Retro rockets
The Killers' rock act takes off despite labeling as 1980s band
Friday, May 27, 2005 

There's been quite a "Hot Fuss" about the Killers during the past year. But even in the wake of platinum sales and Grammy Award nominations, Brandon Flowers laments that "in most cases, we don't get taken seriously."

"I don't sing about wanting to kill myself, and there's not all this publicity about what a cokehead I am," says Flowers, who formed the group three years ago with guitarist David Keuning. "People think there's no way we can be this good.

"Maybe if I was on heroin or talked about how difficult life is, it would help. But this is what we are, and I'm glad the people who come to the shows and buy the records seem to like it."

No kidding. "Hot Fuss" -- a British sensation before it came out on the band's home shores in June -- has passed the million mark and launched hits such as "Mr. Brightside" and "Somebody Told Me." The album was a finalist for the 2004 Shortlist Music Prize and scored two Grammy nods, for best rock album and best rock performance by a duo or group with vocals for "Somebody Told Me." Former Smiths frontman Morrissey is an outspoken fan.

All of that has made the Killers one of rock's biggest new bands -- and has left Flowers and his mates shaking their heads at the unexpected success.

"Well, uh . . . it's nice," he says with a laugh. "I can't believe the numbers that turn up every week. The first couple weeks it was cool; we expected a big [sales] hit at first. Then, progressively, we were getting more and more every week, which was really weird to us. But that's a good thing, so we're happy."

With some time to reflect, however, Flowers says he has a pretty good idea of what's made the fuss so hot over the Killers.

"I think it's because it's such a strong album," he explains. "And it's fun to come to see us live. But a lot of these people are buying the record without even seeing us. I don't think there's any filler, which is what you get on most albums."

Flowers developed his, er, killer sensibility by growing up with older siblings --particularly a brother 12 years his senior who played a steady diet of '80s British rock from the Cure, Joy Division and New Order, U2, David Bowie and others.

"I was a lot different, I guess, than anyone else," says Flowers, who attended his first concert -- the Cure -- when he was 13. "Everyone else at my school was getting into Korn and Tool. I would hang out with my brother a lot 'cause he listened to the same music I listened to."

Those tastes eventually led Flowers to form an old-school synth-pop band, Blush Response, that split up shortly before he found Keuning's classified ad in a local newspaper. Bonding over a shared admiration of Oasis, the two wrote "Mr. Brightside" shortly after they met and subsequently added bassist Mark Stoermer, a medical courier, and Ronnie Vannucci, who was majoring in classical percussion at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas -- where the Killers began rehearsing and gave birth to "Somebody Told Me."

"That was done in increments," Flowers recalls. "It was really just a bunch of different pieces that got stuck together. But when it was finally finished, we felt like we had something."

British audiences certainly felt that way. After the Killers signed with the U.K.'s Lizard King label, "Mr. Brightside" became a hit across the pond and generated a major label buzz around the Killers when the quartet played at the 2003 CMJ Music Marathon in New York City. Island Records won the bidding war.

Every silver lining has a cloud, of course -- although the retro tag laid on the Killers has not proved terribly debilitating.

"Getting compared to anybody that's great like that is wonderful," Flowers acknowledges, "but to say that we're just an 1980s band, that bothers me 'cause we're not. But so far, we haven't been compared to anybody who makes us cringe."

And for the older brother who played a role in the Killers' sound by stoking Flowers' musical tastes, it's been downright fabulous.

"He grew up right in the time of U2 and the Smiths and everything," Flowers says. "I remember him having New Musical Express covers on his wall, blasting the Cure and everything. So to have us be on the NME cover and have Morrissey and Duran Duran talking about us in interviews, he's just in shock. I love it."