Brandon Flowers and his Killers bandmates explore PTSD and masculinity on Wonderful Wonderful
SKOOKUM Festival headliner Brandon Flowers talks about the future of the Killers and what he has in common with Alice Cooper.
On the surface, there wouldn’t appear to be that much common ground between Brandon Flowers and Alice Cooper. In his ’70s heyday, shock-rock progenitor Cooper embodied all that was depraved and evil about rock ’n’ roll, singing tender paeans to necrophilia and decapitating baby dolls on-stage.
Flowers, on the other hand, has a sort of cleancut nice-guy image seemingly at odds with his status as the frontman of one of this millennium’s biggest rock bands. Heck, in 2011 the guy made a video at the behest of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with the title “I’m Brandon Flowers and I’m a Mormon”.
When the Straight connects with Flowers via telephone, the 37-year-old musician is at home in Park City, Utah, enjoying some much-needed downtime in a summer that has been packed with tour dates. He reveals that he and the man born Vincent Furnier actually aren’t as different as they may seem—and not just because Flowers fronts a group called the Killers and Cooper’s fourth LP with his own band was titled Killer.
“We share a lot in common, actually,” says Flowers. “We were both raised in the desert, we both enjoy golf, we’ve both worn eyeliner—he’s worn more than me.”
Cooper famously spends as many as six days a week on the links at the Arizona Biltmore Golf Club in his hometown of Phoenix. Flowers is less active in that department—thanks in large part to an ongoing issue with his shoulders—but there was a time in his youth when he looked set to follow in the footsteps of his cousin, pro golfer Craig Barlow.
Then, as rock ’n’ roll legend would have it, Flowers’s career path was changed forever when someone stole his golf clubs and he turned to music instead.
That’s turned out pretty well for him. Since forming in Las Vegas in 2001, the Killers have released five well-received studio albums and have toured the world numerous times. The band first broke big in the U.K. and has arguably had its greatest success there, with all of its LPS hitting the top spot on the Official Albums Chart. The most recent one, Wonderful Wonderful, was the first to match that stateside by reaching No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Flowers has said that the lyrics on Wonderful Wonderful are among the most personal he has ever written, with songs such as “Rut” and “Some Kind of Love” delving into the childhood trauma and ongoing struggle with PTSD faced by his wife, Tana. Elsewhere, Flowers uses the recurring motif of boxing (most notably on “Tyson vs Douglas” but also on “Run for Cover”, which namechecks legendary heavyweight champ Sonny Liston) to explore themes including endurance and disillusionment.
Wonderful Wonderful came out almost a year ago, but Flowers says he has no difficulty tapping into the emotions that shaped some of its most affecting songs, even after performing them on-stage night after night on tour. To keep things from getting too heavy, he says, the band has really been leaning into its more crowd-pleasing fare, in particular “The Man”. A strutting slab of bombast that neatly straddles glam rock and electro-fried disco, “The Man” is Flowers’s winking look back at the cocksure days of his youth.
“It’s inhabiting this person I was, or this concept of what I thought a man should be when I was 15, when I was ignorant,” he notes. “I’m still learning, and I’m still becoming that man that I want to be.
“It brought a lot of levity to the record and a whole new element to the live show,” the singer continues. “We usually pair it with the song ‘Somebody Told Me’, and the spirit of it sort of overflows into that song as well, and it’s a nice moment, instead of this earnestness for two hours.”
THE VERSION OF THE BAND that has been touring in support of Wonderful Wonderful could perhaps be called Killers 2.0. Of the core four-piece, only Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. have hit the road this time around. The official line is that guitarist Dave Keuning has taken a break to spend time with his family while bassist Mark Stoermer has gone back to college. The two are still considered members of the band, but their spots are currently being filled by long-time touring sidemen Ted Sablay (guitar) and Jake Blanton (bass).
Flowers insists that it no longer feels strange to look around the stage during a Killers concert and not see Keuning and Stoermer.
“In the beginning it did, but we’ve already done 115 shows now,” he notes. “So, all those anxieties are kind of over now. The way I’ve always looked at it is that it’s my job to sing, whether they’re there or not. I still have a job to do, and of course in a perfect world they would be gung ho about touring and be up there, but they’re not. My dream still lives. My dream’s still alive, man.”
As for what the future holds, Flowers indicates that Keuning “is still figuring it all out” and points out that Stoermer remains very much an active presence within the band, his absence from the tour bus notwithstanding.
“Mark contributed a lot to the record and is more excited about being creative in the studio, and you can’t fault him for not loving touring, and so if that works out, where he can come in the studio, of course he’s welcome, and right now we’re planning on it,” the frontman says.
Mind you, Flowers admits that he’s not sure if there’s a Killers record on the immediate horizon or if he’ll revive his solo career. The singer has released two records under his own name—2010’s Flamingo and 2015’s The Desired Effect. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both have topped the U.K. album chart, which strongly suggests that there are indeed many people out there eagerly awaiting a new Brandon Flowers LP.
“I made those solo records so that people could have breaks in the band,” Flowers states, “and so with this new configuration and this new understanding, it seems like it’s created a world where we can put more Killers records out. But also I’m really proud and happy with my two solo records, and I miss performing those songs too, so I’m a little bit torn at the moment.”
If the music thing doesn’t work out, Flowers returning to the world of golf is probably out of the question, all things considered. If Alice Cooper happens to call, however…
“He’s asked me before,” Flowers says. “I’ve had shoulder problems and I haven’t been able to golf as much as I want to. But I would like to golf with Alice Cooper one day. I hope I can get my shoulders back to a place where I can play without pain, and I will take Alice on.”
Ladies and gents, you’re looking at The Man.
The Killers headline SKOOKUM at Stanley Park on September 9.