Brandon Flowers: To move forward we’ve gotta look back
He arrives at a London hotel library looking very tanned and lean in a sweatshirt bearing the slogan: ‘Je Suis Americain’. This brooding, boyish Las Vegas vocalist wears the chic patriot look well.
‘I have these two sides that are constantly fighting,’ he admits. He punctuates his conversation with short, nervous laughs. ‘There’s that desire to represent where I’m from, that dusty American road pushing against the fantasy world and European music that I grew up with. Sometimes when they meet in one of our songs, like When You Were Young, it’s great.’
Flowers has taken time to consider his band’s contrasting energies lately. The Killers have been playing live dates to showcase their ‘best of’ retrospective, Direct Hits. The collection neatly spans the high-drama synth breakthroughs of their 2004 debut, Hot Fuss, to the stadium-rocking riffs of their last LP, Battle Born.
‘A lot of the first records I bought were greatest hits and they seemed very concise,’ he says. ‘This seemed like the right time to clean things up. I’m excited to put it away – I feel like a young 32-year-old, and I’m ready to look forward. But to do that, we’ve gotta look back.’
Does it feel strange to now be performing early angsty anthems such as Somebody Told Me and Mr Brightside, originally staples of teen drama series? ‘Well, I still identify with that person a little bit,’ he says. ‘There’s a younger generation who are attaching themselves to those sentiments, so the excitement’s still there. It’s all just been a continuous rush. I was around 20 when we were writing that first album, and we haven’t stopped since then. My years haven’t been like the average person’s years.’
It might also be said that Flowers hasn’t been the average rock’n’roll star. He projects razzle-dazzle charisma on stage and he’s earnest about his musical heroes (Pet Shop Boys, U2, Springsteen) but he’s also pointedly a family man and practising Mormon, more given to conservative ideals and romantic imagery than loud excess.
He hints at a second solo album to come in 2014 (his debut, Flamingo, was an international hit in 2010) but points out that The Killers remain a vital concern.
‘I think we understand the strengths we have as a band,’ he says. ‘We’re a real unit and I just think we’re strong live. That’s what we were trying to achieve with Battle Born.’ He looks uneasy again. ‘Sometimes ambition is perceived as an ugly thing.’
‘Traditional’ values are often seen as having an agenda, too. ‘Well, I feel the need sometimes to defend where I’m from,’ he says, carefully. ‘When we first came out as a band, Bush was president and there was a strong anti-American sentiment. I felt it as we were travelling the world, so it made me want to push back a little bit, because we have good people with big hearts. We’ve seen it shift and change since Obama became president but I was young and trying to understand it all.’ He still furrows his brow at this.
He’s on steadier old-fashioned ground with The Killers’ annual Christmas charity single, which has been a popular ritual for the band since 2006. This year’s song is called Christmas In LA.
‘You’ll never see us smile or let our hair down as much as when we do the Christmas stuff,’ he grins. ‘It always turns out to be a lot of work but it’s really refreshing. What’s nice is that it happens to coincide with World Aids Day, which is December 1, so it made sense to write Christmas songs to raise money for Red Project. This is our eighth year without doing any covers and we’ve done all types of Christmas songs, from love stories to The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball, and a Santa that’s out to getcha. This year, the song’s about a struggling actor in LA who misses the traditional Christmas. We got Owen Wilson to do the video, and there are cameos from Harry Dean Stanton and an animated Warren Zevon, which is bad-ass. I’m so excited about it – talk about the stars aligning.’
If there is a recurring theme in Flowers’ band and solo material, it’s arguably his Vegas background. The city looms large in The Killers’ songs and videos (including their recent single Shot At The Night), and this touring spirit is also a down-home soul.
‘We romanticise about these other places around the world but I just can’t leave,’ he sighs. ‘This is where my roots are. I can take my kids to Lake Mead, where their great-grandpa used to fish and sell his catch during the Depression. Or I can take them to the MGM, where their great-aunt was a housekeeper and cleaned Dean Martin’s room; he only had tuxedoes, pyjamas and pills, apparently. Their great-grandma worked at the Golden Nugget. And the Nevada desert is beautiful.’
He already looks keen to get home for the festive season. ‘Christmas in Vegas is great,’ he says. ‘I get sentimental about it. We’ve got a “Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas” ornament and we put festive lights on the palm trees. We really go for it.’
This old-fashioned showman finally looks relaxed, and there is a neon twinkle in his eyes.
Christmas In LA is out Monday. Just Another Girl is out December 23.