Kings Of Leon’s Nathan Followill Finds Home in Food
Whether the subject is music or food, Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill doesn’t believe in guilty pleasures. Asked about two indulgences that some consider second-tier, Followill quickly replies, “I’m a huge fan of Phil Collins AND Frito pies.
“There’s no right or wrong taste in music, and it’s the same with food.”
Followill says his bandmate and brother, Caleb, “Puts cilantro in everything. Me? I can’t stand cilantro. That’s not to say it’s not good. It’s just not my thing.”
Food and Followills intersect with the Music City Food + Wine, an annual event that offers famed chefs and live music in the Kings’ adopted city. The event affords Followill the opportunity to ruminate on his three-plus decades of consuming food, which conveniently break into three eras, each with various new experiences that define it. His food story is also a family story, as food stories often are, with the evolution that happens when one leaves home and expands the ranks of that family. It’s a story about comfort at home and indulgences abroad, from casseroles to a 28-course meal in Spain.
Ivan Leon Followill kept his family on the move. A Pentecostal evangelist, he traveled and preached around the South, with his family in tow. As could be expected, the family was often greeted at its destinations with food. “It was a different town every week,” Followill says. “Sometimes my mom would make a grocery list and hand it to the church. Families would bring eggs, milk, bread and deli meats. Other times people would bring some specialty dish they made, which means we got to experience some good and some bad with that. Sometimes you’d chew and swallow as fast as you could without making a face so you didn’t catch an elbow from Mom under the table.”
Different regions would offer up variations on the same dish, often roasted meats and casseroles. “A lot of different styles of food, things that were passed down,” he says.
The Followills spend so much time touring that their mother has started a tradition of hosting a mid-summer meal with all the customary Thanksgiving dishes. “Green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole … anything with casserole in the name, she makes it.”
By 1997 the Followill’s parents had split and Leon had quit preaching. Nathan, Caleb, brother Jared and cousin Matthew started a band. As Kings of Leon they released an EP called “Holy Roller Novocaine” in 2003, which earned positive reviews. But good reviews don’t always translate into more comfortable travel. Between driving, loading and unloading of gear and performance, a touring band doesn’t always have time to chase down a proper meal.
Followill describes food options early in the band’s career as “Limited … but even early on me and Caleb, no matter what city we were in, we’d ask a promoter or booking agent or friends for good places to eat. Something as simple as a comfort meal can give you a boost to get through the last weeks of a tour.”
A pair of radio hits in 2008 improved the band’s fortunes greatly. There was that 28-course meal at elBulli in Spain that boasted rabbit brain stew as the 26th course. “I had food up to the back of my throat,” Followill says. He speaks reverently of the food at Noma in Copenhagen. He had indulged enough to know not to attempt to eat the entirety of every dish “So you don’t yack it up.”
Followill’s job has put him in places he might not otherwise have visited, which is one reason he likes the festival: The opportunity to share some of what he’s experienced.
He recalls a tour of Italy. He asked a promoter where to eat and got an address. The band pulled up to an 82-year-old woman’s home.
“She cooked for all of us and she didn’t want to charge us anything,” he says. “We all gave her 20 Euros. There were probably 15 of us, and she started crying because she was so grateful. But man, she’d just performed a miracle. She’d made the best meal we’d had in our lives – out of nothing.”
Though his experiences have expanded far beyond church potluck, there’s still a strong pull to the meal cooked at home. In 2009, Followill married singer-songwriter Jessie Baylin. Baylin was born Jessie Baldassarre in New Jersey; her father is a chef who owns an Italian restaurant. There, the offerings included scungilli (large marine snails often prepared as a salad, or marinated in sauce) and eggplant rollatini.
“We’d be in New Jersey eating and I’d think, ‘Lord, I could be back in Tennessee with my family,’” Followill says. “The accents are different; the cuisine is different. But the vibe is the same – everyone getting together; everybody has their dish.”
He noticed a similar feeling last year at the first Music City Food and Wine Festival.
“It’s about family and friends eating and drinking together. We’re really fortunate to have some of these chefs as our friends,” he says. “And we had this ulterior motive, which was getting these great chefs to come here to Nashville and maybe if we were lucky have one of them open a restaurant.”