He prefers prayer to partying, and family barbecues to booze. But in every other respect Brandon Flowers, the multi-million selling Mormon frontman of the Killers, is the consummate rock star.
It’s the month before the release of the Killers’ second album, Sam’s Town; two hours before a homecoming gig at the Empire Ballroom in Las Vegas. the album will go on to shift a hefty chunk of the band’s career-total 15 million sales and win the four-piece two Brit Awards (Best International Group and International Album). But right now Brandon Flowers is talking about Mormonism, Coke and coke.
“A lot of people think polygamy is involved,” the frontman and main songwriter with the springsteendoes-disco band is saying of his religion, “and it’s not. (Or that) you can’t drink Coke – that we think we’re gonna go to hell if we drink Pepsi. You’re not supposed to drink alcohol.”
I tell him I’ve seen him drink alcohol.
“I try not to,” he replies with a grin. But it’s difficult for him, in every sense. “Bob Dylan said it best – you can’t be Jewish and be cool. And you can’t be a Mormon and be cool! But I’m trying my best!”
His job – leading one of the fastest-rising rock bands in the world – regularly presents him with moral quandaries.
“I’m starting to get more comfortable with it. I’m a man and I’m attracted to women. You read about, and you have that fascination with, the drugs. there’s a certain level that we’re kinda expected to debaucherise (sic), I guess! It’s expected of us, almost.”
Chicago, August 2010. Flowers is three dates into his first solo tour in support of his first solo album, Flamingo. the arenas, stadia and festival-headline slots to which the Killers are now accustomed have been replaced by theatres. some of the band’s road crew are with him, but for the time being he’s working with new musicians.
“For the most part it’s like going backwards,” he admits. “It’s weird getting these nerves that I haven’t had for five or six years. Nerves about playing smaller venues, people not knowing the material ...”
Late last year, as the Killers approached the end of the Day & Age tour – after pretty much seven years of back-to-back recording, performing and travelling – Flowers decided he wanted to keep going. He’d written a bunch of new songs while on tour.
His band mates told him to hop it, they were going home, to do their laundry, watch television, hang with their friends and family. Be ordinary, and stationary, for a while.
Flowers took a scant four weeks off then ploughed on regardless, recording Flamingo in Las Vegas and Los Angeles with a dream-team of super-producers: stuart Price (Madonna), Brendan O’Brien (springsteen) and Daniel Lanois (U2). then, tour time. He told his wife he was leaving her holding the babies, again.
“Yeah!” he says with the gurgly, yuck-yuck laugh with which he says most things. “two toddlers, and another one on the way. Due in February. But,” he adds hastily, “I want to wrap this (solo tour) up by Christmas.”
For this slight but charismatic, drop-dead-handsome 29-year-old who can command a stadium or festival crowd with compelling ease, the laugh is a self-defence mechanism. Almost every sentence, no matter how dark the subject matter, is delivered with a chuckle, or a peculiar gasp.
the same function is performed by his interview posture: ramrod straight in his chair, arms folded tightly across his chest.
I’ve met him many times over the years and have only ever seen him relaxed onstage. today, even sitting on a leather sofa in his windowless dressing room at Chicago’s Park West theatre, his posture is that of a man about to be water-boarded. still, for all his physical stiffness, Flowers can’t help but spill. the baby of the family – he’s the youngest of six – and raised by his Godfearing mother with a strict moral code, he’s too nice not to.
On tour in Europe last summer, the Killers had two tour buses. the “party bus” was dubbed Welcome To The Jungle, after the Guns ’n’ Roses song. Flowers’ bus was called James Taylor, after the earnest, nonemore-gentle 1970s folky. there are, he reports, no such affectations on this year’s more stripped-back solo tour.
“But I’ve grown tired of downtown America,” he says in a way that manages to be both understated and bombastic, “and that’s where you tend to go on days off. so I’ve started to go to national parks and campgrounds on days off. And I’m barbecuing. And instead of running on a treadmill, I’m running out in nature.
“It makes it all worthwhile for me. On the way here we went to Lake tahoe, and it was just beautiful. Went and did a hike. Jumped in the lake. It’s kinda like going back in time. stuff that it seems like you only see in movies. And it’s been a breath of fresh air.”
this impulse, he acknowledges, has been of a piece with this vision for his solo album. the first Killers album, 2004’s Hot Fuss, betrayed teenage Anglophile and mascarawearer Flowers’ love of the Cure, the smiths and Pet shop Boys. Sam’s Town saw them evoking the widescreen Americana of springsteen, Joshua tree-era U2 and their home state. Day & Age, produced by stuart Price, was again more dance/pop oriented.
With Flamingo, this son of the desert – raised in Vegas and in a Mormon community in deepest Utah – wanted to reboot himself. to plug himself back into the heart of the United states and its nearmythic archetypes. For this selfconfessed old-fashioned twentysomething, he thinks the roots of American culture, its country music and pioneer spirit, are lost in modern music.
“Especially in popular modern music. It seems so distant. And especially the meat and potatoes of those songs – the simplicity of those songs is lost now to the beats and the bleeps,” he says with the weary distaste of an old codger.
Flowers grew up surrounded largely by cacti and desert. He loved the open space, the freedom. But he also loved the lights and thrills of Las Vegas. He moved there when he was 16 and worked as a bellhop in one of the hotel/casinos.
His enduring love affair with Vegas, its gambling and its vice, is reflected in Flamingo’s opening song, Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas (“cocaine and lady luck give us your dreams your heartaches and your sin”).
But with this fascinatingly schizophrenic rock star, faith is never far away. He says that he realised after the fact that “there’s a lot of religious imagery going through Flamingo.”
Wholly holy pragmatist that he is, he understands that any overt hint of God-squad-rock would compromise his band’s cool and, worse, their sales. But in a solo album “maybe I felt free to be more open about it.”
“Yes,” he nods. “so it’s a struggle. I wonder if it’s legit. But I can’t help but go for the good I guess. Especially after having children – I think, what kind of mark do I wanna leave? For the most part, that’s the person that I am. I think I’m a positive and optimistic person.”
His mother died at the beginning of this year. He cancelled an Asian tour to be with her on her deathbed. It was the second time he’d had to cancel a tour there. It was, he admits, a wrench.
“I don’t remember the excuse last time. But this one was a good excuse! It was a strange feeling to be in this position – ‘I know I’m cancelling it because I feel strongly about being there with my mother. But she may not die.’ And I had that weight: ‘I’m holding off money and possibly the expansion of the band.’ the success of my band in Asia basically was gambling (sic) on this. And I’ve got three other guys and a whole crew that are depending on this. And I’m just making this decision.”
so, in a terrible way, he was waiting for his mother to die?
“Yes. You don’t want her to, but...”
He shakes his head. “It was just a weird set of pushes and pulls. But she did die during that time I would have been in Asia. so it was the right decision.” Did he go on tour afterwards? “Yeah,” he shoots back, in a manner that says, “of course I did.”
this, he conceded, was another reason that he had embarked on what may have seemed like vainglorious folly: a solo album, hot on the heels of three band albums and in the midst of the quick-fire expansion of his brood. If he took his foot off the pedal and started changing nappies, Flowers feared what the hiatus might do to his beloved band’s momentum.
And to his cherished dreams of planet-rattling success.
“Its part of it,” he nods vigorously. “I do feel like I’m carrying the Killers torch up there. And I’m bettering myself. And hopefully I become a better frontman and a better performer, hopefully I can apply that to the next Killers record. And we’ll just be all the better for it.”
Go tell it on the mountain: a rock messiah is born. – © the Daily telegraph UK 2010 n Brandon Flowers’ Flamingo is released by Universal Music Malaysia.
Man of faith: ‘I’m a positive and optimistic person,’ says Brandon Flowers.