‘Our mother dying was like a sacrifice to the band’

Kings of Leon are sitting looking happy and healthy this crisp spring morning. They’re in high spirits – in London ahead of the release of their stirring new album Ca We Have Fun Now – having emerged from the aftermath of tragedy. In September 2021, brothers Caleb, Jared, and Nathan Followill – three-quarters of the Grammy-winning guitar band – were rocked by the untimely death of their mother, Betty Ann Murphy.

The group, which also includes their cousin Matthew on guitar, were already at a creative crossroads. Following the release of their raw and rootsy 2003 debut, Youth and Young Manhood, and later, 2008’s Only by the Night, which contained their chart-topping anthem Sex on Fire, they had experienced a decade of turbulent fame, exacerbated by in-fighting and drinking. 

They’d set about repairing the cracks, but as guitar rock was eclipsed in popularity by chart-friendly pop and innovative hip-hop, the Kings’ arena-filling soundscapes could sound less stimulating in comparison. When they released their 2021 album, When You See Yourself, The Telegraph’s Neil McCormick pined for their “old upstart energy”. It seemed as if, by approaching middle age, the band – all married with children, living in and around Nashville – were losing their edge. 

It was around this time that the suggestion arose for the Kings to mark their 20 years in the business with a Greatest Hits album. But Betty Ann’s death, which the band have never spoken about beyond tributes on social media, changed everything.

In the lounge of a luxury hotel suite in London, a meaningful look darts between the two brothers when I raise the subject of her passing. “I think about it a lot, how it was like a sacrifice,” says bassist Jared. “It’s made us all come closer together, and all become better people.”

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