As the world awaits the September 23 release of Kings of Leon’s fourth record Only By the Night, most fans still know very little about the record’s co-producer — and past KOL writing partner — Angelo. Gibson recently caught up with the elusive Angelo at his house in Nashville to discuss his early relationship with the Followill brothers, and the role Gibson guitars played in shaping the Kings’ sound.
Referenced only as "Angelo" on the album credits, Angelo Petraglia has been described as the “5th member” of Kings of Leon, the critically acclaimed Nashville band that's emerging as one of the greatest rock and roll bands of the 21st century. As a co-writer on the initial EP Holy Roller Novocaine (2003) and the breakout debut LP Youth and Young Manhood (2003), there’s been speculation that Angelo “created” the Kings, and some critics have gone so far as to claim that Youth and Young Manhood was nothing more than the product of a major label’s marketing department.
Sitting comfortably in his living room where most of the writing for Youth and Young Manhood took place, Angelo clarified that the initial introduction to singer/guitarist Caleb and drummer Nathan Followill was through his publishing company?as potential songwriting partners.
“There was a misconception from the beginning,” explains Angelo, “where some people thought this band was put together, which is so untrue. I mean these guys have so much talent, whether it was in the beginning very raw?talent is talent. To me, it was just guys that I hit it off with and dug making music with, and the writing was really cool.”
Commenting on what he specifically recognized in the Followill brothers during those initial songwriting sessions, Angelo remembers, “At first when I met Nathan and Caleb it was just pretty obvious that they had a thing?they had a sibling thing that was pretty powerful, and when they sang they had the sibling harmony that’s hard to get anywhere else. That was pretty special, there, right off. They just had a lot of soul.”
Indeed, the Kings had soul in every sense of the word. Most fans have no doubt already heard the stories about the brothers’ conservative Christian upbringing. Still, Angelo believes that their unique background contributed to the raw potential that he recognized soon after meeting the young Followills. Angelo explains, “They kind of grew up in this whole Pentecostal background, and that was their experience in the world. People have heard [this story] a million times, cruising around with their father as he was preachin’ and stuff traveling the South, going to all these church meetings. But, initially to me, it was like they had a pretty old soul when it came to music.”
To be sure, one listen to Caleb’s fiery confessional vocal style and Nathan’s rousing signature “church beat” should be proof enough that the seeds of rock and roll genius were already present.
That’s not to say that Angelo didn’t contribute to shaping the early Kings of Leon sound. After all, he’d made inroads as a Nashville songwriter in the mid-1990s, most notably receiving a Grammy nomination as the songwriter for Trisha Yearwood’s hit “Believe Me Baby (I Lied).” Angelo also wrote and produced Patty Griffin’s song “One Big Love” for her critically acclaimed record Flaming Red (1998). “One Big Love” was later recorded by Emmylou Harris and cut on her Grammy award winning record Red Dirt Girl (2000). No doubt, Angelo knew how to cultivate the seeds of raw talent, which he did with the Followills by not only introducing them to an expansive catalogue of music they’d missed growing up in the Pentecostal church (e.g., the Rolling Stones, the Clash, Velvet Underground, to name just a few), but also by placing a bevy of classic rock guitars in their hands.
Turning to his vast collection of vintage Gibsons and Epiphones, Angelo recalls each guitar’s moment in the sun on a Kings record.
“Usually I bring down all the guitars to the studio, so we’re constantly circulating guitars and amps, but on the Holy Roller Novocaine EP Matthew used my ’71 Les Paul Deluxe Goldtop. By the time we recorded Youth and Young Manhood, Matthew had already bought himself a Les Paul Custom—he probably played that on Youth and Young Manhood. ‘Old Dusty’ is a ’43 LG-2. On the new record and the last two records, Matthew uses a Sheraton with the stock pickups (most likely an early ’90s model), and he also used my ’56 Les Paul Special on a bunch of this new record.”
Shifting to Jared’s basses, Angelo continues, “When I initially met Jared, he had never played bass. We bought him a Fender at first, then we went to Gruhn’s and bought an EB-0. But a Thunderbird is really his choice?he has a bunch of those now. The way the Thunderbird cuts is great for his style of playing.”
Thinking of Caleb’s main axe, Angelo remembers that early in the songwriting for Holy Roller Novocaine, he handed Caleb his ’72 ES-325. Angelo quietly notes, “I found that ES-325 on eBay?the one Caleb plays?for $900.” He stops for a moment and adds, “That 325 has been on all the records.” In other words, the rest is history.
Angelo’s creative collaborations have not stopped with Kings of Leon. While continuing to work with KOL in the role of co-producer on Because of the Times and the forthcoming Only By the Night, Angelo has put together his own band called the Jane Shermans, fronted by the electrifying singer/bassist Eulene Sherman. Catch a glimpse of the future of rock and roll; check out the Jane Shermans here.
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