Born to restyle


The Killers' lead singer tells ALEXANDRA GILL why the Las Vegas-born glam band dumped its eyeliner and embraced the Boss and all-American rock 'n' roll

VANCOUVER -- Midway through the Killers' sold-out concert in Vancouver last week, it finally hit me. There was lead singer Brandon Flowers, with his scruffy new beard, skinny jeans and bolo tie, at the centre of a spaghetti western-themed stage, strung with fairground flags and neon lights.

Swinging his outstretched arms from side to side, with fingers snapping and scrawny knees knocking, Flowers almost looked like a startled young Courtney Cox, awkwardly dancing her heart out after Bruce Springsteen plucked her from the audience and pulled her onstage for his 1984 video Dancing in the Dark.

Aha. So that's what all these comparisons to the Boss are about.

I'm being facetious, of course, but the analogy is somewhat fitting now that the former glam band from Las Vegas has -- to borrow from the Boss -- changed its clothes, its hair, its face.

Last time we checked their look in the mirror, when the Killers were riding high on Hot Fuss (their debut album, which shot out of nowhere to sell five million copies worldwide), they were wearing eyeliner, channelling the Cures with glittery new-wave pop tempos and being touted as the best British band this side of the Atlantic.

For Sam's Town, the band's highly anticipated follow-up -- which made its debut at No. 1 on the Canadian Nielsen Soundscan chart last week -- the group has grown handlebar mustaches, metaphorically jumped behind the wheel of a Chevy, cranked up the bass and reinvented itself as an all-American, anthem-sized rock 'n' roll guitar band.

To almost anyone who will listen, Flowers has been gushing praise for Bruce Springsteen, explaining how his new-found appreciation for Born in the USA played a major part in the metamorphosis.

He also boasted to the British music weekly NME that Sam's Town was "one of the best albums of the past 20 years."

This startling self-confidence, combined with the immodest references to rock's biggest icons (Flowers has also referenced U2, Oasis and Queen), unleashed a critical hammering. Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield said the Killers "leave no pompous arena cliché untweaked"; Entertainment Weekly's Jody Rosen said the album plays like "a parody of rock bombast"; and in The New York Times, Sia Michel called it "a classic case of a young band overreaching to assert its significance."

Flowers is unrepentant.

"I'm not ashamed of how much I love [Springsteen]," the 25-year-old singer says backstage before the Vancouver concert.

"You know when they say a pregnant woman glows," elaborates Flowers, a devout Mormon, and proud uncle to 17 nieces and nephews. "That's what I felt like when I was falling in love with his music. It gave me fuel for this album.

"But we're not trying to rewrite Born to Run," he adds. "And there are three other guys in the band who couldn't care less about Bruce Springsteen. It's put us under a lot of -- I don't know," he trails off, twiddling a new toothbrush still wrapped in its packaging.


"Sometimes I have my doubts," he says. "But it started off with a bang and we've got to keep firing. I still think it's a great album."

The lead singer's aura of preciousness probably doesn't endear him much to his critics. Take the replacement toothbrush, for example.

"My old one fell in the bathroom," he explains.

In the toilet?

"No, on the floor. But you know, at a gig," he says with a squeamish shudder that strips a layer of bravado off the new tough-guy image.

Flowers says it was his travels abroad and subsequent disenchantment that inspired him to drum up the nostalgia and get back to his wild western roots. In Europe, he says, he was often treated poorly because of his country's foreign policies.

"The world sees us as monster robots that want to kill and take everything from everyone and we're not," he says, voice rising indignantly. "My parents are sweet, humble people.

"It's very close-minded to think that way -- to instantly judge everyone in America because of what's going on," he continues, defensively hugging his chest and nervously twitching his feet.

"I don't think I'm here to represent every American and humanize America with Sam's Town -- but I was trying."

On Sam's Town, Flowers writes longingly about lost values from the good old days: "Restless hearts" break out of a "two-star town," dipping their feet in "devil's water" as they travel "wild rivers" and windswept "highway skylines" that will take them to the "promised land."

Lyrically, Flowers certainly does owe a big debt to Springsteen. But considering the socio-political factors that inspired the album, its songs are strangely lacking in any of the elder musician's political consciousness or compassion for the humble working man.

"We've never considered ourselves a very political band," says Flowers, who declines to comment on which party he votes for.

"I'm 25 years old. I'm just a kid in most people's eyes. I'm not going to push anything on anybody and I don't think this album does that."

The album is imbued with a strong feeling of religious righteousness, but Flowers doesn't want to talk about that, either.

He will say, however, that growing up in Sin City with firm religious convictions was good preparation for surviving the life of a rock 'n' roll star.

"It's difficult because there's a certain level of expectation of someone in my, or our, shoes. People expect a certain level of debauchery. Sometimes we don't live up to that. A lot of times we don't," Flowers says, confessing that he does smoke and drink -- in moderation.

"Then there are people like this [Babyshambles front man] Peter Doherty who gets taken dead seriously because he has a heroin problem," he says, shaking his head incredulously.

Flowers might not get too rowdy, but he still considers himself a gambler. That's another part of the reason, he explains, for the band's new look and sound.

"The glamorous façade was fun," he says, attributing his former pretty-boy pose to a "fresh-out-of-the-hood mentality.

"I grew up very poor. You sign a record deal, you get a little money. It's exciting. But how much fun is it going to be if people only care about what colour jacket I'm wearing?"

Flowers still lives in Henderson, Nev., about a mile away from the hospital where he was born.

"People there have a lot of hope. They come to Las Vegas to get rich. Most people aren't going to get it. But that little thought keeps a gleam in their eyes. It's a good thing. Other people grow out of it. They lose that gleam and become cynical bastards."

Not Flowers. Later that night at the Orpheum, near the end of the concert, that gleam was clearly visible when he plucked a girl out of the audience and pulled her onstage. The startled fan, who presumably thought she was being treated to a Courtney Cox moment, eagerly started dancing.

"No," he says, swinging her around to face the audience.

"Best band in 20 years," read the imprint on her T-shirt.

"I just wanted to show them that," he says. "You can go back down now."

Confident? Without a doubt. Gentlemanly? Hardly. Looks like someone could still stand to learn a few lessons from the Boss.