Keyboard Magazine October 2005
As Brandon Flowers and the killers race up the charts and criss cross the globe,it's clear that not everything that happens in Las Vegas stays there.
Brandon Flowers is back in the irving plaza dressing room where it all started the rhinestones that is.Months ago,Brandon,front man and keyboardist of the killers,began studding his keyboard stand with a sparkiling layer of fake jewels."i heard David Bowie was coming to the show,"he says bedecked in a velvet jacket,tie and signature eyeshadow and lip gloss."i had thought about doing it before and it was time.I had somebody run out and buy all the rhinestone they could find,it was upping the ante a little bit."
Of coure,brandon doesnt really need rhinestones to up the ante.Its only been three years since he formed the band-his previous group left him behind in Las Vegas for the glamour of LA-and the killers have already won three grammy nominations and taken their self produced albim multi platinum.Theyve appeared on saturday night live,late night with david letterman,and conan o brien,appeared on the oc,reached no.1 in the UK charts,sold out headline tour dated,opened for U2,and even provided the soundtrack to microsofts MTV launch of the XBOX2 game system.then theres the stuff their publicist likely wont tell you-like the fact that their tune "somebody told me"has a hit following among fans of gender bending anime (and with lyrics like "somebody told me/you had a boyfriend/that looked like a girlfriend/i had in February of last year,"how couldnt it?) Yet none of this helped Brandon prepare for meeting David Bowie and his producer Tony Visconti."i just felt awestruck,"brandon admits "i didnt say anything-i just kind of stared at him,and he left right away.bit i hope he appreciated the rhinestones."
Brandon has done what so many keyboardists dream of Escape the back of the stage,it almost didnt happen."We played our first gig,guitarist,Dave keuning played acoustic,and i sang.after that,i decided i didnt want to sing,so i was going to just play keyboard.then we never found a singer,and we actually wrote some songs that were good.i thought,i dont want anyone else singing there songs,i want to sing them. The Killers were lucky to keep brandon as a front man rather than find a singer.his talent for energizing an audience ahs made the killers wildly successful as a dance rock act-that is people actually dance to their music.The fans at irving plaza were utterly transfixed by brandon's slightly detached,yet earnest stage presence.he jumps up and down enthusiastically:they do the same.maybe they see themselves."we've always played for fans that were kind of like us,"brandon says of his ever supportive audences.and those audiences certainly get an enthusiatic show."people want to be entertained,and i want to entertain them,"he says. "its all bout your body language.whenever i can,i get away from the keyboard,take the mic out,and just be the front man."The Killers didnt emerge from the womb opening for U2,of course.the band regearsed in drummer Ronnie Vannucci's Las Vegas garage,heading there immediatly after their day jobs,and they plan to head straight back there once the tour is done.with the average july daytime temperature in Las Vegas at 104 degrees,being a garage band there takes an extra measure of drive and dedication.it was good practice.says brandon."it gets hot onstage sometimes."
Listen to their debut album Hot Fuss,and you'll hear more than a couple of pop hits every track sounds like a single.the bands sharp writing was born in that scorching hot garage,with each of the four band members acting as songwriters."i think thats a good thing ,"brandon says "band usually run out of material when they have one songwriter."Brandon wrote his first songs in his late teens.he had quit piano lessons at age 12 and never studied formally after that,so he taught himself,driven by passion for bands like depeche mode "i would dissect the songs.with just one finger,you can figure out the chord changes.I diidnt know what a chord change was when we first started,"he admits.
To Brandon's ears a lot of his own early songs sounded like Depeche Mode."They were very pop bubble gum almost,"he says "happy stuff."the self training has paid off,though,with Brandon currently so authoring hit songs like "mr brightside" we just have a knack for writing pop songs.i guess"he says,"we're good listeners,and know what to listen for."beginning bands,he warns,often don't listen closely enough to what makes good songs work."there are hooks,he says "no matter how hard (songs)rock,they need pop hooks,even in Black Sabbath."finding good hooks is easier said than done but each cut off
Murder He wrote,
The Killers music may be carefully crafted rock with pop hooks,but it's far from the bubble gum Brandon started out writing.In keeping with their name,the band's lyrics are a tad on the dark side.In fact,the killers are planning a 25 minute movie based on a murder trilogy (James Spader is reportedly under consideration as the vilian).You can listen to "jenny was a freind of mine"and Midnight show" for their current songs on that topic,but here's the basic storyline,Boy meets girl,boy gets jelous boy kills girl.
Why the bloodshed? Brandon says he needed to escape the songwriting cliche that afflicted his early work."If you listen to the radio,every song is about a girl,"he says."you have an open book when your writhing you can write about anything,but for some reason everyone chooses to write about the same thing.
"We still have songs about girls,"Brandon continues."But i would say,let's write a song about murdering a girl if youre just writing about how you love suzy you write about how you love suzy but when i'm writing about killing jenny,i get to see it in my head.It opened up a whole world of stoytelling for me."
Social merits of such lyrical content aside,its fiction,and creatively useful fiction,at that.Brandon says having a storyline is more significant than the murderous tale it tells."now whenever we write a song,whether it's dark or not,it makes me want to have a story,"he says."That came out to be a real blessing for us.i like jim Croce,and he told stories.I think that's missing in a lot of music these days.so hopefully we can bring back the story." "I don't know if we can kill anymore,though" muses Brandon of the lyrical content for the group's next album,slated to begin production some time in the next few months,just turning 24,Brandon is philosophical about the future."I want to grow up with it,"he says."I want to change-I love what David Bowie did.He'd write Hunky Dory and follow it up with Ziggy Stardust.He was able to change,and keep growing I want to keep progressing.
Many have described the killers sound as "throwback,"and there are certainly retro influences involved,many of them british flavored.Brandon doesnt disguise what he loves,music likte the smiths,Depech mode,Bowie the cars.There's a certain youthful optimism behind the killers dark lyrics.though,and youll hear as many comparisons to a new generation of american bands as to those heralding from old blighty.so is the next trend in rock and roll reverse british invasion?this time,are the americans coming?
"We can whomp anyone who's in england right now,says Brandon of american music.He points to bands like the Strokes,the white stripes,interpol,and yes of course this band called the killers,"its great,"he says."The english have always dominated with pop songs.I hope theres more coming from america" American rock patriotism aside, "i love the kaiser chiefs,"he hastens to add."have you heard them?" Brandon may feign trash talking england,but really,the band remains humble. Maybe thats why they turned down headline billing at Glastonbury they played,but left the top marqee to others-the band had agreed they werent ready yet,in terms of exposure.they do sometimes feel the weight of history,says Brandon "theres 50 years of rock n roll and all these great songs out there.When you take a picture of us,its not going to look like the pictures of the stones because it doesnt have that grittiness,that nostalgia"maybe in 40 years he says this generation will look and sound different to listerners.
In the meantime,the killers are opening for U2 and having a ball.touring can be tough,says brandon,but theres always something to reenergize him "its not for everybody,"Brandon warns "i like the aspect of selling records and making money but i also like-and maybe its just in my own head,i don't know-that were touching people.what if some of the bands i like didnt tour as much and i didnt get to hear the songs that helped me become who i am?
Then theres the killers not so secret weapon,the song that pulls together every gig,"All these things that ive done"it's always the last song in their set,and its an anthem to their fans,who chant "ive got soul but im not a soldier" and istantly smile."we can have the worst show imaginable,and then play that,"says brandon "its amazing it's like there are angels singing with us.it lifts everybody up." It wouldnt be a tour without the occasional down to go with the up literally.There are the small falls:Brandon in his enthusiasm has occasiionally fallen onstage ("I pick myself back up,"he says with determinatiion.) Then there was the earthquake during recording,and the really big fall when their private jet encounterd a particularly nasty downdraft.In a scene reminiscent of the movie Almost famous,the jet plunged through the sky.causing them to fear for their lives.we caught brandon just before the bands european tour,so they were going to be airborne again,but this will be the last time Brandon promisies. "I dont like to fly,"he says."were not going to fly any more.iv'e only got to fly a few more times."the next "tour bus"for the bands international travels is already picked out,and it's a boat the queen mary 3 sorry Australia:you may have to settle for a CD.
Anatomy of a murder:Brandon's keyboards and sounds,onstage and track by track
Brandon Flowers is never without his increasingly rhinestone-encrusted korg microkorg and Nord Lead Keyboards.He's especially enamored of the analog style Microkorg "It sounds huge.The sounds on the album,a few of them are just direct.on most of the Nord stuff i added distortion,but the Microkorgs awesome."Here's a track by track breakdown of the sounds Brandon used on Hot Fuss,and how you can make them too.
"Jenny was a friend of mine"opens with a barrage of assorted analog noise including flanged noise radio static,a classic white noise helicopter (made by assigning a triangl wave LFO to the filter cutoff frequency),and some pitch-bent,polyphonic portamento madness.During the verses and the istrumental break,we hear a synth melody that makes use of a detuned dual-oscilator sawtooth patch,reminiscent of the cars "moving in stereo".
"Mr Brightside" lays low on the synth until the pre-chorus when a poppy analog sound enters playing an eithth-note counterbass: its mix of sawtooth and pulse waves allows it to poke above the mix nicely.this sound uses a quick envelope and could be made using any modem virtual analog such as the nord Lead or Aleisis Ion.At 1:24 we have analog synth solo in the classic Roland jupiter synth vein:Here Brandon makes use of unison detuned sawtooth oscillators stacked in octaves.This sound pops back in at the songs outro.
"Smile Like you mean it" brings on the vintage synths in the intro,firts with warm,prophet 5 like dual oscillator sawtooth string in the left channel,and them in the right with a delayed and distorted synth lead that leans heavy on the glide.During the bridge section (around 2:18),those sneaky Vegas guys throw us some vocoder processed vocal.The chords of the vocoder vox are intentionally sone what atonal to add to the bridge's menacing quality.
"Somebody told me" is their blockbuster hit,and the intro busts out with dark techno bass filter sweeps in the left channel and phaser-heave octave glides in the right channel.These sound a lot like the access virus sounds featured so prominently in the work of technos genius BT.Try setting your oscillators to sawtooth waves,stack em in unison detuned mode,and go heavy on the glide and effects (especially the phaser) and you'll be there.
The Killers go retro in "All these things that iv'e done" a vaguely T-Rex-ian throwback,A lonesome reverbed piano opens this track,while one note of wispy analog synth fades in beneath.it make use of the "ringing oscillator"sound you get by crankin the filters resonance high enough so that it makes sound.Feed some white noise in as well to recreate this wispy tonality.We then have a good old Hammond B-3 heavy on the slow Leslie effect.At 0:37 there's an equally majestic Roland Jupiter-type pad.
With "Andy you're a star,"we have the returm of the warm Jupiter pad playing some smooth chords to accompany the muscular guitar riffing.We also hear some fat synth bass.This bass sound makes use of a couple of oscillators set to square waves,with a bit of hipass EQ,since the lows get real big real quick.There's some cool fast opening filter action to give this part some spit.
"On Top" really heaps on the old-school 80s synths with a dual sawtooth sound run through a heavy delay for a full "send me an angel" effect (by real life,not the scorpions!).The oscillators are really tightly tuned:they're just a tiny bit off from each other so they almost sound synced.you can hear a little distortion too,reminiscent of a moog filter,or maybe a pushed mic pre-either way this is a pleasing effect.In the chorus we hear a sawtooth lead synth with some glide and a bit of reverb for color.After the bridge at 3:02,a subtle synth solo makes use of a Roland jupiter like mellow string tone. And at the stop at 3:33,we hear a mad oscillator sync sound,created by turning on "hard sync"and going nuts with pitch.
In the mid tempo rocker "change your mind,"there's a nifty lead synth that sounds like a sawtooth/square wave hybrid run through a bit of tube distortion for color.at 1:36 we hear a unique gliss that sound like a heavily processed piano played with a downward smear.Tricky!Immediatly after this we're treated to some classic 80s polysynth strings sounding just like well,heaven,for the full cure effect.
"Believe me Natalie" opens with high strings that soar ove the whole track.These are joined by some decidedly modern chordal synth tones featuring pulsating,panning filter motion.Afterward the analog strings take over briefly,giving us more slowly evolving chordal melodies.The chorus delivers more vintage 80s analog string melodies.In the bridge we hear some processed piano outlining the section's chords.This pretty track closes with the elaborate,modulating patch from the intro.
"Midnight Show" opens with a cool,swept highpass filtered synth tone using a sawtooth wave oscillators,and a filter in highpass mode with cranked up resonance.Toward the end we hear analog string melodies layered in octaves along with what sounds like real string samples of cellos at the very end.
"Everything will be alright" is a hauntingly beautiful track,evoking early Roxy music/Brian Eno and that's not a bad thing at all.The main left channel melody tricks you into thinking it's a keyboard.but in reality it's a guitar played with an E bow,a cool little magnetic string vibrating doodad (ask your guitartist they'll know) in the right channel we have a vaguely organ like synth with a digital wave rolling and in out,reminiscent of a korg wavestation or native instruments absynth.the whole track floats over a thick mellow saw pad with the filter cutoff closed down real low.and at 2:13,a plinky square wave synth enters playing pretty melodies
The making of a Killer Brandon Flowers most influential artists
A variety of tracks have influenced Brandon's music development-some you might guess,but some might surprise you.The song that jumped out at me and make me feel tough and cool was just what i needed by the cars.this was my anthem from the time i was 12.i think that's what rock and roll does for kids.the smiths,panic from louder than bombs was my first smiths buy as a kid.other huge influences were depeche mode,the commodores,and otis redding-my father had otis redding and othe classics on regular rotation.more recently,i've gotten into oasis-their guitar infused sound really influenced us.Bruce springsteens thunder road,i love that song so much,i guess i got all the pop when i was young.later,i was able to get Bowie and U2 and some of the weird beattles stuff,probably more than i would have when i was 15."