The Killers save rock

philly edge

Brandon Flowers still shakes his head in amazement.
"People always want to put a twist on it," he says of the Killers' rise to the multi-platinum heights of rock'n'roll.
The singer-songwriter, speaking from Austin, Texas, has no apologies to make. He did not have a dramatic childhood, he says, and "nothing terrible happened... People almost want you to explain why you can do what you do, but I don't have an explanation," he says. "Usually (art) is supposed to come from some ugly place. I'm the opposite. I believe in God. It's kind of confusing, but my story is almost too nice."
Still, it's a story that many musicians would love to have written about them - to be only two albums into your career and already be in control of it.
Flowers hopes that his band's music, which they will play Friday at the Tweeter Center in Camden, leaves listeners with a sense of optimism. He considers himself, after all, a very "glass is half full" person.
"A lot of our songs have optimism in them. That's what rock'n'roll is based on: 'What can we do? How far can we take this?' It's an exciting thought. I keep my castles in the sky. That's what keeps you going."
Even at the risk of damaging his street cred in some eyes, he's not shy about saying he draws some of his core inspiration from his parents. "My dad worked for 50 years. We didn't have anything, but he is happy. There was always that gleam in his eye."
Flowers seems to apply that approach to music.
"That's what it is, that excitement about whatever it was he was dreaming about," he explains.
It could be said the Killers are living that dream. They introduced themselves to the world with their critically acclaimed 2004 debut CD, Hot Fuss, which sold 3.1 million copies and brought Grammy nominations for the hit songs "Mr. Brightside," "Somebody Told Me" and "All These Things That I've Done."
It became the longest running rock album inside the Top 50 on Billboard for 2005.
Then, without much downtime after logging 400 shows, they charged out of the gate last fall with the follow up CD: Sam's Town, which Rolling Stone praised as being "on the right side of the divider between retro and timeless."
Flowers insists that the Vegas quartet felt no pressure with this release.
"We didn't. We felt like warriors. We did what we set out to do. We wrote 11 songs, toured the world and sold a ton (of records). We came out with guns blazing, not our tails between our legs. We were very confident."
He believes that Sam's Town, which takes its name from a casino in his home town, sounds "bigger and more brash and exciting." They know what they are doing now in the studio, he adds.
Flowers says he is not afraid to say the Killers are "here to keep the ball rolling (musically). ...Someone has to do that or it will stop. We look up to a lot of the same bands that everyone else does. Musicians have got to get to the headspace where the Stones and other bands were in just opening a blank page and do whatever you want to do. We are so stuck thinking we can't do certain things. If you listen to that you're putting a wall up. We are a band that has broken down that wall. The Beatles were amazing, but they were human beings and it can be done. It's exciting to think that way."
He is motivated, he says, by "good new bands and albums."
"It's competition. Some people say that's an ugly thing, but friendly competition is great. I have not been quiet about how good I thought our album was, but seeing other bands makes me realize we can do better and need to."
In 2004, Flowers said the Killers were here to bring back songs in the old-fashioned sense: good songs, good songwriting, good stories. That remains a goal.
The song has been lost in today's music, he fears.
"I don't know who we want to blame. Is it MTV for only wanting to put a certain type of person on the screen?" He retains his belief that a good song will always find its way through, "a good song will make it."
He concedes that with only two albums it may take a few years for the Killers to influence other musicians to think that way. "Even if we just open their eyes to some influences, that would be good," he says.
Antonio Reid, chairman of their label, Island Def Jam Music Group, paid the band a compliment that seemed to go beyond the obligatory observation of support from a CEO. The Killers, he said, "have me excited about the future of rock music."
"You could say he is biased. He's the president of our record label," Flowers says, laughing. "He's a drummer and producer as well. He has music in him. It's great to see him so excited about our music. A lot of people assume he wouldn't get it. I've seen him sitting in front of a mixing board listening to 'When You Were Young' for the first time and how it affected him."
So, do the Killers want to excite people about the future of rock?
"Some people roll their eyes when they hear the Killers and the use of the word 'rock,' " he says laughing. "I'm here for all music and mankind, regardless of whether it is rock or pop or country or whatever it is. The future isn't looking great for any of it. Hip-hop has gone downhill. Pop music is not a craft anymore. It's practically reality TV now."
The Killers take their music seriously, he assures.
"The fact we are able to write these catchy songs, there's a real need for that," he says. He finds inspiration from artists like Elton John and the late John Lennon. "Their music has made a difference," he explains.
He would like the Killers to be one of those difference makers, with music that is important, exciting and fun. "It's what makes people smile and dance," he says.
He appreciates that the band's audience is so diverse. "I think our songs are for everyone," he adds. "I love singing these songs and seeing how people react to them in different ways from town to town.
He believes the Killers cover a lot of ground artistically. "Every day has its ups and downs and I think we are able to go up (with their music) and make people smile and dance. It's a lot more emotional on a different level. I think that is why it reaches people. We are not stuck down some black tube. We are trying to see what's on the other side."
Flowers says he loves music and he and his band mates are happy to be in the position they are in.
"It's just amazing to be in the driver's seat. We don't know where the truck is going, but everybody is invited to come with us. We are not singling anyone out or shutting any doors."
How the Killers are perceived "depends on where you go," Flowers says. "It's so funny, we are treated so differently from country to country. In interviews in France, I was treated like I was David Byrne or David Bowie. In L.A., it's like Scott Stapp. We are loved in the U.K. In England we have four-star reviews. Cross the Atlantic and it's just amazing how that can change, with some music snobs giving us bad reviews in America."
Flowers says his lyrics grew up, and the band grew up as musicians, from the first CD to their current release.
"We didn't lose our pop sensibility. We didn't write an experimental album," he says.
Asked to look back now on the band's initial success and why it happened when it did, Flowers says it is still difficult to assess. "I'm not sure if it was just the right place at the right time. Our choruses were great. I just read one review where the writer said, 'Don't be mistaken: the Killers are not any better than their peers. Their choruses are simple.' But isn't it a wonderful thing to have choruses (that are accessible)?"
Flowers says no one in the band claims to be a master musician.
"Our producer says, 'There is something about you four playing together you don't see very often.' It's unexplainable. For whatever reason, we are part of each other's lives. We fit together. When we play, it's the Killers."