The last time Kings of Leon did a U.S. tour, things ended so badly that it looked like fans might have seen the last of the band.
On July 29, 2011, in Dallas, Texas, the group's show at the Gexa Energy Pavilion went bad when 40 minutes into the concert, singer Caleb Followill told the crowd he was going to go back stage and vomit, then drink a beer and the band would then come back out to do three more songs.
He didn't return to the stage. The show was over, and so was the tour.
Twenty-six dates were scrubbed and guitarist Matthew Followill issued a statement saying, "There are problems in our band bigger than not drinking enough Gatorade."
Soon rumors were swirling that Kings of Leon had broken up and Caleb had been ordered by the band to check into rehab — both of which the singer says were not true.
But the band very much needed time off, and that's exactly what happened. The band — brothers Caleb, Jared (bass) and Nathan (drums) and cousin Matthew — took a break from music for the first time since the band came on the scene in 2003.
Caleb began the hiatus by trying to escape whatever chatter was surrounding the band.
"It was interesting," he says in a late January teleconference interview that also included his three bandmates. "At first it was, you know, it was just kind of like it felt very strange because I didn't really understand exactly what all was going on. And so I kind of took my head out of everything. I didn't watch television, I didn't get on the Internet or anything. I wanted to just completely separate myself from whatever it was that was being said. And in the process I started living. And then me and my wife just started enjoying, you know, life, and we would just walk around New York and go on adventures and discover new places and it was great.
"I felt like I gained a lot of culture and I read a lot of books and just, I don't know, did things that I hadn't done in a long time because I had been working so hard that, you know, after a while you work so hard that you end up, it just becomes a routine. You don't really enjoy the moments that you should be enjoying."
That lasted for a month or so, Caleb says, before he took a trip to Tennessee and the songwriting bug bit.
"I really just kind of started opening up," he says. "The music was something that was fun. It felt like it'd been years since I'd played. So I was really, I was writing a lot of melodic things and things that took me back to my youth.
"And whenever we all got back together [as a band], I just kind of slowly started playing ideas and I didn't know if anyone would like the ideas. But they seemed to like them and it just kind of went from there and we all just, you know, I think everyone knew that taking that break was the best thing we could have done because it got us all excited about music again, and also got us excited to look back on everything we've accomplished and realize that we're very fortunate to be in the situation that we are and to have accomplished all the things that we have."
The group has indeed accomplished a lot over the course of six albums — the latest of which, "Mechanical Bull," was released in September.
In the United Kingdom, the Kings of Leon enjoyed immediate success.
Its first full-length release, "Youth and Young Manhood" (2003) was lauded by Britain's "NME" music paper as "one of the best debut albums of the last 10 years" and sold more than 750,000 copies overseas. The band's popularity in the UK and Europe continued to grow with its second album, "Aha Shake Heartbreak" and the third CD, 2007's "Because of the Times."
In the U.S., though, album sales were far more modest, and it wasn't until the fourth Kings of Leon album, 2008's "Only by the Night," that the group made a breakthrough, as "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody" became hit singles.
The success came at a price for the band, as the group was criticized, especially by long-time fans, for forsaking the energetic Southern-tinged rock of its first two albums in favor of a poppier sound more suited to radio.
Jared, though, says if anything, the first couple of Kings of Leon albums were something of a facade.
"We were super young, had no real identity. I can tell you that," he says. "We all had like super long hair, wearing bell bottoms, we had moustaches. That's probably the furthest away from who we really were, you know."
In reality, Jared says, the poppier sound that emerged on "Only By The Night" was always a part of the band's musical tastes, and that album was the sound of the Kings of Leon finding its musical identity.