a phenomenon we just got into. When we were kids, we didn”t really do anything and now that we”re adults, it”s like we”ve regressed in maturity.

The band hosted Pettyfest in Nashville this past weekend. What”s your favorite Tom Petty song or favorite Petty era?

There are so many. He”s one of the worst artists to ask that question because he just has so many great songs. There are so many bands you could say, “What”s your favorite song?” I”d say, “Obviously, it”s that one.. that”s head and shoulders above the rest,” but there are so many songs…As a kid I remember hearing “Last Dance With Mary Jane” and stuff like that on the radio and then as you get older, you go back and hear more and more and “American Girl.” There”s so many that you can just go back and all of his albums are amazing.

One of the more touching songs on the album is “On The Chin,” about being there to support someone. It almost sounds like it could be to about your family or would brothers never write anything that sweet to each other?

So many of our songs can be interpreted in so many different ways. At the time you can actually write something and it can be completely abstract to you at the time and then a year later,  something will happen to you and and you”ll listen back and be like, “Wow, that song sounds like it was written perfectly for the situation.” But that song, particularly, the way Caleb started writing those lyrics, it was for one of his friends, his buddy, JD.  It”s actually about that, then you hear it and it can mean so much. It can fit so many different situations. It can be for all of us together, it can be for our wives. I like songs that are open to interpretation.

There”s not only a lightheartedness to the album, there”s a sense of fun in the promos, including the hilarious one featuring the cast from “It”s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” It seems like the band decided to stop taking everything so seriously. Why?

Definitely. I think that”s just getting older and having families. You stop taking yourself so seriously. I feel like we used to worry about that stuff too much. When we first came out, we wanted to be different and we wanted to almost have a little bit of a shock factor so we tried to look really weird and tried to have mustaches and long hair and we did a lot of that stuff, looking back, probably subconsciously to stand out because we were probably a little bit self-conscious about out musicianship. We had all just started playing and just started writing songs and none of us were really good at our instruments. So it was almost like we needed something to make people notice us and now we”re in a completely different place and we”re all a lot more confident and we feel like we can kind of be ourselves.