There’s a part of Brandon Flowers that will forever belong to the UK.
The Killers’ frontman spent his adolescence poring over the sleeves of albums by British groups, and as in a teenage act of rebellion plotted to get an Oasis tattoo.
It’s perhaps apt, then, that The Killers seemed to break in the UK first. A series of feverish tours led to some breakout singles, with the rest of the world following suit.
The pandemic kept The Killers from the road, but it afforded space for two wonderful records – the bombastic ‘Imploding the Mirage’ with its stadium echoes, and the novelistic small-town intimacy of ‘Pressure Machine’.
With The Killers finally able to transform their concert dreams into reality, Brandon Flowers took a short break from the tour bus to catch up with Clash.
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We should jump in by talking about playing live again, a pleasure that’s been denied to you since the start of the pandemic. How does it feel to be back out there on stage?
I played last night in Doncaster, you know it’s very second nature but it’s certainly something I’ve really missed. It’s part of my identity – when we started the band, it wasn’t something I initially thought about. It started all about the songs and being in a gang, you know? And that was a thrilling time, but it got real when we had to go on tour and play songs to people. It was like realising there was this whole other part of it we needed to learn! It started as an obstacle, but it’s become something I love. Plus, I’m from Las Vegas, which I think has definitely helped with performing.
It did strike me that your recent work – ‘Imploding the Mirage’ and then ‘Pressure Machine’ have quite different moods. How did you manage to stay true to both of these records on stage, while still providing something that’s quite unified?
It is difficult. These are big rooms and big venues and ‘Pressure Machine’ was not really intended for that. So, it’s not going to have too much of a stage presence really, compared to the rest of our work. We’re still trying to figure it out really, how all these things work together in a stadium. On the other hand, Imploding the Mirage was sort of made for spaces like that. We had that in mind when making Imploding the Mirage, and when making the setlist. We opened with ‘My Own Soul’s Warning’ and it just feels so natural!
‘Imploding the Mirage’ had a number of different voices on there – for example Alex Cameron co-wrote a few tracks with you. What does he bring as a collaborator, is he a great guy to have in the studio?
Yeah, he’s a wordsmith and at the time we were writing ‘Imploding the Mirage’ I got stuck on a couple of songs. I had worked with him before on a song called ‘Run for Cover’ from ‘Wonderful Wonderful’, and we just became great friends. It was super handy and honestly a pleasure to be around him, a few weeks here and there messing around with ideas. He’s just a great guy to bounce ideas off with.
Lindsey Buckingham was on that record as well, which must have been a huge thrill.
Yeah! For a minute, it felt like there should be some sort of strange merging of bands, which didn’t happen, but it was just great being in the studio with Lindsey. We’re very familiar with what he’s done and humbled by him – it’s crazy that legends like him are still alive, they seem so mythical! To be able to go into the studio and watch him operate in his area of expertise, and eat dinner with him after, is incredible.
Do you still feel like a fan? Growing up, you’re a huge fan of music, it meant everything to you, and you’ve had a great deal of success. When you meet these legends now, does it remind you of being a kid and a fan of music again?
Yeah – you try to play it cool but then I caught my self, you know, starting to pace when Lindsay was supposed to be there in 10 minutes, I caught myself watching the clock, looking out the window for his car to pull up… But he was really gracious and melted the ice right away.
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A slightly geeky question about ‘Dying Breed’ now, because Clash interviewed Michael Rother soon after the album came out and he mentioned that you guys had tried to sample some of his work. Did the sample go through to the final record?
Yeah! The drums in the beginning of ‘Dying Breed’ are a little sample. It was something we played around with in the studio, and I love the idea of reaching out to people to see if there’s some way we can come to an agreement and share the music.
That’s one of things I love about the Killers! As vast as the songwriting can be, a lot of the songs hinge on these truly tiny details. In some ways ‘Pressure Machine’ and ‘Imploding the Mirage’ use that same technique, but with strikingly different results.
Yeah I think definitely thematically, it was a big undertaking to have these bombastic songs and big beautiful melodies, but they all revolve around this image. We start the show with that image, it’s the first thing you see on the screen. It’s a painting that we had up in the studio and it spoke to the lyrics, texture, and instruments we would use, and it became a member of the band.
Another person you’ve worked with is James Bay, who’s full of praise for the work you guys have done together! He also mentioned that some of the work and ideas you’ve done is unfinished or unreleased. Could you imagine returning to that, maybe coming back to it in the future?
It’s tough to find the time, haha! It was nice to meet James, he actually came to Utah and we have a mutual producer (Ariel Reichstad).
I know as a teenager you wanted to get an Oasis tattoo. Do you still feel like a bit of an Anglophile, is there something about British music that grabs your attention?
Not so much anymore, but of course I feel like it’s part of my DNA. I didn’t realise how American I was until we first flew over here in 2003. But, I’ve come to really love this place, and yeah Oasis was one of the first band I loved on my own. My brother had shown me New Order, The Smiths, The Cure, and it felt like a natural progression into the 90s about what I could “claim.” It was kind of a toss-up between claiming Radiohead or Oasis, and I just kind of naturally gravitated towards it in the end.
Cool! Well, you’re gonna be playing the Emirates Stadium which isn’t a million miles away from where Liam Gallagher lives, he might be able to hear you from his garden.
Haha yeah, good for him!
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Another song you’re doing in the set right now, which you’ve done for a while, is the cover of ‘Shadowplay’. What’s it like for you as a vocalist when you’re singing other people’s songs? Is there a different energy?
It feels like one of our songs, but it is also just a song I grew up loving, and gives me a break during the set! A lot of our songs aren’t exactly easy to tune or play in particular, it’s got heat to it but it’s down lower in my register and has loads of space, so it does also serve a useful purpose alongside being a great song.
The members of New Order actually commemorated Ian Curtis’ life recently – it’s been 42 years since he’s passed away – and they actually spoke in the British Parliament about ways we could improve mental healthcare. Do you feel like there could, or should, be more done for protecting young musicians mental health?
The industry could do more/ I think we’re talking about it more than we’ve ever had, which is a start for sure in making it less taboo. I think if you’re a young musician, you have more access to help and there’s less stigma attached to it. I think that’s a great thing, and what New Order is arguing is overlooked by a lot of people, and it’s wonderful that they can use their platform for something so noble.
Looking back at the setlist, ‘Read My Mind’ is in there. You once described that as your favourite song you’ve ever written. Is that still the favourite, still number one?
It’s probably changed, but I’m definitely extremely proud of ‘Read My Mind’, happy to be a part of it. It does change though.
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You mentioned the first time you came over to the UK, and it was a real whirlwind for you! What was it like for you as newcomers to come over to London and the UK for the first time and get that reaction?
It was such an exciting time, we were such big fans of the White Stripes and the Strokes, and to actually be going through what we had seen them go through and actually be out in the trenches and doing it felt very surreal, but overall just so exciting. We learned so much and we look back on it with fondness because it did really launched us.
Definitely. I’m intrigued by what you said about that early tour making you feel more “American.” America is such a massive place, so how would you define that? The coasts versus the midwest is so varied, so what does that American mindset mean to you?
It made me feel very Southwestern American for sure, because we are very different. I mean I had never been to the East Coast until we got a record deal, and I could see how different my people were from East Coasters, and heading into the South was such an awakening. It is certainly a big place, with a lot of different flavour in each, but yeah I think I just had big fantasies about what the UK was, and it was just a big culture shock. Definitely different weather than Las Vegas, that’s for sure. We do just love it here though, my family came over with me for a bit and we have just grown such a fondness for this place.
‘Pressure Machine’ definitely hones in on one flavour of American life. Do you think you’ve said enough on that topic and about those lives that your next work is going to move away from all of that, or is there more to explore?
I was just really surprised at how much I had to say on the record. They say you have your whole life to write your first record, and that’s very true, and so ‘Hot Fuss’ captured something and felt like it was ready to burst out of me. I had kept this secret though, I’d been waving the flag for Las Vegas and the Killers and I was little afraid to venture into the territory of where I was brought up, which was Utah. What I found when I finally went there to write about was that same experience – I had just unlocked this door that I had been keeping shut, and kind of unknowingly carrying around in my subconscious and it just sort of fell into my lap. I had so many characters and stories and triumphs and greed, all of these emotions I was able to express, and it was one of the most fulfilling times in my life creatively. I could definitely see myself writing more about it.
For me it felt like a novel or a film, have you ever harboured feelings to go into that direction? Or, do you feel like songwriting is the medium that suits you best?
Songwriting is hard enough! I was definitely influenced by a couple of books – there’s a Steinbeck book called The Pastures of Heaven and it’s different short stories that all takes place in the same town, and man, I tried my hardest to do justice to that idea and to my experience growing up in Utah.
Finally, do you have any pre-show rituals?
Nothing too crazy in particular. We all get together before we go on stage and get near a setlist, and rattle off the agenda. There’s a lot going on, so sharing little reminders on things we may have gotten right or wrong int he past. Basically just getting on the same page! I do pray before I get on stage, which I never really tell people about. I mean, I don’t feel like I need to go into a closet and get on my knees, but I try to do it wherever I can.
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Catch The Killers at the following shows:
26 Bristol Ashton Gate Stadium
28 Coventry Building Society Arena
30 Southampton St Mary’s Stadium
1 Middlesbrough Riverside Stadium
3 London Emirates Stadium
4 London Emirates Stadium
6 Falkirk Stadium
7 Falkirk Stadium
9 Norwich Carrow Road Stadium
10 Manchester Emirates Old Trafford
14 Dublin Malahide Castle
15 Dublin Malahide Castle
Words: Robin Murray
Photo Credit: Danny Clinch
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