Back in 2003, I traveled with my good friend Trevor to see The Strokes in Atlanta-I’d heard some solid buzz about their opener the Kings of Leon and picked up their debut album Youth and Young Manhood. It was a great debut of southern indie rock, and was followed in 2005 by the just as appealing Aha Shake Heartbreak. By the time Only by the Night came out in 2008 I had moved on, but I still hold their first two records in high regard and have always wondered how their upbringing in a strict Christian family, complete with an alcoholic Pentecostal preacher meshed with their lives as rock stars. The new documentary Talihina Sky answers a few of those questions…
The documentary begins with the band of three brothers (Caleb-rhythm guitar and vocals, Jared-bass, Nathan-drums) and their cousin Matthew (lead guitar) attending the Followill family reunion in Oklahoma. I thought I had some country-fied relatives, but WOW, the Kings have me beat badly. They skip rocks, shoot guns, catch frogs, bathe in mud pits, and drink a TON of alcohol. The kin folk go on to tell embarassing and enlightening stories about the band such as fist fights and first kisses…with their own cousins!
Gradually the film works its way back to the band’s early days with Caleb and Nathan’s aspirations to be gospel singers as their evolution into long haired and mustachioed southern indie rockers unfolds. With apprehensive parents afraid of eternal damnation, the band never looked back after striking a record deal with RCA. At this time an underage Jared had never even played a bass guitar before, but the band said “what the hell” and swung for the fence. The parents of the band participate in many of the film’s interviews and add an interesting spin to the band’s portrayal of their story so far.
Ironically until 2008, the Kings were gigantically successful in Europe while they sold few records in America playing clubs-but with a few hit singles like “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” they shot to superstardom in the states. The film highlights some of their struggles and doubts in reaching American markets, even mocking and complaining relentlessly about the radio formats they would soon adhere to and conquer with formulaic hits of their own. I definitely found the early footage of the band still yearning for success the most interesting part of the film.
Like any good rock n’ roll documentary, there are some true hell raising moments like smoking grass on the plane to Singapore, which is a penalty punishable by death as well as drunken tirades at each other that go way past a tolerable threshold of verbal abuse. It is apparent from the film that the band knows how to get rowdy and lately it has appeared that it’s gotten the best of Caleb Followill during the band’s last tour. His back-and-forth discussion of internal conflict between religion and sex and drugs at the end of the documentary are quite striking when taking into account all the publicized inner turmoil of the band. Here’s to hoping they get focused and crank out another Aha-Shake Heartbreak someday.
Talahina Sky is a quick, easy watch and should please most fans of the band. For everyone else, it’s just a fun but average music documentary.