Q Magazine-December 2006
*My scanner is not working right now..I will have scans up when I can
Brandon Flowers is taking delivery of his pre ordered Wild West Shrubbery.
Three hours before the live premiere of their new album,Sam's town,the killers singer is dressing the stage of Celebrity,a 500-capacity venue in the band's hometown of Las Vegas.His interior design touches neatly capture the band's transition from new-wave disco dandies to serious,bearded diarists of Americana.Flowers adorns the stage,first with a set of fairy lights,then he unpacks sprigs of tumbleweed specailly harvested by a roadie from a Nevada highway.
The rest of the band have taken the hint:drummer Ronnie Vannucci and bassist Mark Stoermer arrive for rehearsals dressed like gunfighters out on a double date:bootlace ties,fancy waistcoats and moustaches.the only facial hair dissident is guitarist Dave Keuning,who exists in a micro-habitat of trad-rock values:big hair,drainpipe jeans,velvet jacket.
As this is a hometown show,the extended Flowers clan is here.His wife Tana 25,is a pretty,petite woman tottering on heels.And then there's his dad,62-year-old Terry,a trim,handsome man,his chest bulging.Proudly with a Killers T-shirt tucked into his jeans.His could be a blue-collar tale straight from Sam's Town:a sin city native,he left Veagas 20 years ago to become a fitter of "marble bathroom surrounds"in Utah.He has since come back to Las Vegas to work as a hotel bellman."good money and health care in Vegas,it's a hard place to raise kids,"he says.
He brings over his wife of 43 years,Jean,who is thriving now after major heart-bypass surgery.Terry puts a loving arm round her."The surgery cost $100,000.My health insurance paid.There's no way I coulda covered that on my own,"he says.
Tonight,sibling support comes in the form of 31-year-old sister Stephanie:a gregarious,stocky backstage presence.She exuded vigorous down-home values,from the firm handshake to the probing eye contact.Which is just as well because,as the Celebrity show begins,it's perhaps more wild west than Flowers could have wished for.The young crown are here for a good time-a draonian sin city curfew dictates that under-18s nust be off the streets by 10pm on weekdays-and halfway through the set a bottle arcs through the air,narrowly missing Flowers face.Clearly Stephanie Flowers knows how things were settled back in the day.
"Did you just throw a bottle at my brother?"she asks a coy-looking girl in the crowd,before pushing a flattened palm into her face.But there's redemption,too.As The Killers launch into new track Unle Jonny,a grizzled man in his 60s allows his chin to wobble with emotion.This is the real-life Uncle Jonny-a former cocaine-user who,in a drug indced psychosis,one believed that aliens were coming through his TV to steal his sperm.In an effort to deny them,he grabbed a shotgun and attempted to blast himself in the scrotum.he missed,and suffered gunshot wound to the groin and abdomen.In 2004 Brandon Flowers promised Q he would write a song about this man.Tonight Uncle Jonny is hearing it for the first time.
After the show,Flowers embraces Tana and they nuzzle in a corner with their beers.But he's unhappy with the live premiere of the new album.They're still learning the material,he says.And the Vegas crowd,a little reticent of their global success,can be tough."Not our best day's work,"he says."I spent eight years getting marble dust up my nose laying bathroom surrounds back in Utah,"harrumphs Terry flowers."Those were bad days at work."
Make no mistake:The Killers have evolved into something very different from the band that debuted with 2004's Hot Fuss.The new ambition is stated unequivocally:"When I go past Strawberry Fields,or see a sign for Vauxhall and you think of Morrissey,that's waht I want you to feel when you wee thesign for Sam's town."Flowers had said when we talked at rehearsals for the Celebrity show.
Two years ago The killers seemed like a distillation of your favourite british acts-The Smiths,Depeche mode,New Order.In Flowers they even had an arch cryptic,sexually ambiguous frontman.Endorsement from Bono and Elton John made them serious contenders and Hot Fuss went on to sell five million copies.By the time they arrived back in Las Vegas at the end of 2005,though,something had changed.The Killers had outgrown their early influences.Flowers says he had "a vision".Almost an album's worth of material-songs such a Where is she,about murdered scottish schoolgirl Jodi Jones,and the heavily new romantic indebted where the white boys dance-was jettisoned to accomodate it.
In the summer of 2005,a shortlis of possible album producers was drawn up,including Tony Visconti(david bowie,morrissey)and Steve Lillywhite (U2,the pogues)When famed U2 and smashing pumpkins producers Flood and alan moulder threw their hats into the ring,Sam's town began taking shape."I kew he'd been listening to a lot of tom petty and bruce springsteen,"says flood,aka mark ellis."it was a question of creating big music for Brandon's big american stories."
They hired a studio in the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas,walking through the casino to work each day.Sometimes the songs just seemed to come,as with the epic riff that powers when you were young.At others,Flowers almost baroque vocal ideas such a the complex time change and harmonising in the chorus of why do i keep counting required huge patience.the Killers were happy to give scope to flowers lyrical vision.Only Keuning voices dissent about the singularity of the Sam's town concept."I was really pissed off that where the white boys dance didn't make the album,"he says."That really hurt.But I've accepted it will have a life some other way."(the song has been included as a bonus track on the UK version of the album.)
"The songs we dropped all sounded like an extension of Hot fuss,"says Flowers."As soon as I was back in America they didn't seem relevant.On Hot Fuss I was trying to write hits.We wanted success.Sam's Town is a natural statement of who I am without trying to second guess what people might think.I am Brandon from Las Vegas,I love my town and I love America.I want to stand up for my country when so many bad things are being said about it."
Sams town certainly has a familiar resonance; ordinary,spiritually improvished live being lived against an epic backdrop.The theme also resounds through the grainy Anton Corgijn artwork(the killers returned the favour by recording Joy divisions shadowplay for corbijin's biopic of Ian Curtis).As well as a desert bighorn sheep-the nevada state animal-the album cover has a disconsolate beauty queen leaning against a battered trailer.corbijin considered hiring a model but then chose Felice,the peurto rican american receptionist at the recording studio.
Flood,who is dressed as a native american on the sams town inner artwork,is adamant the flowers vidion isn't calculated."you can't just say to a producer give ma a U2.I honestly don't think we even mentioned them.But what I will say is they have ambition.Ambition,big time.they made it clear,this has got to work in stadia."
There have been changes in flowrs personal life too.Last year he married tana,his girlfriend of five years whom he met while shopping in a vegas thrift store.She was wearing a bootleg joy division T shirt with mickey mouse on it.she thought he was cute and they began dating the next day.They're having a house built out in henderson,the upmarket south eastern quarter of the city.They've bought two dogs,a siberian husky and a poodle,as a rehearsal for what's to come,"I want boys.mabey a girl,"says Flowers."normal stuff."
As he relates this through a face of carefully nurtured bumfluff,you imagine his future,chopping wood like on the little house on the prairie."I have been watching a lot of westerns,"he says."the outlaw Josey Whales and tombstone especially."It's hard to square this Flowers with the preening lounge lizard of hot fuss and he agrees."when we came out with hot fuss I was very young and a bit dumb and I wanted to be like all the guys in bands I read about in the british music press.They all seemed so smart and witty.I came out trying to be cool and saying stupid things about band I'd never met.I really did think it mattered whether morrissey liked me or not.now..I don't."
Two weeks later the killers arrive in blackpool britian's self-styled "vegas of the north"for the european launch of their album.Sixty jounalists fly in and there's a rollicking seaside itinerary promised:radio 1's jo whiley is broadcasting live from the Thor's fish and chip shop,a wooden viking-themed mega chippy in the amusement arcade near the blackpool tower.There'll be a ride on a horse and cart along the promenade and a trip up the tower. "Teh idea is they come to appreciate the british take on vegas,"says whiley,with a twinkle in her eye.When Q meets them outside Thor's,the plan is in disarray.
"This ain't like vegas,"say's stoermer,resembling a gangly,sleepy jesus."there's no gambling.It's just a few rides."Stoermer is a shy,sensitive Killers,whose fear of heights will make the scheduled funfair rides a major issue.The success of hot fuss has given him another form of vertigo,too "I just don't like the music business,"he says."I wish we could make an album every six monthes."
Vannucci is the band's ambassador swaggering into blackpool,glancing over the rims of his vintage aviators as though on a personal crusade to win over hearts and minds.There's banter,autographs,high fives as he sidles into Thor's in vintage boots and buys the local speciality;chips served in a bucket with a spade and a pickled onion.Exuding an easy charm,he disarms all corners with his conversational shock bombs."everyone knows this business is money,beer and titties 24 hours a day,right?he says.
The real mystery is Keuning.There's an ethereal quality to him.while the other saunter along the prom linked by tendrils of banter,Keuning can often seem distanced,like he's been teleported in from the 70s complete with vevet jacket and marc bolan hair on a warm september day he is wearing thick winter gloves.Whiley asks him about them,expecting some playful banter. "My hands are cold,"he says with all the factual coldness of stephen hawkings voice box.
And yet he's not an objectionable sulk.He simply moves to a deeply privat agenda.After whiley's interview he makes his way to a fairground stall when he throws balls at a tower of bricks and wins a gigantic yellow bear for his one-year-old son Kyler.Later he will have his palm read on the north pier by gypsy petulengro.
Flowers though,is struggling.his eyes are red and glassy and he stinks of booze.Last night he went to a party at elton johns london home attended by Nicole Kidman,Natalie portman,rod stewart and donatella vesace.since meeting in paris in late 2004,he and elton have become firm friends.however,flowers winces at the memory of an uncomfortable introduction to fashon mave versaces daughter."I felt like there was mabey some match-making going on,"he says."I was taken to this girl and i couldn't tell if she was 10 or 20.They were like have a picture taken together,you two look great together."
There'll be no hiding places today.The Live radio 1 broadcast alerts blackpool teens and soon there are 100or so tailing us around the amusement arcade.Whiley and the killers board one of blackpool's oldest rides:sir hiram maixim's captive flying machine,which dates back to 1904.It's a tame affair and whiley,who has already endured the near death experience Pepsi Maxi roller coaster this morning,wants to go faster.The ruddy faced man in the control booth cranks up the speed.Flowers is slumped like a corpse in his rocket capsule.A member of the killers management instructs the operator to slow it down.
With the radio broadcast over,Flowers and I walk to the O'Neill's pub on nearby Talbot Road.He goes unrecognised by the bar staff and orders a burger.He's a picky lunch guest: removing the top bun,rearranging soggy items of salad and examining bubbles of meat juice before asking "do you think someone spat on my burger?"
I assure him that it's just down home fat off the griddle and he rallies.After all,Oasis are on the stereo.The locals are boozy and cackling.This is very much what flowers is now supposed to be about:blue collar,regular,thigh slapping.Apart from the highly evolved wardrobe,it's clear that the flowers who wrote sams town has changed personally.
"he's not acting now,"vannucci had told me earlier."I think he's a little embarrassed by all those spats with bands.He's married with a house and dogs and he's grown up 10 years in two."Mark Stoermer,though,had hit on something else:"I think some people are shy an insecure and just create a big personality to over compensate.Brandon can seem bigger than he is.It sounds like he used to bea real shy kid.He invented someone to get him out of that,and maybe he's found his way back."
Sam's town feels like a retrenchment.After playing the cryptic media chameleon,even being coy about his own sexuality,it's as though Flowers has decided on a macho,even conservitive,template for his adulthood."you met my father,right?"he says."sams town is about his america.I wasborn late,a ssurprise.None of my contemporaries are raised by peoplelike him amd my mom aymore.They met on a trailer park aged seven.he left shcool at 15 and they started dating when they were 16.he raced ars.they had elvis and the beatles and cars made of metal,and people were nice.Classic America.Now we've got Paris Hilton and designer this and that.Nothing I see about 2006 will be rembemberd as classic."
I mentioned the downside ot "classic america" segregation,homophobia,vietnam-but he remains wistful.when you listen to sam's town,it's there too: America's lost innocence.But something else as well" religion."The devils water,it aint so sweet,"he croons on single when you were young.And throughout,the questioning for redemption,love,deliverence from temptation in sin city. I'ts not somehting he's keen to discuss.The Flowers gaze is immediatly ast through the window.
"im not going to deny my faith.I don't go into it blindly.That's the misconception;poor,stupid people are religious.My parents are those poor,stupid people in other people's eys.That offends me because they are happy.they've been married 43 years and my mum whistles she's so happy.And whether there's an afterlife or not,which i believe there is,I'm a better person morally for having had a faith."
He's a mormon and his stories and lyrics reflect this.the religions founder,joseph smith,jr,set forth 13 articles of faith.article 10 has a particular resonance for flowers american classicism: "We believe in the literal gathering of israel and in the restoration of the 10 tribes that zion will be built upon the american continent that christ will reign personally upon the earth:and,that the earth will be renewed and recieve its paradisiacal glory." I suggest that it's weird to believe in a new jerusalem and live in a place called sin city.
"yeah," says flowers"that is weird.but ther are some mormons who believe confronting that temptation every day is a test.it makes you stronger."Is jesus coming,I ask,and if so when?"I belive he is coming,yes.but i'm not going to sit here and tell you where or when."He has had several chats with bono about the contradictions of the job and faith.How to be a rock star and yet nurture a real spitiuality?Flowers says it's a struggle.he gets some skeptical looks when he and Tana arrive at church on Sunday morning.
But a least he sees himself as a subject rather than an emissary of the lord.last year U2 singer suggested in Q that,aged 16 he asked his maker,"If there's a god out there,and i believe there is and you want me to do something,then i'm ready"and that the prayer had been answered by making him a rock star.Flowers burger is suspended in mid air as he contemplates this."does bono believe that?man..he has a gift,that's for sure.I guess you can argue all night where that gift came from..but no,I don't feel like that.and i'm not trying to convert anyone.There are three other guys in the killers.I don't think they'd buy that for one second."
None of the other share his faith.Indeed,there is a natural counterpoint to Brandon flowers god feering,pioneer era values and it comes in the form of Deve Keuning.The guitarist has a history of extreme partying.In July there was a "listening party" for Sams town held poolside at the historic Roosevlet Hotel in los Angeles and attended by Owen wilson and the osbournes.While flowers chatted amiably about the album's themes,Keuning despite strict orders to the contrary,sank a few beers and jumped in the pool.six security staff carried him off the premises at shoulder height.Keuning was shoutin,"if you think throwing me out of my own party is cool,then fine."
Keuning was raised a christian in the largely dutch descended town of Pella,Iowa.But somewhere along the way he discarded the faith."I'm a darwinist,"he says."that means I can stay in bed on sunday morning and feel good about it.Me and Brandon have some good debates about it on the tourbus."Recently the differences between them have become crystallised in a debate over the fate of Keuning's cat,smokie.two years ago the cat died.It was ,says keuning,the kindest,most loving cat he'd ever had,without any attitude problems at all.In flowers belief system smokie has gone to the next life.but keuning plans to use his money and contacts to bring smokie back to this one."i;m goingto get some cells from him and have him cloned.I'm serious.there's a woman in florida who does it.we are at that point in science now where the things can be done.he was a great cat and I want him back.
At Blackpool's Empress Ballroom,an arched,corniced and extravagantly chandelierd venue,Brandon Flowers takes to the stage in vivid red waistcoat and tie. There is fevered adulation before a note has been played,ectasy for the hot fuss hits and enthusiasm for the new work from sams town.At the aftershow drinks ther's a clear indication of just how much muscle the killers have now.shambling into the bar is film director Tim Burton.A killers fan,he has directed the promo for forthcoming single bones,his first foray into music video."what is the place,blackpool?"he asks."it's so damn tacky,I love it."
Long term partner Helena Bonham Carter clearly hadnt briefed him on the jewel of the british seaside.Buthe made the trek because he feels the killers are a band in a classic lineage."I m a big Romones fan."he says"they remind me of them.I can't really analyse it they rock!"Afterwards,flowers is content.Blackpool has given sams town the rapturous inauguration he desired.I'ts been a long,tortuaous road to outing the real brandon flowers but he's relieved the act is over.
"I adapted some of John Lennon's lines from strawberry fields for the final track exitlude:It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out.Wow.those lines.right there,man.That's my story."