It isn't easy being the Killers.
They have more enemies than Tony Soprano and their girlfriends cheat
WHEN IN EUROPE, Killers singer Brandon Flowers changes his brand of
cigarettes. Stateside he goes with Marlboro Lights, but since
landing in Paris he prefers the more art-house smoke of something
called Davidoff Gold.
There's a languid, eyes-shut puffing that befits the new brand as he
explains this in a Paris restaurant. And there are other hints of
Europhilia, too. He has started saying "tomato" in an English
accent. And then there's this as dessert arrives: "You know what I
love right now?" he asks. And then he sings, "Dry your eyes, mate."
Flowers does a perfect, "My old man's a dustman but I've also spend
some time in the Midlands" Mike Skinner impersonation.
Las Vegas' the Killers have come to Paris to launch their album Hot
Fuss, which has already sold 250,000 in the UK as well as 500,000 in
their homeland. Because Las Vegas is a monument to global town
planning envy, the Killers have grown up around gigantic simulations
of Europe's architectural wonders. It's just that the ones in Vegas
are filled with fruit machines and roulette tables. Seeing the real
thing blows their minds.
"We've got a Rome and a Paris and even an England in Vegas,"
explains Flowers, who used to wait tables in a replica Venice with
gondolas sailing past.
"The real buildings are really dark and sombre...they have real
history," adds drummer Ronnie Vannucci. "In Vegas, all the people in
the pyramids are drinking frozen margaritas."
THE KILLERS ARE an unlikely but enticing prospect, verging on the
enormous impact that a band with the soul of Morrissey and the
wardrobe of Duran Duran might rightly expect. Formed in Vegas barely
two years ago, their sound was catalysed by Flowers's and guitarist
Dave Keuning's love of classic British pop, from T. Rex and David
Bowie to the Smiths and New Order. As the Strokes and the White
Stripes held sway, the Killers were initially turned down in the US
by Warner Brothers, but then signed by UK indie Lizard King. Their
second-ever show outside Las Vegas was at the Dublin Castle in
London in September 2003. Like the Scissor Sisters before them, they
have made it over here before attracting the attention of audiences
Their success is all the more strange given that, after several
years away, Brandon Flowers returned to Las Vegas, aged 16, set to
become a professional golfer. He had no ambitions in music until he
met a caddy at the golf club who liked the Smiths and they formed a
synth band Blush Response.
The band moved to Los Angeles and Flowers didn't want to go. What's
more, after seeing Oasis perform in Las Vegas, Flowers decided
guitars would give his musical ideas more muscle. Dave Keuning had
moved from Pella, Iowa, to avoid being drafted into his dad's
central heating and plumbing business and met Flowers through a
"He was wearing Hush Puppies, I remember," says Keuning with a wry
smile. "He said Oasis wore them."
Back then, Flowers was emotionally in a bad way. He had recently
called at his girlfriend's apartment to pick up a tie for work. He
noticed that her car was touching bumpers with another car, a common
romantic game in Las Vegas, he says. "I knew she was screwing
A few nights later he went to an English pub in Vegas and saw her
with the guy.
"I guess I should have done something but I'm not a violent person.
But it really affected me. I would physically throw up... jealousy
is a terrible, terrible experience."
At his first rehearsal with Keuning they wrote Mr Brightside, an
intense, roily, graphic tale of sexual jealousy and their debut UK
hit. "I wouldn't be here if we hadn't written Mr Brightside. I have
no regrets. And they've split up now, so I hear. She knows she
The Killers thrive on adversity and there is none quite like trying
ot get served in a Parisian restaurant.
Ronnie Vannucci, the college-educated percussionist and former Las
Vegas wedding photographer, makes friends easily with his big
amiability. Gigantic bassist Mark Stoermer doesn't drink. Or talk.
The only job he's ever had apart from this was part-time, delivering
blood and urine samples to hospitals. He has a droopy, messianic
face, like Jesus shortly after hearing what crucifixion is all
Dave Keuning is "the pissy one", according to Vannucci. Essentially
the result of an ill-advised genetic experiment involving DNA from
Jim Morrison and former Stereophonics drummer Stuart Cable, he is by
turns chirpy and avuncular, but then in the manner of someone
gulping a test tube of smoking potion, he can turn snarky and
unpredictable and get very angry about little things. His attempts
to secure a bottle of Coca-Cola made of glass rather than plastic
quickly develops into an implacable enmity between two nations.
At 23, Flowers is five years younger than the rest. Girlishly
pretty, he checks his look in spoons and mirrors a lot. He's
charming but wary, carefully listening to his own quotes and
imagining them in print.
"I grew up thinking that people were watching me," he says. "I know
that makes me weird but it's who I am. I like people watching me."
It is not just Frenchmen bearing hot plates who hate the Killers.
Since their heady ascent, other bands have tried to beat them up.
Canadian hipsters the Stills, for example, seem to have taken an
immdiate dislike to them, refusing to make friends backstage, and,
according to Vannucci, "being assholes."
"Bands want to pick fights with us," says Flowers. We're not New
York cool, we are proud to have a pop element to us."
Flowers thinks the Killers are the best band in the world apart from
U2. And they have supporters, too, mostly legendary. Elton John,
also in Paris this week, has invited them on to a French TV show,
where he will pronounce them his favorite new band. Morrissey has
had them support him on several dates now, though they sniff that he
has not yet deigned to say hello.
"But he did mention us onstage, which he never usually does," says
Flowers beaming. "We cling to that nugget."
HOURS LATER, IN A Paris creperie, something incredibly gay is going
on. Ronnie Vannucci has shown an image on his mobile phone to a
waiter, who has baulked with a "Zut!" and an "Alors!" and swayed
back into the kitchen with a tower of plates tottering on his arm.
The waiter is all too ready to share his experiences. Vannucci has
just flashed him a picture of himself in the shower showing his
cock. Vannucci says he doesn't know why he did it.
Meanwhile Flowers puffs on a Davidoff with queenly daintiness and
relates how his father once caught him dancing in his bedroom to
Erasure. "He just said, Ya like that kinda music huh, son? and
walked out," he says, face falling into his hands.
Flowers knows that he can seem if not a fully fledged friend of
Dorothy, then someone on cheeky pouting and winking terms. Take the
chorus that goes, "Somebody told me/You had a boyfriend/Who looks
like a girlfriend/That I had in February of last year."
"I'm not gay. I can't even be bothered to start some kind of
intrigue about it," he says. "Bowie could nurture that sort of
mystique, but this is an age where everyone knows everything about
you in 10 seconds."
Considering their Las Vegas origins, the Killers are not big
drinkers or gamblers or devotees of sin. But they are interested in
the dark stuff, as evidenced by a macabre new track they have jammed
in Paris entitled Uncle Johnny Did Cocaine.
When Flowers was 15, his Uncle Johnny became convinced that aliens
were coming through his TV trying to steal his sperm. Eventually he
decided the only way to protect his reproductive juices was by
shooting himself in the testicles. He missed, but was rushed to
hospital with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. Flowers is very happy
with the opening line he has just written: "While everybody else
refrained/My Uncle Johnny did cocaine."
The next night, the band face the French media at a special showcase
gig at Le Reservoir, a tiny club near La Bastille. It's a gorgeously
decorated place but, it must be said, a bit like the Killers. The
walls are distressed and old and painted with what look like ancient
frescoes and murals. But can it be the real thing when the ceiling
is no-frills brown plasterboard?
"It's just too easy for people to think, Oh, they're from Vegas so
they must be shallow and fake," Flowers has said earlier in the day.
"But I would say the opposite. We formed a band and did things in
the face of everything around us. There was no one like us in Vegas
or even in America. We gambled and that's the only thing that comes
from our hometown."