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 years".

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 subdued.

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 makeover.

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 obsession.

The Killers began when Flowers responded to an advertisement placed in a local Nevada paper by guitarist Dave Keuning requesting a singer.

"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 I had."

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 Flowers.

"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 Western-style poncho.

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