Riding in at the very top of a wave of indie rock revivalists, The Killers broke out in 2003 with seemingly immediate success. Carried forward by a string of instantly catchy singles ‘Mr Brightside’, ‘Somebody Told Me’, ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ and ‘Smile Like You Mean It’, the hard-working Las Vegans’ debut Hot Fuss scaled heights that contemporaries The White Stripes, The Strokes or Interpol could only envy. After plunging a sense of glitz, grandeur and a hint of decadence back into the heart of popular music they proved their mettle again with equally formidable follow-up Sam’s Town.
Skip ahead a little. Nearly a decade and a half later many of their contemporaries have faded from view, but heck, The Killers are still here. Closing the five-year gap since 2012’s Battle Born they’ll soon be dropping 5th album Wonderful Wonderful. The album sees the group returning bigger and ambitiously weirder than ever before. It spills outward as a glamorously sprawling vision of rock, pop and dance music.
Frontman Brandon Flowers leaves the impression of an individual that’s more of a record junkie than an international superstar. Calling through from New York, he speaks brightly and with little apprehension. This comes as a slight surprise given that things haven’t exactly been smooth sailing since The Killers made public that guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer wouldn’t be accompanying the group on its upcoming tours. Flowers addresses the matter with casual ease. Some negative outcry from the group’s fanbase was inevitable. He rejoinders with the proposition that all four members have reached an unconventional but necessary comprise.
The frontman is more turned on by the fact that, after a decade long inferiority complex and recurring rejection dreams, he’s finally caught the ear of producer’s producer Brian Eno. What’s more, he’s also secured the nod to sample one of Eno’s Apollo tracks on his own forthcoming Lp. You might be mistaken in thinking the ex-Roxy Music sound painter sits at the pinnacle of Flower’s hero-worship, but in truth, its highest plateaus are reserved none other than former Seekea frontman and Sydney native Alex Cameron.
Music Feeds: With each new Killers album, I feel comes a grander and more ambitious sound. Is there an element of pressure being in a group that’s continually expected to be upping the ante?
Brandon Flowers: Yeah, I mean a little bit. But we also sort of apply it to ourselves. I guess it comes from within – a lot of that pressure, a lot of those expectations – because we really want to grow and we really want to evolve and don’t really want to repeat ourselves. We’ve never really just submitted to going down one road. We love so much music and so many different genres, we never know what’s going to rear its head on a record!
MF: At the time you emerged The Killers were really seen arriving at the latter end of a wave of indie rock revival. A lot has changed since then, many of your contemporaries have faded away or slowed down, but you have remained a dominant force. Why is that do you think? Why have you endured?
BF: I think there’s a little bit of luck involved for sure. There are still bands which have come up with us that have made some great music but we have sort of maybe connected more and gotten lucky more. But we work hard and we have a lot of tenacity and a lot of audacity and all of that good stuff.
MF: There’s been a bit of a blow up online regarding who you’re touring with, you’ve just made a big post on Instagram addressing the topic. Were you expecting such a strong reaction to guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer not coming on tour?
BF: I mean we were kind of prepared for it. Obviously, we’ve been dealing with it internally and personally over the past little while and trying to figure out what’s what, how we’re going to handle it and keep everyone happy. There was no real perfect way to handle it, there’s definitely not a handbook for how to handle these things. I can’t think of another band that’s done what we’re doing and we did the best that we could. We’re trying to navigate these waters! But you know, it would just – I hope that people come to the gigs and aren’t let down because a lot of heart is still going into these shows and a lot of blood sweat and tears went into this album. It would be a shame for it not to be brought to the world.
MF: With the forthcoming album, I’ve read an interview where you said you’ve been chasing a heavier sound. I can hear it on tracks like ‘The Calling’. What is it to you that makes a piece of music ‘heavy’?
BF: You know there’s different connotations to ‘heavy’. Heh! It could be distortion and a ferocious drummer. But it could also be lyrical content, and I think that we had just written ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ before I did an interview and I said we maybe had some material that was heavier than anything we’d ever done. I think that song captures both of those dimensions of the word ‘heavy’. That’s where I was coming from when I did that interview.
MF: Do you have an example of a track or album which strikes you as a classic heavy hitter?
BF: I hadn’t thought about that. I mean something like ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ by Leonard Cohen, that does it for me. If it was a band… I don’t know. Some people like really heavy music, a song like ‘Push’ by The Cure is just beautiful but it’s also kinda heavy. I don’t know, it’s all relative I guess. But those two of the top of my head.
MF: You’ve also worked with an Aussie, Alex Cameron, on a track called ‘Life To Come’. What was it like working with Alex?
BF: I make an appearance songwriting on one song on his new record that’s coming out called Forced Witness. I just really fell in love with his debut Jumping the Shark and I reached out to him to let him know that and we’ve since become friends. He’s come to Las Vegas and we’ve hung out in London. We actually played a gig together. He is – he’s just one of the best in the game right now. You can learn something from everybody and I think we’re both feeding off of each other. Sometimes that can be dangerous territory (laughs), but I think we’re in a healthy territory with that right now.
MF: You’ve also gotten someone who a lot of musicians would dream about working with on the album: Brian Eno. I think the track’s called ‘Some Kind of Love’. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you did with him for the album?
BF: It’s a long story but I’ll try and answer it. He is – he’s kind of like a producer’s producer. He’s ‘The Guy’! He’s associated with greatness. When we made our second record [Sam’s Town] we were asked by the record label, “Who do you want to produce it?” We said, “Brian Eno [or] maybe Rick Otcasek?” Rick Otcasek, we were told, declined. We were told Brian Eno declined and we were sort of guided into this direction of Alan Moulder, which is kind of like a safer version of Brian Eno, which is totally fine because Sam’s Town turned out fantastic and I’m proud of it. But I always felt like I wasn’t good enough for Brian Eno. He went on to work with Coldplay and that sort of stung me a little bit, it kinda hurt. I felt defeated a little by that.
Anyhow over the years, I’ve come to talk to Rick Otcasek and he was never asked to produce our record so I’d always wondered if Eno was asked. Finally, when I had writer’s block, I ended up writing this song called ‘Some Kind of Love’ over one of Eno’s instrumentals, this beautiful, just holy, instrumental called ‘An Ending (Ascent)’. I loved the song so much and we reached out… let me tell you one more thing. The only reoccurring dream I’ve ever had is, I’m on one side of a street and Brian Eno’s one the other side. And I can’t cross the street! I can’t get his attention. So it has really messed with my brain.
Anyway, we reached out to him to ask if we could use the sample we wrote the song over. To use his song. We heard back from his manager: “no”. So all these feelings that I’ve had over this last decade just kind of came back, these feelings of inadequacy. I was humiliated by it and I just felt small.
Time went by with the song and I grew to love it even more. We just decided we had to keep bothering him about it. I had Daniel Lanois texting him, I had Anton Corbijn calling him, I had Bono emailing him. I just wanted to talk to him because the song means a lot to me and for the record. I finally got him on the phone and it was one of the greatest conversations I have ever had because he was completely a complete gentleman.
He had actually told his manager that he had been using that song too much on compilations and things like that so if anyone asked about that just to tell them no. He really didn’t know that The Killers were coming at him with a song that they had written over it. He ended up loving the song, signing off on the song AND confirming that he wasn’t asked to do our second record! So all of this, this UGLINESS and SHIT that I’d been carrying around with me for ten years was just false! There’s some kind of life lesson there. It was like a load was lifted, it was a great day.
MF: It sounds like a great weight has been lifted off your shoulders. So, you’re coming down to Australia to play at the upcoming AFL Grand Final and again for a fully-fledged tour in 2018. What can fans expect?
BF: I think that if anyone’s familiar with us we like to bring a little bit of Las Vegas with us wherever we go. We don’t, I don’t, give up and I mean it when I sing. I’m grateful that people are there to hear me. With Ronnie’s drums you can just tell that he loves it. I think it’s just going to be a celebration of the arsenal that we’ve got and these new songs because we’re so proud of this new record. I can’t wait to play it live.
The Killers are set to perform as part of the AFL Grand Final pre-game show at the MCG on Saturday, 30th September and will a free show at Melbourne’s MCG that same day. ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ is set for release on Friday, 22nd September.
Earlier this year the band said they were planning on touring Australia again in 2018.