Best British Band from America
The Killers are
getting back to their roots, writes Andrew Murfett.
MODESTY is rare enough in the wonderworld of rock'n'roll. In the
world of Brandon Flowers, precocious frontman for the Las Vegas
quartet the Killers (whose debut album Hot Fuss has sold 5 million
copies), it's a foible best left to mere(er) mortals.
Flowers was hardly taciturn last year when he declared that album's
follow-up, Sam's Town, as "one of the best albums in the past 20
But a few months after the album's release, on a highway between Los
Angeles and his Las Vegas home, EG finds Flowers a touch more
Although Sam's Town has comfortably sold more than a million copies,
its failure to qualify as an "infallible instant classic" (as
Flowers sees it) has stung him.
"Some of the reviews were so bad," he says pensively, "but it's
better than people thinking it's middle-of-the-road. It was
upsetting at the time, but it's their loss."
Sam's Town dropped last September to some frosty reviews as the band
ushered in its release with both a wardrobe change and a musical
Gone were Hot Fuss' velvet suits, mascara, synthesisers, pastiche of
New Romantic fashions and unabashed love of British music. Instead,
old-school Americana was in.
The band are now regularly photographed wearing waistcoats, denim
and bootlace ties. Flowers has also grown a moustache. The best
British band from America are suddenly embracing their homeland.
Flowers insists the change wasn't deliberately contrived.
"I want to represent where I'm from," he says. "I'm really proud of
Las Vegas and America and that's fed into new songs."
Drummer Ronnie adds: "We've just snapped back into our roots and
embraced our heritage."
Brandon Flowers was the sixth-born child to Mormon parents in Las
Vegas. His family moved from the area before he reached school age,
departing to small-town Utah. He relocated back to Vegas in his
teens, without his parents, to attend high school.
"I had romantic visions of going places," he says wistfully.
While his teenage peers lapped up white-bread American rock, Flowers
doted on acts such as the Cars, New Order, Elton John and U2. His
infatuation with the Smiths and frontman Morrissey bordered on
The Killers began when Flowers responded to an advertisement placed
in a local Nevada paper by guitarist Dave Keuning requesting a
"I called other ads too," Flowers says. "Dave was just another face
at first. I was excited that he had some of the same influences that
They wrote Mr Brightside together on a whim. It wasn't until Flowers
heard the completed track that he felt the band might be heading in
the direction of something big. With a dark era of rock led by bands
such as Limp Bizkit and Creed fading into obscurity, the rise of
acts such as the Strokes and the White Stripes began to galvanise
"You had these bands 'making it' and I didn't want to miss out," he
says. "It felt like something was brewing in music, and you never
know how long that will last."
Hot Fuss boasted two worldwide hit singles, Brightside and Somebody
Told Me, and two minor hits, Smile Like You Mean It and All These
Things That I Have Done.
The video for the latter signalled the band's impending image
change. Directed by Anton Corbijn (who famously shot the cover art
for U2's The Joshua Tree), the arty black-and-white desert-shot
video featured Flowers, dressed as a cowboy and toting a
When the band came to write a follow-up, Flowers was taken aback at
the pressure he felt to write meaningful lyrics.
"I wanted to write songs for myself, but I also realised we'd sold 5
million records," he says. "I started thinking about how important
music was to me back when I started buying my first albums. Lyrics
can shape you and I started feeling quite a bit of responsibility
and I didn't want to mess it up."
Early reviews drew clear parallels between the album and Bruce
Springsteen's Born To Run, but Flowers prefers to cite Tom Waits and
Tom Petty as formative influences. Why Petty? There was something
about Petty's songs that made it seem as though, no matter how bad
it got, "there was nothing a cigarette and a Saturday night couldn't
fix", Flowers said earlier last year.
The band's favourite Sam's Town track is the last, Why Do I Keep
Counting?, which alludes to Flowers' fear of flying. So pronounced
is his phobia that on their last Australian tour in December 2004,
Flowers chose to drive from Adelaide to Melbourne instead of flying.
He now attends therapy sessions to counter the anxiety.
Flowers insists he remains unaffected by the bizarre, hedonistic
world that follows a multi-platinum, world-famous rock band. He
smokes cigarettes and drinks alcohol - objectionable behaviour for
Mormons - but avoids drugs and shrugs off the advances of groupies.
Flowers is bemused by the attention generated by his religion.
"If I was a Catholic or if I was Jewish, people probably wouldn't
make a big deal out of it," he says. "I guess Mormons are still a
mystery to some people."
Noticeably younger than his bandmates (guitarist Keuning and drummer
Vannucci are 30, bassist Mark Stoermer is 29), Flowers' propensity
to sledge his contemporaries - from Fall Out Boy and fellow Vegas
natives Panic! At the Disco and even veterans Green Day - hasn't won
him any favour.
Flowers' chief criticism of such bands stems from their intensive
interaction with fans, principally via the internet. He thinks that
bands' non-stop blogging and the like is taking away from the
mystery pop acts used to hold.
"It's probably not even them (the bands themselves)," he says. "It's
probably some guy they hired. Nothing seems to be better than it
used to be and blogging is not helping. I mean, when I went to go
see Morrissey when I was 15, I didn't think he was like me."
Still, Flowers and crew might do well to realise that familiarity
can breed more than discontent. Did you know, for example, that the
Killers grew up watching cabaret shows by Wayne Newton and circus
shows with Siegfried and Roy?
"Even though the Palms Casino caters to a younger crowd, Caesars
Palace is the classic," Flowers says enthusiastically. "That's my
favourite. If you saw me in a casino, it would be there."
The Killers play the Big Day Out on January 28.