Known to millions for his drum licks on Kings of Leon’s Grammy Award-winning tunes, longtime Contributor supporter Nathan Followill talks food, family and life as a Nashvillian.
Kings of Leon’s Followill brothers (Caleb, Nathan and Jared) and cousin (Matthew, the band’s lead guitarist) have sold more than 21 million records worldwide, turning heads with their Southern-meets-alternative-rock style. Their success is international, but the bandmates — all of whom live within four miles of one another — are also uniquely Nashville. This town wears its Music City mantle proudly, and for Nathan Followill, its acceptance of more than just country music was one of the reasons it was so easy to stay. It’s crawling with recording studios, with music legends, with musicians and creatives and importantly, talent.
“I mean, it's kind of intimidating when at any restaurant I go to, a server is probably 10 times a better drummer than I am,” he laughs. “I tell my friends that all the time, when they're [asking what Nashville’s like]. I’m like, 'Intimidating. Because everyone here is an amazing musician, and you know that they've just not yet got their shot.’ ”
The Followill brothers grew up driving around the South, hunkering down in small towns. Their father was a traveling preacher, and music has been a part of their lives for most of Nathan’s memory, learning to play the drums as a 6-year-old in church. “Nashville was really the first place we were ever able to put roots down and actually call home, and that's been for almost 20 years now,” Followill says. “We moved here, and we just loved that it was a city with a small town vibe, which was amazing for us.”
Kings of Leon’s more mainstream success came with pop-radio hits "Use Somebody" and "Sex on Fire," from 2008's Grammy-nominated Only by the Night, which peaked in the Top 10 in more than 10 countries. After seven albums they hit No. 1. on the Billboard 200 albums chart with WALLS, the latest album by the crew. As they toured internationally, growing from Nashville recording artists to international disciples of Southern rock and soul, there was one important consequence that shaped their future hobbies: good food.
The Followills expanded their taste buds and befriended chefs, and today it’s a piece of Nathan’s life that takes up most of his time outside of music — “research” he calls it. The food “research” is for the Music City Food and Wine Festival, now in its sixth year, an event that the bandmates started with world-renowned chef and friend, Jonathan Waxman (of Adele’s). Followill says the brainchild for the festival began simply because they wanted chefs to come to Nashville, experience the city and eventually bring their culinary expertise here in the form of new restaurants.
“Caleb was living in New York City at the time, we were making a record out there. And there was a restaurant right around the corner from this apartment (Barbato). He just went there every day and ate lunch or dinner and befriended the chef, who was Jonathan Waxman. Caleb was always like, “You've got to come check out our city. I think you would really like it. I think a restaurant of yours would do well there,’” Followill says. With a food festival, the brothers thought, chefs would come to Nashville, see its potential, and if three or four of them opened a restaurant here, then it was a win. “I guess it got started through selfish reasons — us wanting to kind of steal them and have them open restaurants here.”
At home, Nathan’s role is less of chef and more of a taste tester for his wife, musician and songwriter, Jessie Baylin, who’s pregnant with their second child. “Her parents own two restaurants in New Jersey, so she is the cook in the house. She has a pretty deep recipe box. I mean her grandparents and parents are great cooks, so we say we're a little Italian-influenced here in this house.
“The most impressive thing she does though is she can put together antipasti that would take me a year to make, and she will put it together 30 minutes,” Followill says.
When they’re not cooking at home, it’s hard for Followill to pick a favorite restaurant to share with friends — and he’s sampled many of them. “The food scene here has gotten so big it’s great. Now when people come to Nashville and say ‘where do I eat,’ you have a tough time picking out even three places," he says. Friends, food, family, fellowship: all words that resonate with the Grammy Award winner. Oh, and Nashvillian.
The Contributor's 7 Questions with Nathan Followill
What is your idea of happiness?
My idea of happiness. Being surrounded by my family and friends that I love, all around a great meal and some good wine. Friends and fellowship.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I don’t know about that one, it’s probably “Can I get more Jack’s Creek Sauce?" at Martin’s Bar-B-Que.
Outside of music, which talent would you most like to have?
A professional golfer, 100 percent. As much as I play, I should be good, but unfortunately, I’m not. I went to The Masters last year, my first time ever, which was amazing. And I have several friends that are on the PGA Tour, so when we're on tour and there's a tournament in the same town, we always try to go out and support those guys and see them do their thing firsthand.
You're in the food and wine space professionally, but do you enjoy cooking at home?
I am the accidental grill master. And I apologize the whole time about how the food is going to be. Yet, somehow it turns out OK. But the cook in the house is my wife.
What do you treasure most?
My wife and my daughter.
What can fans expect next from the Kings of Leon crew?
Well, we're at the tail end of this record cycle right now. We’ve got some shows this summer coming up, but we can't stay idle for too long. And we all live so close to each other that it usually turns into, ‘Hey, let's go up to the studio and goof off.’ And next thing you know, we’ve got three ideas started. We're lucky to be in a position where we don't have to pressure ourselves into having something done by a certain date.
If you were a Contributor vendor, what would be your go-tosales technique?
I think I would take advantage of fun T-shirts. T-shirts that have funny sayings or that grab people’s attention. John Henry’s got those headphones on and has his dance moves … I don’t think I could touch him in that department. So probably something attention-grabbing and being friendly. The vendors that I see are just so friendly and always smiling — it can be pouring down rain, sunny, windy, cold. They’ve always got a smile. That's the thing I would say probably drew me in to The Contributor at first: just how happy they were to get to do what they do, and that really touched me.