Why Jared Followill Plays the Gibson Thunderbird
Jared Followill is the bassist of one of the most successful rock bands of the last decade, Kings of Leon. Along with brothers Nathan, and Caleb, and his cousin Matthew, Jared has toured the world numerous times, and recorded five albums so far, with a sixth reportedly on the way. Pretty impressive for a 26 year old. Whenever you see Jared on stage, expect him to be rocking a Gibson Thunderbird IV bass. This beautiful bass has been Jared's instrument of choice for many years, and aside from being very esthetically pleasing it just sounds fantastic.
Since it's introduction in 1963, the Gibson Thunderbird bass has been used by many famous bassists, including Aerosmith's Tom Hamilton, Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses, and perhaps most known – Nikki Sixx of Motley Crüe.
In the early years of Kings of Leon, Jared Followill used to play a Gibson EB-3 bass, but switched to a Thunderbird when he was presented one by Gibson. Jared talked to BassPlayer about switching to the Thunderbird: “I’ve used a few different basses over the years, but I’m pretty horrible when it comes to knowledge on the technical side of things; I basically started playing a Thunderbird because Gibson sent me a free one. I tried it out for one show, and it happened to be a really amazing show—it sounded great, and our soundman was really pleased. Because of its longer scale, it was a lot harder to play than my EB-3—which I could just rip on—but in time I got used to it. It was a difficult transition, but it sounded better, and it ultimately made me a stronger player. It had clearer highs and lows, and I could get a certain crunch that was missing with the EB-3.”
Some musicians may dismiss Jared saying that his riffs and playing style is too simplistic. But the fact is that Jared is very committed to his craft, as he told Dolphin Music back in 2009: “Despite what some people say, playing bass is hard. You have to put a lot into it to do it right. I’ll play until I have a blister the size of Mount Everest—whatever’s needed to make it sound good. I want to be good enough so that I can play whatever I hear in my head. I can’t always do that, but that’s what I’m aiming for.”
Kings of Leon had the honor of opening up for U2 on their US tour behind How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb in 2005. You can tell that the band was inspired by U2 guitarist The Edge, who has created a unique sound by playing around with various guitar effects like delays, and pitch shifters. The atmospheric sound of Kings of Leon's fourth album Only By The Night sounds like it was influenced by U2's arsenal of sounds. Perhaps most interesting of all is the intro to album opener “Closer” in which Jared Followill plays a bass riff that sounds like a synthesizer.
Jared explained to State Magazine how he came up with the riff: “That was really quickly, off the cuff. We were sitting around the studio and as far as the bassline goes, I had a bassline that me and Nathan were working together on. But as we don’t use a clicktrack, it was like a repeat pedal that we couldn’t get down so we thought about not even doing it. Right before we started, I clicked on an octave pedal and started playing with, had some reverb on it. All the guys liked it and it’s the thing that starts off the record which most people think is a keyboard.”
Jared has been able to continue experimenting with sounds and effects with his new side project Smoke & Jackal – a duo made up of Followill and Nick Brown of the band Mona. The two released an EP last fall simply titled EP1. Jared told Rolling Stone: “All of the songs were kind of a specific sound that our other bands did not go for […] We both love our own bands, and we weren't trying to step on any toes. That would have been weird for us.”
As can be expected the EP is quite different than anything put forth by Kings of Leon, with its ambient sounds and heavy use of reverb. It remains to be seen if Jared's side project will in any way influence the sound of his main band's next album.