Q MAGAZINE

JULY,2005

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A Star Is Born
 

The Killers overnight success didn't surprise Brandon Flowers. This is one Mormon with a hand-lotion fetish who expected to be worshipped by millions

Brandon Flowers is pacing anxiously inside a hired motor home. A photo shoot is imminent and he is good to go, with glitter around his temples, eyeliner on his lids, and an inch of lipgloss across his mouth, but there is a problem. While fellow band members Dave Keuning (guitar) and Ronnie Vannucci (drums) are also ready for their close-up (though not nearly with as much enthusiam as their singer), bassist Mark Stoermer is missing. This is standard Stoermer behaviour. Today, Flowers explains, it is because he is "ill", a word he utters with much withering disbelief.

"Bronchitis, I think he's claiming," he deadpans. "Or maybe tonsillitis."

It is midday, and this afternoon's shoot is to take place in the Nevada desert, an hour from downtown Las Vegas, and under an unforgiving sun. Ordinarily, photo shoots are the bane of every band's life, and few endure one without a grumble, but Brandon Flowers considers them of vital importance. This is a man who knows just how to play the media, which explains why he is currently dressed like a metrosexual Reservoir Dog ready to throw a series of Vogue-friendly poses till nightfall.

"It's important to look good, " he says earnestly. "Great music is great music, but image is priceless. I'm not saying I'm in this position because I'm good-looking, but it certainly helps."

Stoermer's absence is therefore a major irritation, and so Flowers steps outside to smoke a cigarette. Smoking suits him; it gives him cheekbones.

An hour later, the bassist's white saloon car finally approaches in a ball of desert dust. He parks up, slowly unfolds his 6'5" frame from the driver's seat, and pads towards the air-conditioned cool of the motor home. He looks awful, pale and unshaven in an ill-fitting jacket, his lips covered in sores, and doesn't apologise for his tardiness but instead mumbles something about a doctor, antibiotics and a probable need for blood tests. Flowers, who ordinarily doesn't drink, takes a deep breath.

"I need a beer," he says. "Can somebody get me a beer?"

The Killers are, arguably, the biggest new band in the world right now. Debut album Hot Fuss has been adorned with Grammy and Brit nominations, and has sold one and two million in the UK and US respectively. The Killers may have been rubbished by Germaine Greer on BBC2's Late Review - she called them "dreary, bankrupt [and] infertile" - but they have been championed by Goliaths such as Elton John and David Bowie. In many ways, the UK has adopted The Killers as their own. Hot Fuss has been a staple of the top 10 since January, and their slots at Glastonbury and Reading this summer are widely expected to be the highlights of the festival season.

Brandon Flowers is, of course, thrilled by all this. The man has spent much of his life dreaming about becoming a pop star, modelling himself chiefly on Morrissey - "I've read every interview he ever gave, more or less," he says - and so now, at just 23 years old, it's very much ambition fulfilled.

His bandmates, meanwhile, are still adjusting - to life in the limelight, to a Herculean touring schedule (they played almost 200 shows last year), and to semi-regular quibbles with their singer. "Brandon's ego has definently gone up, I will say that," says Dave Keuning. "And he loves what's happened to us. We all do, of course, but Brandon, well, Brandon more."

Keuning, who has a reputation for being difficult (Vannucci calls him "pissy"), can also be shy and sheepish. Today, he is a model of understatement, speaking only when spoken to. Back home in Las Vegas for a month of rehearsals, he will whisperingly admit to "relationship problems" with his girlfriend of nine months, and confirm that fame has indeed come at a price.

"I've had a few... a few breakdowns," he murmurs.

Really?

"Well, yeah, I've lost it on occasion. You know, if say, we've argued over soundcheck, or if a show hasn't gone well, or there are days that I feel that nobody wants my opinion, that I don't count any more... that's when i snap."

I ask him to explain "snap" and, reluctantly, he does.

"I shout, scream, storm off. But it's never anything serious." He smiles wistfully. "It's not like I'm going nuts or anything."

Mark Stoermer says that a part of him would be quite happy if The Killers never got any more successful than they are right now. This introverted man, who wears this digital watch-cum-claculator last seen on wrists in 1982, just wants to play music. Anything else is baggage.

And Ronnie Vannucci? The drummer, who looks like Nirvana's Krist Novoselic aged 17, is the band's sole jock, a man who cracks jokes endlessly and flirts with every woman in range, albeit harmlessly (he is happily married). When I request a one-to-one interview with him, he suggests I meet him at the Hoover Dam, an hour out of Vegas, at 3am.

"Come Alone," he warns.

He's being evasive. It's clear he has no intention of being there and neither does he turn up for our pre-scheduled dinner the following night.

"That's typical Ronnie," Flowers will later tell me.


The Killers formed in their hometown of Las Vegas back in 2002, after Dave Keuning had placed an advert in a local newspaper requesting musicians "with a love of Oasis" (and there aren't too many of those in Nevada). Using Keuning's garage as a base, they clicked immediately. The first song they wrote together was Mr Brightside, a future Top 10 hit. It came so easily that it took three-quarters of the band by surprise. Guitarist, bassist and drummer, all now in their late 20s, had each spent the better part of a decade in going-nowhere bands, and were full of disillusion. Keuning, originally from Pella, Iowa, had dropped out of university, and ended up in Nevada because he could afford neither New York nor Los Angeles. Vannucci, who had studied percussion to degree level, was a photographer at the Little Chapel Of Flowers, while Stoermer, who had unrealised dreams of becoming "a lawyer or college professor or something academic", was a courier of boxers' urine samples for a local laboratory.

"I think we clicked," Stoermer says, "because the three of us brought a certain wisdom to the band, the wisdom of experience, I guess, while Brandon brought the conviction that we really could go somewhere; the guy never faced rejection his whole life."

Brandon Flowers is an intriguing combination of contradictions, much of it by design. After Graduating from high school, the then 18-year-old worked in a succession of Las Vegas hotels as a bellhop, while dreaming of stardom. His first band, Blush Response, looked to the Pet Shop Boys for inspiration, but it was only when he met Keuning years later that he began to realise his full potential.

Today, his desire to become the perfect 21st-century pop star is palpable, and so he is, as conviction dictates, moody, enigmatic and controversial. Initially wary of new people, he requires compliments before he feels able to adminster trust, and so our first meeting is exquisitely uncomfotable. We convene at his favourite Mexican Restaurant, Chapalas, 20 minutes from downtown, but while the conversation between band members is free-flowing, Flowers is silent, smoking copiously while shooting me nervous looks. Often, for no particular reason, he will issue a fake, serpentine laugh - "Ss-ss-ss" - that comes cloaked in Boy George-strength irony.

It is only after two full days in his company that he begins to mellow, and when we meet for dinner two evenings later, at Palms, a chi-chi restaurant within the towering arcade of kitsch that is Caeser's Palace casino, he is, at last, relaxed. He orders a huge steak and a coca-cola, and convinces the waiter, a Killers fan, to allow him to light up in our non-smoking section.

"Am I insecure?" he begins. "I wouldn't say so, no, but then maybe I'm in denial...? And if I am, it's pretty much because when I was younger I was chubby. It gave me a terrible sense of self-image, and I guess I still carry that around with me still."

Today, he is whippet-thin.

"It's not anorexia, though," he says, in response to an unasked question. "But I am weight-conscious, absolutely."

His youth was otherwise relatively stress-free. Flowers was the youngest child of a large family (one brother, four sisters), and religion came to form the centre of their life. When he was eight years old, his parents moved the family to Payson, Utah, "to get out of the rat race for a while". As Mormons, they had effectively settled in their answer to Jerusalem (around 80 per cent of the population of Utah are Mormon), and when they returned to Las Vegas six years later, where Flowers's father still works as a bellman at the Treasure Island hotel, their faith remained undimmed. But this is something the singer would rather not discuss. Why?

"Because the band don't want me to."

Again, why?

"Well, look, it's no big deal, but Religion has nothing to do with The Killers. Also, I've realised that while it's OK to believe in God in America - pretty much everybody here does - in the UK it makes you seem a little odd. I'm Mormon, sure, and I'm proud of it, but it's no big deal, right?"

What was a big deal growing up, he says, was living in the shadow of his brother, Shane, 12 years his senior. "He was way cooler and very handsome, the kind of guy who got to go to the prom with Miss Nevada. He was the reason I got into golf, and then music. Everything he did, I wanted to do too."

Like his sibling, Flowers was good enough at golf to consider turning pro, but his obsession for music - particularly the songs of Duran Duran, New Order and The Smiths - soon became all encompassing.

"There is a Pet Shop Boys song called Being Boring in which Neil Tennant sings, 'I never thought I would get to be/ The creature I was meant to be'. That was always my favourite line growing up, and now it has become incredibly relevant to me, to what I have become."

While interviews unnerved him at first, he now enjoys them and loves to tease. When he says this to me: "Hand lotion is my favourite thing in the world, oceans of lotion", it is probably because he knows it will make him a curiosity and, perhaps, sexually ambivalent a la Morrissey and Michael Stipe. When he sang Andy, You're A Star (from Hot Fuss), a tale about adorning a high school hunk, many believed it to be a confession of gay love.

"Yes, but how do you know that Andy isn't, in fact, a girl?" he says, rather irritably.

Is she?

"No, but that doesn't mean it's a gay song... or certainly not as gay as Michael by Franz Ferdinand. Listen, I just write stories, bizarre, weird, entertaining stories, and only sometimes are they autobiographical."

Flowers takes himself very seriously indeed, and wants everybody else to as well.

"It bothers me that I'd be more credible to certain people if I had a drug problem," he says. "Why? That's bullshit. I'm not interested in drugs because I've seen what they can do. Take Brian Wilson. I don't want to be like him. What does it matter today that he wrote Good Vibrations? The man goes around talking to himself."

But perhaps directly because his band is so removed from rock'n'roll excess - Flowers, for example, will soon marry his girlfriend of four years, Tana Munbkowsky - he is happy to perpetuate any other myth that comes his way. When I recount a piece of online gossip that suggested their recent tour of Japan culminated in a night of drunken debauchery, public penis exposure and sex with underage groupies, he practically reels with pride.

"I've not heard that one before, and it is of course nonsense. But a story like that won't do us any harm. Controversy," he coos, "is never a bad thing."

And most of the controversy is peddled by Flowers himself. It has been difficult to keep up with the number of bands he has tounge-lashed this past year, but they include Dallas prog-rockers Secret Machines ("total assholes") and Canadian noiseniks The Stills ("bitchy and pretentious"). His most recent victims are New York's The Bravery, who mine similar UK influences to his own.

"I've never actually said anything bad about anyone who didn't deserve it," he says mischeviously, "but, occasionally, it is brought on by jealousy. When I hear a good song, it really does piss me off. But as far as the Bravery goes..." Here, he falters. "Look, I'm not supposed to be doing this any more but, well, you're poking me and so I'll say this: to me, The Bravery just aren't real. I've heard that the keyboard parts are all pre-programmed, and that singer can't reach the high notes on [recent single] An Honest Mistake. I can reach those high notes."

In response, The Bravery have accused Flowers of kicking them off a succession of UK tours because he feels threatened.

"They said that?" says Flowers, eyebrows twitching. "That's funny, really funny."

Maybe, yes, but while he certainly likes to give it out, he is not particularly good at recieving it. Last year, his band was invited to support Morrissey in Los Angeles. Flowers was thrilled when he noticed the former Smith standing at the side of the stage during soundcheck, but when they passed one another in the corridor afterwards, Morrissey blatantly ignored him.

"And I was devastated," he says. "I remember reading an interview with him in which he said that Marc Bolan, his idol, did the very same thing to him years earlier, and it crushed him. So why did he do it to me?"

At this point, we are interrupted in our conversation by Elvis Presley. He smiles his false teeth at us, shakes Flowers by the hand, and tells him that his son is a huge fan. As Presley retreats, back to the restaurant toilet where he works as an attendant, Flowers lights up another cigarette.

"It's nice being recognised," he says.


Later, behind a strip bar on the wrong side of town, the band have congregated at their new rehearsal space - a tiny room littered with studio paraphernalia and unexpectedly, a pair of discarded underpants - to play me nine songs from their second album, which is due out in early 2006.The first five are dark and Stranglers-ish. One entitled Where is She?, is a disquieting account of the real-life murder of 14-year-old Jodi Jones. Jones's mutilated body was found on 30 June 2003 in woodland near her home in Dalkeith and, 10 months later, her boyfriend, Luke Mitchell, then 15, was arrested. He was jailed for the muder earlier this year. Mitchell, who newspapers reported was a Marilyn Manson fan obsessed with the devil,has subsequently become something of a teen pin-up, which Flowers says he finds fascinating.

"I want to fill the studio with pictures of her and her killer. It will give the song the most amazing atmosphere, don't you think?"

The remaining four songs are more Hot Fuss-y, Flowers earmarking the buoyant Sweet Love and Bones as future hit singles.

''Anyone who thinks we are a one-hit wonder, he says at this point, "will think again. This album might just be incredible.''


The Following Night, we go to see Elton John's glitzy Caeser's Palace concert. Flowers has seen the show before, but he is a fan, not just of the music but of stage set - think the Rolling Stones on steroids, lots of inflatable bananas - which is quintessentially Vegas. Post -show, we are ushered backstage to meet the man himself. Elton does all the talking, Flowers blushing and stuttering his replies. Elton asks about the singer's impending wedding.

''It's in October, right?' 'he says. "If it is, I'll be here in Vegas''

Flowers confirms this.Some time in October, definitely.

''Well I'll be here...''

If this is Elton John's way of wangling an invitation, then
Flowers singulary fails to act upon it. The conversation soon dissolves and we say our awkward goodbyes. Afterwards, Flowers seems embarrassed. He may be good at standing up to the peers he fears, but plonk him in front of a superstar, and he crumbles. At a bar later, he reviews the meeting.

''You have to get your mind past who they are.They're still people, after all, and Elton is practically a friend now.'' The singer,who might be a superstar himself one day,shakes his head. ''I'll do better next time,'' he says. ''I'll learn.'

Brandon commenting on new songs

Uncle Johnny Did Cocaine:
I wanted this to sound it could have come off
Lust For Life by Iggy Pop.My uncle Did cocaine,
yes,and i've have not asked for his approval yet,
But I'm hoping he'll play guitar on it

Higher And Higher
I automatically see this as the next all these things
only better.People love songs with momentum,
and the chorus will give people something to scream about

Daddys Eyes
This is about a Father telling his son that he cheated
on his mother and is going to leave home,but is
explaining that it isnt his son's fault,No,its not a
personal experience,but everyone will be able to
relate to it.This will make people cry 

I'm Taking to You
This is our Oasis rip-off song,esp
the guitar line.It could rescue their career,Its about talking to yourself and figuring out life's big problems all on your own

The stereo of lies
I cant talk about this one much because its about the person(The killers former drummer)Lets just say its a angry song