The National Post

 July 19, 2004
By: Adam Radwanski

Next Up: The Killers

Waiting to take the stage at Toronto's Mod Club, Brandon Flowers is visibly exhausted. "I got up at four this morning, so I'm tired," he acknowledges. "But tomorrow, I'm playing with Morrissey."

This is a bigger deal for Flowers than it would be for most 22-year-olds. Spending his formative years in small-town Utah at a time when anything with a synthesizer sounded a decade out of date, he was the kid listening to the Smiths, New Order and Duran Duran. Now he finds himself front-and-centre in an '80s art-rock revival.

The Killers haven't quite reached the Franz Ferdinand level of retro hotness, but they're getting close. British audiences have lapped up their debut album, Hot Fuss, with the Las Vegas foursome receiving a heroes’ welcome at this summer’s Glastonbury and T in the Park festivals. Now, they're starting to win over audiences on this side of the Atlantic -- and their soft-spoken frontman isn't shy about how they're doing it.

Others would cringe at any mention of the p-word; Flowers embraces it. "We're definitely not afraid of pop -- I love pop music," he says. "I understand a lot of the indie thing, but you ask me what my favourite bands are, and I'd say the Beatles and U2 and bands that were not indie bands. They sold records and wanted people to hear their music, and that's what we want. So I'd say we're a rock band that has pop sensibilities."

No argument there. In the same way as the Strokes, Interpol and Franz Ferdinand, the Killers are winning over critics and pasty-faced mods by plundering the best of a past era and putting their own spin on it. But they've also mastered the art of ear candy, luring mainstream radio audiences with sing-along anthems that belie Hot Fuss's dark tales of murders, stalkings and jealous fantasies.

If others question their artistic integrity, Flowers offers that they're part of a broader movement saving their genre. "I mean, it was hurting," he says. "What people considered rock 'n' roll - it just wasn't real. You'd see these guys in their videos and photo shoots ... They'd have on brand new clothes, and their hair just got perfectly highlighted ... We're getting away from that. We all dress ourselves and write our songs.

”And the songs are better. They're more classic. Even it sounds more '80s, there's great chord changes and great structures and that's what was missing."

Tonight's sold-out crowd appears to agree. The band is a little stiff, its 50-minute set surprisingly brief, but polished musicianship and Flowers' earnest charisma carry it through. By the time they close with the astonishing All These Things That I've Done, which barely suffers from the absence of the gospel choir that accompanies its studio version, the Killers have the assembled twentysomethings eating from the palms of their hands. They may not know much about Morrissey, but they're learning fast about his disciples.

AR: So Salt Lake City last night was the first stop on your North American tour…how did it go?
BF: It was cool. We hadn’t sold many tickets going into it and there were a lot of walk-ins, so that was good. We were kinda scared going into it, but it ended up being really nice.

AR: It’s gotta be tougher slogging here than in the U.K.. You got a huge amount of buzz over there…I guess you’re still kind of working to get it here?
BF: No, I mean, our record’s out, and it’s selling…very well, surprisingly. I mean, we were confident in it, but in America it’s tough. We’re really happy with how things are going.

AR: It did pick up more quickly in Britain, though, didn’t it?
BF: Well, we started over there. They got our record out over their first.

AR: It is easier to break in over there, though, isn’t it? Have you found the audiences different?
BF: I’ve been trying to figure out the answer to why it happens the way it does. And I think it’s because they want the new thing now. In America, we do want new things, but the way our radio system is, a song will be played on the radio for six months. And there, your singles are like every two months. And then on to the next one, and on to the next one after that. They just want to keep adding. So we’d released a second single there when Somebody Told Me had just come out in America. So it’s going to be going (in the U.S.) for a while, and we’re already onto our third one over there now.

AR: So you were playing a couple of the festivals over there…how was that?
BF: It was really good.

AR: Different?
BF: It was different. I mean, they get really excited about the festivals. And it was the biggest crowd we’ve every played to, so we’re gonna remember it forever.

AR: I keep reading this thing about how you saw an Oasis show and it helped get your inspired to get the band going. Now you were playing the same festival as them…did you get a chance to talk?
BR: No. I’d love to meet Noel (Gallagher), I really would. But they played the night we got into town, so I got to watch it on TV. And then, I don’t know if they’ll even be back there – somebody quoted Liam saying how much he hates Glastonbury, so everybody’s mad at him.

AR: If you had put out the album you put out now five years ago, I can’t imagine that there would have been that much of a market for it. There seems to be a movement toward the kind of music we heard in the ‘80s…
BF: Yeah, things are definitely changing. Even if I wasn’t in a band, and I wasn’t part of it, I would be happy about the trend. I mean, it was hurting. Hip-hop dominates, and it still will, and I don’t think it ever will stop, really. But as for the rock…what people considered rock ‘n’ roll - it just wasn’t real. You’d see these guys in their videos and their photo shoots, and it was just obvious. They’d have on brand new clothes, and their hair just got perfectly highlighted. …the record labels would kick people out of bands if they didn’t look right…people were on diets…we’re getting away from that. I mean, I think that’s still gonna exist, but a lot of bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Strokes and the White Stripes and us and Franz Ferdinand – we’re all real, you know what I mean? We all dress ourselves and write our songs.

So that’s one good part of this new change, and another thing is the songs are better. More classic songs…even it sounds more ’80s, there’s great chord changes and great structures, and that’s what was missing.

One thing that was just weird was that, if you look at the way songs were with Creed and things like that, what all kinda started it - which ended up not being anything like it at all - was Creep from Radiohead. You had this verse, and then the distortion kicks in, then the chorus, and that just fueled something, and it led all the way up…and I mean, you hear it in Creed. I mean, every single song. Matchbox 20, all those bands…I really think that had something to do with it. But it just ended up being contrived…I like the new stuff.

AR: I’m curious what you were listening to growing up in the ’90s…
BF: I just listened to a lot of English music. I love the Cars, and the Doors, and things like that, too. Definitely Morrissey and David Bowie, even Duran Duran and New Order…

AR: Now you’re playing with Morrissey tomorrow night…is that intimidating?
BF: It’s unreal! I can’t believe it. I mean, I grew up in a town – I’m from Las Vegas, but I lived in Utah for a long time as well. If you asked me where I was from, I’d say Utah – I was there from when I was about 8 to 16. I mean, I lived in a town with 2,000 people. It’s just weird - having posters of Morrissey on my wall living in a small town, and getting this far, and having him actually acknowledge us and say “I want you to play with us”…it’s just unreal.

AR: Your music doesn’t exactly sound like what you would expect coming out of Vegas, whatever that might be. But the lyrics on most songs seem more observational than personal…were they inspired by your environment?
BF: Yeah, some of it. I definitely am a people-watcher. I like both aspects of songs. I like the personal song, and I like whatever you want to call it - call it “fake” or whatever. That’s half the fun – that you can write about absolutely anything you want. So I do enjoy writing about things that I watch, or just things that I make up. There are a couple of songs that are personal songs…I think it makes for a good mix.

AR: I thought the lyrics in Mr. Brightside are particularly sharp. Is that one of the personal ones?
BF: Mr. Brightside is a true story, man. It’s just a song about how dark and deep imagination can take you.

AR: You guys went pretty all out for a debut album - I mean, you’ve got a choir on there. Where do you go from here? Do you make the same kind of album, a different kind of album…?
BF: I think we’re going to go a little bit less…it’s going to be a little more minimal I think on the next record – a little bit more simple. I still love choirs – I would love to have that on every record. But I don’t think that’s going to be a ‘Killers thing,’ you know what I mean. But we’re definitely going to grow. Already, we are.

AR: There seems to be some debate in reviews about whether this is a pop album, a rock album, a new wave album. I know nobody likes labels, but how would you describe it?
BF: Um…It’s not an indie album. We have a lot of the same mentalities as indie people, I understand a lot of the indie thing, but I mean…you ask me what my favourite bands are, and I’d say the Beatles and U2 and these bands that…they’re not indie bands. They sold records and they wanted people to hear their music. And that’s what we want. We want to make songs like that. I want people to wake up…it’s like when you’re young, and you just know songs – I want to have songs like that. And indie bands aren’t going to have those kinds of songs - they’re just not.

It’s a special thing, and I’m not saying we’re going to accomplish it, but that’s what we’re trying to do. So I’d say we’re a rock band that has pop sensibilities. We’re definitely not afraid of pop – I love pop music. I mean, that’s what I’d say the Beatles were. Even at their most experimental, they were a pop band.

AR: Do you think you’ll keep working out of Vegas, or go somewhere else after this?
BF: I love Las Vegas. I go to other cities and I just want to go home even more. ’Cause you have the city aspect of it, but it’s really wide open. You see the sky, and you can park your car and go places – it’s great. I love it. I love the desert, the mountains…

AR: Up here, we know it more as a place where you go out and have a good time. Do you like that side of it as well?
BF: Yeah, sometimes. I’m not a big partier, though. But I still enjoy going shopping…buying CDs at Virgin in the Forum shops at Caesar’s – I love going there. And it’s beautiful at night – it’s such a pretty city at night.

AR: You say you’re not a big partier…are you taking it easy on the road, or are you guys living it up a bit?
BF: None of us are really…no good stories from us. We’re all pretty sober guys.

AR: You’re going all over the place on this tour. Had you traveled a lot before it?
BF: No, never. I mean, I’d been to Canada, and I’ve been to Hawaii. I’d never been to England. We just went our first time to continental Europe.

AR: Are you finding it a grind?
BF: It slips and slides…it goes up and down. I mean, I got up at four this morning, so I’m tired. But tomorrow I’m playing with Morrissey. So, I mean, it’s just like that.