Interview with Brandon Flowers of the Killers
The epaulette–loving frontman on captive tigers, the sex trade and indie–rock a-holes.
We know a guy who dumped his girlfriend because of her fandom for the Killers. And this was way before he heard “or are we dancer” and all those plastic saxophone solos. Then again, Foghat lovers detonated disco records in the middle of Comiskey Park 30 years ago, and look at what dull, off-the-mark buzzkillers they seem now. What we’re saying is, give in. The Killers are America’s top pop band. Don’t believe us? Just ask lead singer Brandon Flowers. Though the guy seems pretty modest over the phone. Plus, he really loves his mom. Which is why we love him.
Time Out Chicago: After the Killers’ debut, you were extremely confident in interviews. After the second album, humbled. Where’s your head at now after Day & Age?
Brandon Flowers: I’m scared, because this is where some people start to get comfortable. And I don’t want to get there. I’m not too comfortable yet. The thing that’s really kept me on my toes is how my mom would always tell me—it’s not the best thing for a mother to tell you—but she’d never tell me after I’d lose a soccer game, “You’ll do better next time.” She’d always say, “There’s always somebody better.”
TOC: So not “You can’t win ’em all” so much as “You can’t win.”
Brandon Flowers: There’s always someone ahead. For this album, it was Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida.” I could have really done without that song. And Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire.” If not for those, we’d be on top of the world.
TOC: Your lead-singer peers, Paul Banks of Interpol and Julian Casablancas of the Strokes, both have solo albums out this fall. Have you considered it?
Brandon Flowers: When things get really dark in the band. When the arguments get rowdy enough.
TOC: So talk me through a Brandon Flowers solo album. What would it sound like?
Brandon Flowers: Awesome.
TOC: Could you be more specific?
Brandon Flowers: It would be more adventurous.
TOC: You brought sax solos back. And not just a token horn. You went all in—big, ’80s wailing is all over Day & Age. Was there internal debate?
Brandon Flowers: Most of the things that we do, we never realize it’s going to cause any kind of commotion. We just thought, This is great! It’s a little bit Roxy Music, it’s a little bit sleazy. And then all of the sudden people made a big deal out of it. The saxophone is the mustache of this record.
TOC: Well, when I saw you on the cover of a magazine last year, my first reaction was, Thank God he shaved his face.
Brandon Flowers: My wife likes [the mustache]. It’s a macho thing for me.
TOC: Let’s talk about “Neon Tiger.” That’s symbolism, right?
Brandon Flowers: No, it’s about a tiger. I’m not an animal-rights activist, but I was trying to feel what it must be like to be Siegfried and Roy’s white tigers. And you can draw parallels between them and myself, being performers from Las Vegas. I was finding similarities and putting them in song.
TOC: When in Vegas, I find myself nostalgic for the old era. Even though it was mafia-run and dirty, I’m guiltily drawn to it.
Brandon Flowers: I have the same problem. I romanticize. I live with the ghosts of Elvis and Frank Sinatra. It seems so glamorous. They were American men who don’t exist anymore. But there are ugly things about them, too. I went to high school with girls that would daydream about what strip club they wanted to work at. That’s one of the sad things about Vegas.
TOC: One of your songs is in a new public-service announcement to raise awareness of human sex trafficking. Did your experiences in Vegas lead you to such a cause?
Brandon Flowers: I’m not shouldering the entire cause myself. It was set up. But we’re definitely against human sex trafficking.
TOC: Well, that’s a relief.
Brandon Flowers: Ha, yeah, put that on the cover. The Killers Are Against Human Sex Trafficking.
TOC: Lou Reed is playing right before you at Lollapalooza. This provides the rare chance for you guys to perform your “Tranquilize” collaboration. Will you?
Brandon Flowers: You know what sucks? We were going to do it on SNL and the strike happened. I was so excited about it. He’s the king of New York. We were going to do that and do one of his songs. It’s going to be difficult. We don’t have time to practice. We’re looking into it.
TOC: As a music writer, I’m deathly afraid of him. He chews up interviewers and spits them out.
Brandon Flowers: I’m not lying, we were scared at first, too. He does get a little bit of satisfaction in that. He really melted the ice. He showed Ronnie [Vannucci, Killers drummer] tai chi. I sat at a piano and showed him that the chord progression to “I Will Survive” is the same as “Perfect Day.” He laughed. He broke down. He’s really a nice guy.
TOC: Anyone else you’re excited to watch at Lolla?
Brandon Flowers: We’re talking about going early to see Depeche Mode. They’re a real staple for us. When he was 13, Ronnie permed and bleached his hair to look like Martin Gore.
TOC: Did he wear the leather S&M gear, too?
Brandon Flowers: He wore the leather boots. When you hear a keyboard in a Killers song, it’s because of Depeche Mode.
TOC: The first Killers song I ever heard was “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll.” In hindsight, it’s totally sarcastic, right?
Brandon Flowers: There’s so much snobbery. You go through high school and all the paranoia and crap that goes with that. It’s bullshit. I just didn’t want to be like that. We like big songs and we’re going to embrace it.
The Killers close Lollapalooza at 8:30pm Sunday 8 on the Chicago 2016 stage.