Stars n Gripes
They’ve embraced the big sound of America but The Killers still aren’t fully comfortable with the burdens of stardom, reveals frontman Brandon Flowers.
The Killers finally got to play their long awaited shows in Dublin at the end of February, following the cancellation of a point theatre date in November, when Brandon Flowers was unable to perform due to a severe bout of the 'flu. During the first two concerts at the RDS Main Hall-which, leaving aside their performance at Oxygen in 2005,were actually the killers first Irish dates in two and a half years the band seemed intent on making up for lost time.
They performed scintillating versions of tracks from their classic debut, Hot Fuss, while also delivering the widescreen epics of the follow-up, Sam's Town, with impressive style and panache. Sam's Town, it has to be acknowledged, is probably a less instantly lovable record than it's predecessor, and reviews varied wildly upon it's release last September, from a dismissive appraisal in Rolling Stone to a five star rave in the Observer.
To date, Sam's Town has reached just over half of the five million sales achived by Hot fuss,although,admittedly,the album has only been on release for six months. The record is most definitely a grower, with the likes of 'when you were young',' read my mind'and 'uncle jonny' offering fresh and musical and lyrical rewards with each listen.
Hot Press encounters Flowers on the day following the first RDS show, at a meeting room at the Morrison Hotel. Dressed in a hoodie,jacket and jeans, he comes across as a slightly shy character, and he intermittently fidgets with, of all things, a yo-yo.Nonetheless,he quite clearly has a huge belief in the killers musical abilities, and is happy to discuss all aspects of their intriguing career to date.
But first things first. was he happy with how the show went last night?
"yeah,it's been a while since we played in Dublin," he says." I've definitely noticed in certain parts of the show that the Sam's towm material has been better received this time around. Our best gigs have been in Ireland, whether at Oxygen or in the Olympia, which was a pretty memorable show. but obviously we had to cancel before Christmas because I was sick, so we didn't get to see how these songs would go down live, now that the album's been released. when we played them before, maybe we didn't deliver, I don't know, but I really think that there's a difference in people's reactions second time around."
In an interview with the guardian recently, Flowers mentioned that, as a live performer, he's "so self conscious that it's always a struggle to let the bad thoughts fly out of the window and let the music live through me." The singer's performance last night, from his flamboyant entrance (perched atop a monitor in theatrical pose) onwards, seemed to offer plenty of evidence that he now feels more assured in his role as frontman.
"I'm getting better," acknowledges Flowers." it's a physical thing. there are things I'm eliminating that I would have worried about before. Maybe by the third or fourth album I'll be completely at ease. I'm not there yet, but I'm improving all the time."
As it happens, earlier in the day it was announced that the killers are to headline Oxygen this summer. Is playing big outdoor shows something the band would like to do more of in the future?
"It all depends if we get to that point," he suggests." If we deserved to do it, we would. we've been scaling back,actually.we could have been playing bigger gigs here and in America, but we've been choosing the smaller ones.(pauses,thinks) One time I was walking down the street, and I heard a lady on the phone chastising her daughter. she was saying,'just because you can,it doesn't mean you should.' I'd never heard that advice before, but I took it from that mother and applied it to my life.
"We have exploded in some sense, but we don't want to rush into anything. Especially not in the mindset of, let's do it because it might not happen. I don't think like that. I have faith that we'll grow into the band that we want to be, and if we become that bid, then so be it. I hope we do. I love playing small shows, but there's something special about bringing that many people together and having them agree on something."
There's a fascination with America on Sam's Town that puts this writer in mind of records like the Joshua Tree and Springsteen's Nebraska.Indeed,Brandon has admitted that the boss is the biggest influence on the album, which explores blue-collar life in the country's heartland.
''Yeah I love my country and I am fascinated by it," say's Flowers." the older I get, the more I appreciate it, especially going abroad and seeing the negativity there is towards the country right now. My family, the people I work with-the people sitting in bars in Germany complaining about America don't know them sometimes I feel like I have a chip on my shoulder, but I wanted this album to mirror who we are and where we come from.
" I mean I would concede America is going downhill in a lot of ways. I'm not in any place to talk about this really, but I think morally there are problems. and of course nobody is a fan of war, regardless of wheter you're a Republican or Democrat or whatever."
"well ,there are still so many beautiful things about it, asserts flowers."physically,it's unbelievable, and the mix of cultures...I was in a place today and there was a polish girl working there. when I told her I was from America, she asked if there are many polish people there now. I said there are, even my wife descends from polish people, but now she's just an American. and she said 'oh that's sad' because the culture had died out and so on.
"and I didn't get into it with her, but I wanted to say that actually it's pretty amazing there, that the -I hate to say melting pot-but that the mix still exists. I know we don't have the purebred culture, but we do have bits and pieces of everybody's that's what makes me who I am and I love it"
The Killers have certainly incorporated a strong European aesthetic into their imagery,coutesy of legendary Dutch lensman Anton Corbijin,who directed the 'All these things that vie done video and took the photographs for the Sam's town sleeve. was he someone the band sought out to work with?
"I grew up being a big fan of Depeche Mode," reflects Flowers." Then U2 came later, so Anton was a big part of what I thought about rock 'n' roll, although I didn't realise it.even the first morrissey solo album,i had no idea that was Anton until later, but he's been shaping what I think about rock 'n' roll since I was a kid. It's very exciting to reach out to those people with the prospect that they might answer. He came to a gig, but he thought that we just wanted to do a photo shoot with him, when in fact we wanted him to do the video.
"He'd never heard the song, and of course we played it last, so he has to wait around until the end of the gig to hear it (laughs).But he liked it. so he did the video, and we've done a few shoots with him since. we've done a Joy division cover for him for Control, his Ian Curtis film, it's called 'Shadowplay' It was cool. I'm a big New Order head; joy division was always a bit too dark for me when I was a kid. I knew 'love will tear us apart,' the ones everybody knows.
"I had no idea about 'shadowplay',which is one of Anton's favorites. Now I think I probably appreciate Ian Curtis a lot more.there aren't many lyrics in the song, but they're perfect. I think we actually did it justice and made it our own, which is what they say you're supposed to do with a cover."
Another renowned filmmaker whom the killers have collaborated with is master of the macabre Tim Burton, director of such cult classics as Edward Scissorhands,Ed wood and sleepy hollow.Burton directed the video for 'Bones', released as a single towards the end of last year.
We're all fans of his," explains Flowers." When I was a kid I was into Pee-Wee Herman and Beetlejuice,and now sleepy hollow is one of my favorite films as an adult. we let him and Anton do whatever they want.Actually,I got this from Tim the other night!(points to red mark on his nose) we were filming this show at wembley which we might release on DVD anyway Tim is filming sweeney todd in London with Johnny Depp at the moment, so he came to see us play.
"We were backstage, goofing off, and Tim was showing me what he learns from the stunt people. He would swing at me, and I'd move back, then I'd do it to him. he had a ring on, and I didn't move fast enough, and he caught me (laughs) it was embarrassing!"
On the TV front, the band were the musical guests on the season premiere of the current series of Saturday night live, having previously made appearances on an eclectic array of shows, including cheesy teen melodrama the OC.
"yeah some of the characters came to a bar where we're playing," elaborates Brandon."they're watching us,and drama ensues. We always justified it by saying,' the flaming lips did 90210.' because Saturday night live is held up so high, I get more nervous there than just about anywhere else. we've been on it twice, and they're the worst things we've done. The experience was great, but the performances were embarrassing. we grew up watching the show, and there have been so many great moments, even musically. All of a sudden you're there, and it's just very nerve-racking.
Coming back to the album, the most recent single from Sam's town,' read my mind's a song that flowers seems to hold in particularly high regard. what is it about the track that makes it important to him?
"It just feels special." he says."that's the way 'all these things that ive done' felt. Elton John, when he plays in Vegas, stays across the street from where we recorded our album. He came over to the studio because we wanted to play him some songs. After he listened to 'read my mind' he said it was like the first time heard 'space oddity' it's like a hymn, it felt like something that already existed. It's Neil Tennant's favorite song on the album as well, and in fact the pet shop boys did a remix for the single.
"in terms of crowd reaction to the song, I think it's on it's way. we played 'all these things'for about eight months to people staring.Like,no reaction. And now it's the biggest thing we've got. it's weird the more times you go back, the more time people have with it at home, or whatever it is, the more they're into it. I think read my mind will be like that eventually."
Famously,U2,Robbie Williams and coldplay have all incorporated the "I've got soul" refrain from 'All these things' into live performances. It must be very gratifying. "yeah,it's good," says Flowers."People say that they don't understand what it means, but to me it's so obvious. It's so annoying; critics who are bastards don't understand the effect they have. I'm standing on my piano singing that line, and I think about the negative things that they say. I totally understand what it means, and I think they're idiots for not understanding it. I've got 10,000 people singing along, and I'm able to not let it ruin that moment for me. But it really is upsetting."
Moving on to more cheery topics, how did the band's support slot on U2's Vertigo tour go?
"Well, I remember seeing them in the Elevations tour,"says Brandon," and that was the first major thing I'd ever seen. Their live performances are unreal. They're special,y'know? They're so successful, but they treat everyone so good. There are already people in my band who don't treat people as good as they treat people. I'm not one of them though! laughs).
"I mean, we've got two albums, and they've been doing this for 30 years. There are people who are afraid to like them because they're so big, or whatever. but they're so important. Especially in a world where church and god are becoming so distant, for a lot of people who go to see them, they're really substituting that."
Never ones to shirk the challenge of championing unfashionable bands(Flowers once remarked of Hall and Oates,"Everything you need to know about writing a hit song, it's in 'Rich Girl;"),The Killers recently recorded a cover of Dire Straits' 'Romeo and Juliet'.
"I love that song," enthuses Brandon." It's actually something that came with my falling in love with the boss and Tom Petty.For some reason, I felt I needed to hear Dire Straits. I bought their greatest hits and put it on while I was driving home. that song came on and I listened to it over and over. I probably played it about 40 times over the next few days, I didn't listen to any other song. You see, I don't have any of the hold-backs that you guys here have with Dire Straits. They weren't that big in America;'Money for Nothing' was about all I knew. I didn't have any hang-ups about whether they were cool or not."
"That's exactly the kind of reaction I'm talking about!" groans Flowers." my sister loves it, my mom really loves it...'it's an amazing song and whoever your favorite band is probably hasn't written a song that good (laughs)."
Finally, Flowers recently apologized to band like Panic! at the disco, fall out boy and the bravery, whom he has offended in the past. Is he learning to bite his tongue? "yeah,I'm learning,"he laughs." I'm surpassing eye-for -an-eye for turning the other cheeck. I'm moving into the new testament! Nobody means any harm by writing their songs and there's no reason for me to put anybody down. It just gives other people a reason to not like me and creates this big circle of..bad.Really,I'm a positive, happy person. I've very opinionated but I'll keep it to myself."
Does the bravado stem from being into Oasis when you were a teenager?
"No I'm not trying to be Liam or anything," insists Flowers."There's just no need for it. The world already has enough negativity, so it would be great if we could all be a little more positive. I'm trying to do my bit!"