Blender Magazine November 2006

 

Brandon Flowers has a crush on a man named Bruce, and it makes him giddy just talking about it.

Two years ago, he was driving in Las Vegas listening to the radio when "Born to Run" came on. "I heard it, drove right to a record store and bought a Springsteen greatest-hits CD," Flowers says. "I want to put a Springsteen poster up on my wall. I've never believed anybody -anybody- like I believe him. He's a prophet."

The Killers frontman, 25, likes to talk about music in religious terms, and one of his favorite subjects is idolatry. These days, he says, his onetime idols don't really seem like idols anymore. Bono and Bowie? They're Killers fans. Morrissey and Robert Smith? Big whoop. "The Boss gave me this feeling back that I thought I'd lost," Flowers explains. "It got to the point where I'd go see Morrissey and I just wasn't shocked, or we'd see the Cure, and the mist went away and you saw Robert Smith's hair and it just wasn't the same. You want to see a god onstage. You want to see something larger than life and unattainable. I was like, 'I could do that.'"

Flowers ample confidence -familiar to anyone who has ever read an interview with him- is at odds with his physical presence. He's in Manhattan, his slight frame perched nervously at an upscale bar on the Lower East Side, where an endearingly skittish grin has taken up permanent residence beneath his Tijuana mustache. He's here for the MTV Video Music Awards, where the Killers will be performing their soaring new single "When You Were Young," which, as Flowers puts it, features "one of the greatest guitar lines ever written" (cocky or not, he's not altogether wrong about this). The Killers -Flowers, Dave Keuning on guitar, Mark Stoermer on bass and Ronnie Vannucci on drums- are stationed six miles southeast of Radio City Music Hall: They've forgone the midtown Trump hotel that's been crawling with performers and nominees all week for a boutique hotel in a gritty-chic neighborhood where hipsters muscle for space with bodega owners. Flowers's shoulders hunch forward slightly, his knees are pressed together and he fidgets with a piece of bread as he answers questions. It's the posture of a 16-year-old music geek -which, to be fair, described Flowers pretty well in his adolescence- not the rooster-strut comportment you'd expect from someone whose band sold 3 million copies of its debut -2004's Hot Fuss- and who has sworn that his band's new record, Sam's Town, is "one of the best albums in the past 20 years."

But the strut kicks in whenever he opens his mouth. "I love Sam's Town. I don't regret saying that," he says. "I'd put it up against Ok Computer. I'd put it up against Achtung Baby. It's what I'm here for: Thom Yorke's not gonna make another Ok Computer; he's making a bunch of noise. I was reading an old interview with Springsteen about how he went into Born to Run wanting to make the best rock & roll album that'd ever been made. People think it's pretentious, but I looked at that album and I looked at Hunky Dory, and Springsteen and Bowie were 24 when they made them." He slices an olive in half and nibbles on it. "I was like, 'I've got to up the ante.'"

As his recent idol-shuffling suggests, Brandon Flowers is trying to figure out what kind of rockstar he wants to be. There are two warring candidates. Most entertaining is Brandon the Gallagher Brother, given to self-aggrandizing statements and nasty swipes at other bands. He's picked fights with Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco and synth-pop haircuts the Bravery. While he says today that he regrets such smears -"It was ambition; it was my own selfishness"- he certainly hasn't stopped running his mouth about his own music.

Then there's the introspective, road-weary Rock Prophet, the Brandon who recently scrapped dandyish suits, close shaves and eyeliner for bolo ties, leather jackets, facial scruff... and, OK, eyeliner. A churchgoing Mormon, Flowers says he writes music knowing that God is listening. "It's given my lyrics a positive outlook. This album that getting-over-the-hill, overcoming, fists-in-the-air mentality." Flowers believes music should uplift, and that no genre is quite as uplifting as rock -that increasingly endangered species on sales charts and radio airwaves. "It's sad. It's 'cause hip hop is so big, and I don't know if there's ever going to be a turnaround. It just pisses me off. Nothing against hip hop, 'cause it's entertaining, but every song is just 'how I got out' -it's never we. Some good stuff comes out every now and then, but most of it's pushing that selfish motivation that's tearing the world apart: 'I've gotta get my Louis Vuitton bag and my Mercedes.' If you listen to U2 singing 'One,' they're singing about everybody. That's so much more beautiful than that crap."

But both of these hats -the braggart and the savior- seem to fit a little big on him. Perhaps it's his youth. Perhaps it's his debut as a fey synth boy singing about dance-floor flirtations. Perhaps it's that his last name is Flowers. But where a lot of outsized rockers insist they're just average dudes, Brandon Flowers can seem like an average dude insisting he's an outsized rocker.

He still lives in Henderson, the Las Vegas outskirt town where he grew up with four older sisters and one older brother, and he has no interest in moving. As a kid he had the desert as his backyard because his folks were too poor to put up a wall. Today he shares a house with his wife, Tana Munblowsky, whom he married in 2005, and their husky, Nikita. They spend their time in Henderson, avoiding the Strip and going instead to the movies and church -Tana, a pixie-ish former Urban Outfitters store manager who met Flowers in a thrift store five years ago, is a Mormon too.

Flowers uses a debit card and drinks Amstel Light, if he's drinking at all. When Hot Fuss became a hit, he offered to buy his parents, who had never owned a new car, a Toyota Prius (his father is a 63-year-old bellman who will retire in November). Despite his son's protestations about "good gas mileage," though, Flowers's dad decided on a high-end Hyundai instead. Post-fame, Flowers replaced his low-end Hyundai with a Volkswagen SUV, and besides that, his only indulgence seems to be clothing. (When we meet, he's wearing a snakeskin-print track jacket that sells at Dior Homme for $2,000.) After drinks we have dinner, and when Brandon's done with his pork and fries, he picks up all the scraps and crumbs that have fallen to the table and deposits them, along with an empty miniature bottle of Heinz ketchup, onto his plate. "I used to be a busboy," he says. "I'm gonna help 'em out."

Flowers's bandmates share his working-class background. Keuning, who sports a mess of Marc Bolan-esque curls, used to work at a Banana Republic. Stoermer, a lank, doe-eyed blond whose gentle features prompted the Bravery's Sam Endicott to describe him as a "Dutch girl with a beard," was a medical courier who transported boxers' urine for testing. Vannucci cultivates a sort of taxi-hack chic, with his permanent five o'clock shadow and handlebar mustache; the group's most gregarious member, he used to take photos at a quickie wedding chapel.

The band started when Keuning met Flowers through a 2002 classified ad that listed Oasis as an influence. When major labels started scooping up rail-thin dance rockers in nu-metal's wake, the Killers became one of the few who actually sold any records, combining the driving earnestness of hits like "Mr. Brightside" with nagging, serpentine refrains, like the one on "Somebody Told Me."

Today, they're all either married or in long-term relationships that predate the group's success. They insist that they've remained faithful, despite levels of temptation that must strain hard on their skinny jeans. "Everyone think women are jumping all over us -and some nights it can be pretty rowdy," Keuning says. "Backstage, it's lawless," Flowers agrees. "But it makes you stronger when you beat it."

Still, if Flowers doesn't always behave like a rockstar -"I'd rather be known for writing good songs than be the next Axl Rose," he says- he sure wants to sound like one on Sam's Town. The album was recorded over six months in the Studio at the palms in Vegas with the production team of Flood and Alan Moulder. If you are consciously setting out to record an album of epic guitar rock, you could do worse than to hire these two guys with U2, Nine Inch Nails and the Smashing Pumpkins on their resumes. "We told them we wanted to conquer -to sound big," Keuning says. Apparently some of Flowers's hubris has rubbed off on the guitarist. "A lot of the songs are stadium anthems: They can only be properly executed before huge crowds."

Moulder tells Blender that the group's bravado is unwarranted: "They're up there with anyone now. Anyone."

The album is named for a Las Vegas casino opened in 1979 by the Oklahoma-born entrepreneur Sam Boyd. In the early '40s, Boyd arrived in Vegas with a now-legendary $80 to his name and set to work creating his own kingdom. As Flowers tried to channel his inner Bruce, Boyd's story captured his imagination. It's as quintessential an American tale, after all, as that of Mormon hero Brigham Young (although probably with fewer wives): "It's that go-west-and-prevail-out-in-the-sun thing," Flowers says.

It's nostalgia electrified, and if Flowers sounds like a fawning kid when he talks about Born to Run, he sounds like your grandpa when talking about Sam's Town. "I wanted to bring up things that are dying: morals and things that you hold dear," he explains. "My dad always wanted old phones around, old cars to work on. You're not going to want my wife's Prius to work on in 50 years. You're not going to want my Blackberry. And with that there are human things we are losing too. Little kids with these things," he says, holding up his two-way pager and shaking his head in disgust. "That sucks."

It's VMA night. The Killers are standing on a riser in front of Radio City, and Kurt Loder is interviewing them. Flowers is wearing his Dior track jacket and, despite the fact that it is nighttime, suglasses. While the singer fields questions with a nervous chuckle, Keuning self-consciously adjusts his flowing mane, and Stoermer and Vannucci -also in sunglasses- nod quietly and shift their weight. It's palpably uncomfortable, and the band can't get through it quickly enough.

Besides the Killers, tonight's performers include Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Panic! at the Disco, OK Go, and the All-American Rejects. If not the biggest night in music -that's probably the Grammy's or, these days, the American Idol finale- this is certainly the flashiest, and the Killers are the evening's top rock dogs. "We're also the toughest rock act," Flowers says with a laugh. "Which is pretty sad!"

They've been given the final slot, to close out the show wiht "When You Were Young," and the transformation from awkward red-carpet Flowers to onstage Flowers is stunning. As "one of the greatest guitar lines ever written" chimes through Radio City, his voice rings out unfettered by the Anglophile mannerisms he cultivated on Hot Fuss- or by the aw-shucks drawl of his speaking voice. In designer Western wear, Flowers whoops about hurricanes, mountains and Jesus over his band's gorgeous clamor.

When the song ends, Keuning, Stoermer, and Vannucci will party-hop until 4 AM, schmoozing with Jay-Z, Beyonce and yep -Axl Rose, who blessed their performance with a shrieking introduction. Flowers, though, will leave quietly with Tana for the hotel: The doting husband has an 11:30 bedtime.

 

 

 

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