'A gig can be a substitute religion for some people'
BACKSTAGE at the US TV show Jimmy Kimmel Live, Brandon Flowers jumps up and down, alone in the darkness. He waves his arms like a boxer preparing for a fight, and wails "hey-yay-hey!" over and over at the top of his voice. He smiles sheepishly when spotted. Just his standard pre-show warm-up? "I don't know what I'm doing," he says with a laugh as he jogs toward the stairs of the stage.
A lot of people reached the same conclusion when they first heard about the Killers' new album, Sam's Town. Instead of the obvious - another helping of steamy, noirish scenarios set to thumping, catchy, faux-British synth-rock - it aspires to something more substantial, rooted and American. Its grand, sweeping scale proclaims the Killers want to be a band that matters, one with a fist-in-the-air connection with its audience.
"There's that feeling you get when you're in a stadium and U2 plays One (of) what that means to everyone there," says Flowers. "And it doesn't have to be to that many people. You go from U2 size where they sell 35,000 every night to where Morrissey always sells 2,000 a night, but when you're there, there are moments that are just - people say it's a substitute for religion for some people. We're believers."
Flowers, a passionate music fan and a competitive, ambitious player, knows nothing is guaranteed in pop these days. So why not follow your instincts and hope for the best? If nothing else, Sam's Town fulfils two of Flowers's primary aims. "For me, the things that were deliberate were to sing like an American, because I'm an American, and to sing about what I know," he explains later, sitting with bassist Mark Stoermer in a dressing room at the Hollywood studio where Kimmel's show is filmed.
"Fantasies are OK too, but I just felt like I wanted to make an album that people could relate to right now. I guess the American thing came from people who were talking about how English we sounded, and me singing with a fake accent. Americans are getting a bad rap right now, and we felt that everywhere that we went, whether it was Germany or France or wherever, there's a look that you get when they hear you open your mouth. It's because of the war and everything that's going on.
"It's understandable, but to an extent it's not fair because we were [just] born here, we're not ashamed of it, and I wanted to sing about growing up here and things I know about and humanise us in a way. People don't see that, they see us like monsters."
The Killers' new sound (and the hirsute look that goes with it) might open new horizons for the band, but it also brought their first critical pounding.
Some have called it calculated and clichéd, more Bon Jovi than U2. "Everybody doesn't have to like it," says the tall, laconic Stoermer. "But it seems like we're on the verge of being one of those bigger bands, and some writers maybe want to be the gatekeeper and maybe help hold [us] back."
Flowers adds: "They're so used to people not being good that they don't want to believe it.
"They just want to believe it's a rip-off. And it's not... You can't find a moment on this record that's stolen from anything. I mean, this is real music that we're writing; I think it's been so long that they're not used to it.
"Everybody just waits for U2 to make another album to see a stadium show or to have something be exciting and big."
It's typical of Flowers to stir things up like this. Over the last couple of years he's frequently sparked verbal feuds with other bands, while freely expressing his profound confidence in his own. Still, it hasn't taken the Killers very long to get where they are now. The group started in 2002 when Flowers, a fan of David Bowie, Depeche Mode, the Cure, Oasis and Morrissey, among others, teamed with guitarist David Keuning. Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci completed the lineup after some other players came and went, and they got their record deal shortly after Stevenson heard their demo recording.
They learned something about the demands and rewards of success when Hot Fuss arrived with no fanfare in June 2004 and became a huge hit. How long their current tour will continue will depend on the success of Sam's Town. The album has sold well so far, but it's the long haul that will tell the story.
"There's lots of things that sell ten million records two years ago and then they're gone and no-one cares about," says Stoermer. "We want as many people to like us as possible, but there's something about a longevity to the songs, that they could be played ten years from now, that's what we're trying to achieve."