December 2005-January 2006

Access Magazine The Killers: Band of the year

Access

LAWSUITS, HIT SINGLES, SOLD-OUT TOURS, THEIR WAR WITH THE BRAVERY AND MILLIONS OF ALBUMS SOLD MAKE SYNTH-POP ROAD WARRIORS THE KILLERS THE ACCESS BAND OF THE YEAR

It's not that Brandon Flowers is mean, it's that he knows what he likes and dislikes. He
doesn't like Bloc Party but he loves The Strokes. So much, in fact, that when he first heard their album Is This It, the band scrapped nine songs intended for their debut multi-million selling album, Hot Fuss. They saw that the bar had risen and they wanted to hurdle it. That's why, when we're in the basement of the East Village New York bar Niagara, and Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes leans over to tell Flowers something, it will probably mean more to him than Moretti will ever know" I just want to congratulate you on your success," he tells the 24-year-old singer. Dressed in a T-shirt and cargo shorts, Moretti is accompanied by his girlfriend of several years, actress Drew Barrymore. Today is Fab's birthday, and when it's time to cut the cake, he pulls Flowers into a small room that fits about seven and seats the singer next to him as if he's an old friend. A slice of cake is passed to Flowers who turns to me and says, "I love chocolate cake," as he gobbles it down. It's homemade, presumably by Barrymore. The night carries on.

Flowers and Morretti spend the entire time together, joined by other members of The Killers, guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer (drummer Ronnie Vannucci is back at the hotel with his wife). The group is invited back to an apartment belonging to Ryan Gentils, the manager of The Strokes, which is in the same building as the apartment Moretti and Barrymore share (their apartment is being occupied by Moretti's retired father who is visiting from Italy). Gentils drives us there in a minivan as Barrymore serenades the passengers with songs from the film Team America: World police. From the back of the van, where she is seated with her beau, the former child actress turned media empress chants, "America, F**K YEAH!,"which causes Flowers, who has never seen the film, to giggle in sweet disbelief. At this point in his life, Flowers has met them all: Morrissey, Elton John, Bowie, but it's hard to believe the interactions with people he admires were as intimate as this one. Sharing a bottle of wine with Fab and Drew outside of their apartment building as the sun rises, Flowers is nothing but smiles in his red velvet jacket. two and a half years ago The Killers were working regular jobs in Las Vegas. Well, as regular as jobs get for that area. Singer Brandon Flowers was working at the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino where he was courted by aging women hoping to score with the good-looking bellhop; drummer Ronnie Vannucci worked as a photographer at the same chapel Britney Spears eloped in with her childhood friend; guitarist Dave Keuning worked at Banana Republic; and bassist Mark Stoermer worked as a medical courier transporting blood samples, which afforded him the opportunity to listen to bands he heard were supposed to be good and influential. The band played wherever they could in Vegas, but apart from a transvestite club and a cafe, there wasn't much of a scene for them to exist in. "Dave always says that [the music scene] resembles the area around the city, which is desert and dirt, explains Flower. "It was terrible." Thanks to the influences of Bowie and Morrissey, their songs were as flashy as their surroundings on the strip, but Vegas just wasn't the right fit for them.

In 2003, Lizard King Records in the UK got hold of their demo and decided to put out their album after it was passed up by nearly every American record label. However, at the yearly CMJ music conference in New york, labels had had a change of heart and descended upon their show at the rock club Don Hills. The audience was filled with AR men and young female bloggers who had discovered MP3s of Killers demos online and sung all the words to every song, taking photos and gushing to their friends over the band's good looks and even better songs. The band put on a decent performance, but many people left unimpressed. Island Records in the US saw something bigger, though, and offered them a deal on the spot, and by the next day the band had been signed and celebrated over margaritas at a Lower East Side Mexican restaurant after being denied entrance to a party held by a music magazine 50 feet away (on whose cover they would appear in 2005)Fast forward two years and Brandon Flowers exits an elevator into their hotel lobby after a long night of hanging out with his new buddy Moretti. Standing in the lobby are British band The Futureheads, who politely say hello but have a slight fear in their eyes. ;I think bands are scared of me,"Brandon says later, "because of what's going on with [rival band] The Bravery, and because I speak what's on my mind about other bands in interviews. I like The Futureheads."


The Killers enter their luxury tour bus which will be taking them to Providence, RI a New England town often overlooked by touring rock bands of their stature carrying bags of clothing from Diesel and J. Lindenberg which they quickly empty to show to each other, tossing each other expensive pieces of clothing, saying things like "I got this for you'' and "that looks good on you!" Vannucci excitedly tells us about seeing one of the two actresses who played Darlene in the US sitcom Roseanne in Diesel.As we drive up Fifth Avenue, Flowers starts saying out loud the names of the expensive luxury stores we pass. Coming from two generations of grocers and being modestly raised in the Mormon-centric state of Utah before moving to Vegas as a teenager, he sounds genuinely excited, as if he's reading off a shopping list of where he plans on spending his next paycheck before telling everyone that he learned that Sammy Davis Jr. was a Satanist Flowers has a distinctly boyish charm. The type of person the phrase "men want to be and women want to be with" was created for. The fact that other bands feel intimidated by him is a testament to his impact on the music world in such a short time. He and his band took everything great about bands that appeared in the rock renaissance of 2002, made it accessible, and, more importantly, made it good. He begins to recite a list of bands The Killers love: ''We love The White Stripes, The Strokes, Ambulance LTD, Interpol, David Bowie, Louis XIV, the Arcade Fire" before his self-deprecating side begins to show. "What's funny is that I name all these bands and none of them would name me as a contemporary. It's weird. We brought them to another level, alll the bastards, sorry. We're taking what they're doing and making it okay for people to listen to. I don't think they appreciate it." As much as their contemporaries would like to hate them, their animosity is only a sign of jealousy. Meanwhile, elder statesmen like Morrissey, Elton John and Bowie have attempted to take the band under their wing, while the best of the best, Bono, has all but passed the torch, calling The Killers the future of rock  roll.

We continue driving and Flowers shows off a giant pair of sunglasses he picked up recently
that he's reluctant to ever remove. They're large and maroon with gold detail, and he jokes that Vannucci calls him Aunt Brandon when he wears them. Vannucci is the diplomat of the band whom all the bands they've ever played with will say they love. He's like that beloved uncle who tells the best stories at holiday dinners and has no time for whatever family politics may be going on. Two days later, in Interpol's dressing room in Boston, the band will say how much they love the drummer, and when he enters their dressing room to say hello, the publicly dour band looks genuinely happy to see him.Sitting in the back lounge as we make our way up to New England are Stoermer and Keuning. Stoermer, at 6' 4", towers over Flowers on stage and in photo shoots, causing the 5' 10" singer to look almost elfin. He's soft spoken and direct, holding strong meaning behind every word he utters, which isn't many if he's not familiar with you, and even if he is. Keuning, the reason why The Killers exist in the first place, is also fairly quiet, if not stoic. His chiseled face is timeless. He could've easily been wearing full-on face make-up and spandex in an '80s hair band and looked as in place as he does on stage wearing a suit jacket and eyeliner. His goal is to one day play Antarctica, and it was because of an ad he placed in a Las Vegas paper that he found a young Brandon Flowers, who had recently quit his band Blush Response. "He put an ad in a Vegas paper looking for... anyone really... who had similar nterests, and that was me. He had Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins and the Beatles as influences and that was good enough for me." The duo got together, naming themselves The Killers after the name that appears on the bass drum of the mock band in the New Order video for Crystal', and began work on their first song, 'Mr.Brightside', a tune Keuning had previously started working on.

"In the beginning we weren't even sure who was going to sing," explains Keuning about getting together with Flowers for the first time. "Neither one of us had a lot of experience singing. I said, 'Yeah, you got a really good voice' so [Flowers] started singing all the songs after about a month."Flowers reveals what's behind their maiden song: "It's about the deep dark depths of the jealous mind. It's a dark place sometimes, and I think we captured it pretty well. I'm a jealous person so I'm good at that, and I figured it out. It's one of our true songs. Some of our songs are completely made up and some of our songs are real, and 'Mr. Brightside' was real, so it came to me pretty easily. It was a good song, but it's not ours anymore."; On the flipside is the dance club breakout hit 'Somebody Told Me', which Flowers refers to as their "fun song, obvious song, but really strong at the same time. I think there's a lot of sexual energy, and every night we play it is a good thing." We arrive in Providence a few hours later and the band spends a nice chunk of time sound checking, which is when they get to try out the new songs they're working on. One song, which is untitled but contains the refrain "there's a good girl in everyone," is so new that, when asked about it, Flowers can hardly recall how it goes. Yet for the next two days, when the band sound checks, that song is always worked on. It sounds like Bauhaus meets U2: dark yet epic, much like their other new song, 'All The Pretty Faces', which they've been playing live in their regular sets. The band is tired by the time they get on stage, since they've been touring non-stop for a year and a half, but their performance is fantastic and a world away from the one that took place at that dingy NYC rock club two years earlier. Flowers commands the stage and eggs on the audience, reaching outat one point, causing near pandemonium as girls and boys alike try to touch him. After the show the band hang out by the bus meeting fans and engaging them in conversation. One over-eager older woman really wants Flowers to remove his sunglasses for a photo.


For whatever reason, Flowers isn't in the mood to do so, causing the woman to yell "I'll take off my top if you take off your sunglasses," an offer that causes Flowers to freak out slightly and walk away. His fiancee back home in Las Vegas would be proud.As we drive up to Boston, Flowers shares some of his new songs that he's recorded to tape in the back of the bus. Whenever he gets a free chance he is recording, hoping to make an album that's not as good as their debut but better and even more accessible while maintaining it's artfulness. "I want the next album to be American. I want it to sound like an American album with gospel choirs and pianos."He reveals that he's been listening to a lot of Billy Joel before saying "we've got 50 years of rock & roll, and some of it is so good that we need to listen to it and learn from it." The next day, in Boston, the band s performing a radio show with opening act Louis XIV and Interpol. Big fans of Interpol, the band stays for as much of the set as possible, and even shows concern when they notice bassist Carlos D looking around for a missing soundman. Flowers looks around, hoping to find the missing crew member before being pulled away for a magazine photo shoot. When it's time for their set, Interpol singer Paul Banks spends the whole time watching from the side of the stage, smoking, ignoring the girls who are backstage ogling him. When Banks hears their new song, 'All The Pretty Faces', he asks about it and then says, "This song is really good, it's going to be huge." He admires Flowers' charisma and speaks highly of him, which Flowers refuses to believe possible.Right after the show the band oads onto the bus. They're able to convince their tour manager to let them stay a few more hours instead of heading straight to their next show in Maryland, hoping they can go to a house party they heard would be fun. Bus call gets moved back, but the band remains at the venue hanging out on the bus since Louis XIV decided to bring a party to them. Bythe end of the night, members of both bands are dancing with their arms in the air to soul music, smiles across their faces. Flowers, unfazed, positions himself in the back lounge where he continues to work on more new songs.

Ten hours later we arrive in Maryland at the Merriweather Pavilion where The Killers are
headlining a show they put together that will include Louis XIV, Keane, Maximo Park and Regina Spektor. Louis XIV's singer, Jason Hill, invites us to hear a Duran Duran cover of 'Save a Prayer', which he's recorded as a duet with Flowers. Hill's voice sounds perfectly hungover and
mournful, and is a sharp contrast to Flowers' crooning. With string arrangements accompanying the track, the song sounds nothing like the original. It sounds like Vegas in 20 years.

At that point, The Killers had never headlined a show for 15,000 fans. Backstage they're
excited and playful with each other. If they're nervous, it doesn't show. Someone in their crew tells them to play the best show they've got, and when they walk on-stage the screaming from the audience provides enough fuel to make that possible. The band interacts with each other, moving n, getting close, touching, smiling. Tonight, just like every other night of this tour, the band ends their set with the anthemic and uplifting 'All These Things I've Done'. But there's something special in the air tonight as Flowers says to the audience, "There are 15,000 of you here. So I want to see 30,000 hands in the air!"immediately and breathtakingly, 30,000 hands rise up and begin to clap in unison as the crowd chants "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier." You can hear the excitement in Flowers' voice as he sings the last line of the song to each and every fan as if they're one of his nearest and dearest friends: "Hold on"