Reborn in the USA-NME
Magazine June 28,2006
Meet The Killers Mk II: bearded, Springsteen-obsessed and even
better than before
The last time we saw Brandon Flowers, he was mincing off into the
middle distance of a Miami afternoon, bedecked in a box-fresh Dior
tuxedo with a VMA in one hand, a bottle of overpriced mineral water
in the other, and his foundation holding up remarkably well in the
glaring 90°-plus heat. He was going, he said, back to Las Vegas to
record the most important album of his young life. With 'Hot Fuss'
just days away from shifting its four millionth unit, he was the
first to admit that bettering the success of The Killers' debut
album would be far from easy, but if his band were to become the
biggest, most important band in the world, it would, quite simply,
be a necessity.
That was August 2005. Ten months later, and we're face to face with
The Killers again, only in the somewhat less glamorous setting of an
innocuous north London recording studio. Gone are the crisp white
shirts, replaced by thrift-store threads and hippy beads that
wouldn't look out of place on Devendra Banhart's floor. Where once
their footwear sealed such levels of shininess you could apply your
eyeliner in them, they now sport scuffed Vans and well-worn boots
coming apart at the soles. And speaking of eyeliner, the
pocket-sized secret weapon that served them so well in their quest
to achieve pan-gender androgyny has been ditched in favor of some
decidedly unfeminine facial hair. Frankly, The Killers look as
though they've spent the last 10 months finding what Peter Fonda and
Dennis Hopper were looking for in 'Easy Rider'.
The Killers' second album - as yet unfinished, never mind named -
has taken a long time, both in conception and execution. The band
were road-testing songs for it as far back as January last year
(although 'Where Is She?' definitely won't make the cut, and 'All
The Pretty Faces' - debuted at Glastonbury last summer - has a
question mark hanging above its inclusion), and even today, with
final deadlines looming, Brandon hasn't finished writing the lyrics
for several tracks.
NME is here for an exclusive first listen to the
long-gestating fruits of their labours - so far, six songs are
nailed down, while another 11 are in various stages of (in)completion.
Share prices at Universal won't go into freefall if the September 18
release date isn't met, but by all accounts there are a few anxious
record execs who'd like to know just what's going on. They're not
the only ones. The advance word is that this record is The Killers'
love letter to their homeland, steeped in the iconography of
America's wide-open spaces, and indebted to its twin musical colossi
of the 1970s, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. This album - so it
has been said - sees The Killers reject their mantle as The Best
British Band Ever To Come From The US, and stake their claim to the
less confusing title of The Best Band To Come From Anywhere, Ever.
Yet, surely for a band weaned on the fey wiles of Morrissey and
Bowie, clenched-fist, sulphate-stained stadium rock is a bit of a
"Well, when people were calling us 'The Best British Band From The
US', or whatever, it made me cautious, and it made me wonder,
especially in my lyrics, what I was trying to achieve and where I
was coming from," muses Brandon. "A lot of people in England
identified with our first record, and obviously we don't want only
American people to identify with this record, but we have broadened
our horizons a bit. We don't wanna rebel against that title... I
mean, we were on our tour for two years. And all of our fantasies
about Europe and Japan and those places became reality. And at the
end of it all, when we went home, it made me realize how in love I
was with America, how much I missed Nevada. Absence made the heart
"There's a line in one of the songs on the record, 'When You Were
Young', that talks about 'Burning down the highway skyline'
that's all about Vegas. In the UK, the sky always seems so small
because everything's built on this small island. Where we live,
there's this wide open desert with this skyline that's just...
From the moment the unmarked CD-R starts spinning, it's clear that
The Killers have spent no small amount of time staring off into that
skyline, and seen beyond their own holy triumvirate of Morrissey,
Bowie and New Order. Drenched in three-part harmonies and lush
production (courtesy of U2 collaborators Alan Moulder and Flood),
it's still The Killers, but it's bigger, more expansive, a little
less full of itself, a little more human. Out of the corner of our
eye, we spy Brandon Flowers tapping his feet and nodding his head,
knowing he might have made that 'Important' record he's been talking
about for the last year.
"For me," Brandon will say later on, "this is the album. I feel
totally empowered by singing it. Even my voice itself, it's not as
affected any more, it's not quite so... created. There's a spiritual
element to the music that wasn't there before, there's something a
little more... real about it."
'Realness' may be the by-product of Brandon no longer imagining
himself as a rain-sodden strangler of ex-girlfriends in a 1950s film
noir, or a gender bending disco-dancer with an insatiable appetite
for fornication - we are, after all, talking about a happily married
practicing Mormon - and focusing instead on... well, real life. His
missus. His new best mates Bono and Elton. His fear of flying. You
know, the everyday stuff.
"One of the most personal songs on there is 'Why Do I Keep
Counting?'," he muses, "which is all to do with my phobia of flying.
It's something that's become a real problem for me since we got
successful. But I feel as though if I talk about it in interviews,
it lessens the chances of my fears actually happening. Like, I've
talked about it, so it would have to be a huge coincidence for it to
actually happen to me. Does that make sense? It seems way more
improbable than if I didn't talk about my fears of what might
happen. That's why I've been seeing a psychiatrist, once a week for
the last few months. To talk about my fear."
While NME can't escape the feeling that we should be charging
by the hour for this sort of stuff, you can understand why The
Killers might need a little mental re-adjustment after the last two
years. For starters, despite their obscene success, they're as
equally loathed as they are loved, not least of all in their native
"When we got back to Vegas," seethes normally reserved guitarist
Dave Keuning, "it's not like they get the red carpet out of
anything. People are bitter. They assume we live in LA and they
bitch about is in the papers out there. Some of them knew us or were
in a band with us back in the day, and they've been against us from
day one. I'll never forgot our first album review in Vegas: 'It has
one minor hit in 'Somebody Told Me' and they use a choir on 'All
These Things That I've Done'.' Like you have to earn the right to
use a choir!"
As a result, the band have a love-hate relationship with their
hometown. Yes, it's home, and they recorded the lion's share of the
album there, but the darker side of Vegas is something they don't
have much time for.
"You wouldn't believe where we recorded the album," says Brandon.
"We were in a place called the Fantasy Tower in the Palms Hotel, and
Las Vegas right now should have a big sign over it saying 'WELCOME
TO SEXTOWN'. It's only interested in attracting sex tourism. You
know what the city's motto is? 'What Happens In Vegas, Stays In
Vegas'. It's terrible. It's basically a haven for infidelity and
corruption. For me, I wanted to run from the car to the studio and
block everything else out. It's fine for us because we live there,
but I don't think it would be wise for a band to go out to Vegas to
record an album."
There are some good things about Vegas though - like when Brandon
and his wife Tana get invited round to superfan Elton John's place.
"He is just the nicest man, and people forget how important he is,
how many lives he's soundtracked." Brandon enthuses. "And when it
comes to new music, he's more on the ball than anyone I know." And
Sir Elt's not the only bona fide celeb to have fallen for The
Killers' charms: while on a recent tour with U2, Bono as good as
passed the Big Music mantle on to a starstruck Brandon when the pair
duetted on 'In A Little While'. Brandon tells the following story
slouched on a sofa, the model of indifference, but by the end of it,
a wide grin has spread across his face.
"We were all sitting around at an aftershow, and we were all pretty
drunk, and Bono leant over and said, 'Come along to our sound check
tomorrow', and I was like, 'Yeah, he was drunk, he'll forget about
it.' But sure enough, the next day, I got a phone call saying, 'Sound
at five, don't be late.' So I got to this empty arena and Bono said
to me, 'We were thinking of playing 'In A Little While' tonight, I
know it's your favourite song, do you wanna sing it with us?' I
mean, it was amazing. I'm still not used to hanging out with U2, and
I still learn so much from watching them play. Did Bono slip me any
answers? No, I'm still waiting on the Bono talk. I don't think we're
getting it. He's scared to give it to us! Could you imagine how good
we'd be if we had it? It wouldn't be fair!"
Brave words, but The Killers are confident that they've got the
album to back it up. They're convinced that this album is going to
mean to you what 'Is This It', 'The Queen Is Dead' and 'Born To Run'
meant to them, but it goes beyond that. As indie's most outspoken
field commanders in the war against emo, they also see it as their
duty to make sure we don't go the way of their homeland. Fall Out
Boy, it's time to cover your ears...
"All those bands, Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, they're only
influenced by each other," says Dave. "Each other, and Blink-182.
How can that be a good thing?!"
"You don't realize what you could be getting yourselves into, with
Fall Out Boy, and what kind of impact it could have in a way that
you don't really want," warns Brandon, when we tell him that his
bugbear (??) of choice recently had their first NME cover.
"Culturally, if it gets as big as it is in America, it could change
an entire generation of people growing up here. Emo, whatever you
want to call it, is dangerous. We don't wanna dislike anyone, and
we've never met Fall Out Boy, but there's a creature inside me that
wants to beat all those bands to death. They just all go into the
happy emofunnel and everyone loves 'em without thinking. 'Oh, Fall
Out Boy likes you? Fuck! I'm gonna go buy your CD!'"
The groans from bassist Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci
are anguished; they have no beef with anyone. But even they know
it's the tantrums and tiaras that makes The Killers such a
fascinating rock'n'roll phenomenon. They've strolled back on to our
horizon, John Wayne-like, from out of the desert and with scores to
settle. It just so happens they might also be packing the album of
the year with them.
"This album will be a springboard for us to do whatever the hell we
wanna do," says a visibly excited Brandon Flowers, confident that he
has, indeed, finally found what he was looking for. "We want every
album to be more exciting than the one that came before. We want
every album to be a new debut."
Ladies and gentleman, meet The Killers Again.
NME gets an exclusive listen to the new album's finished songs
Why Do I Keep Counting?
Concerned with Brandon's fear of flying, it's a sprawling mini-epic,
reminiscent of Bowie as much as Springsteen, opening with a twinkly
synth part and culminating in the soaring climax of, "If I only
knew the answer, I wouldn't be bothering you".
Possible first single, with a definite Queen flavour running through
it. Very catchy, summery feel, with Brandon saucily urging us to, "Feel
my bones/It's only natural". Topped off by a brass section
that'll sound fantastic at next year's festivals.
When You Were Young
The album's most Springsteen-esque moment, with lyrics relating to "A
beautiful boy/He doesn't look a thing like Jesus but he talks like a
gentleman was supposed to/When you were young". Another possible
Uncle Johnny Did Cocaine
The closest thing to 'classic' Killers, it's based around a
relentless dark and twisted guitar riff, and almost sounds like
'70s-era Iggy Pop. "My appetite ain't got no heart", sings
Brandon, "I feel a burning in my body core".
Read My Mind
Almost unrecognizable as The Killers, this is a slow, stately '80s
mega-ballad, with Brandon delivering an impassioned vocal ("I
never really gave up, I never once said die/I never wanted more than
anybody else, can you read my mind?") - possibly his best to
date. Definitely an anthem in waiting.
A raucous guitar intro gives way to a synth-heavy verse, before
settling into a big sing-along mantra ("I see London, I see Sam's
Town/It takes my hand and lets my hair town') at the end. It's a
nastier-sounding song than the others, but undeniably catchy. Our
ears may have deceived us, but we're sure there's a violin in there