Shooting from the hip
The Independent
June 25, 2004
Alexia Loundras

"We are a great rock band - it's as simple as that," says The Killers' exotically named front man, Brandon Flowers. "We're as good as The Strokes, Kings of Leon and The White Stripes." A smile plays on his lips. Sitting next to him, the bass player Mark Stoermer, looking deadly serious, nods in agreement. Not since Oasis first swaggered out of Manchester have a new band oozed quite so much blind self-assurance. There is no doubt that when they say they intend to become as big as U2, they wholeheartedly believe they will. Being young, good-looking and undeniably talented, the Las Vegas four- piece feel they have no need for false modesty. Their debut single, the infectious "Somebody Told Me", peaked with Flowers boasting: "I've got potential, rushing and rushing around." Brash, definitely. But the key fact here is that they're not the only ones who believe it.

The Killers' debut album, knowingly titled Hot Fuss, is a pop gem. Sharper than a Mod's suit, yet brimming with ocean-sized hooks, it's cool enough to seduce the fashionable media taste-makers and also instant enough to snare the wider record-buying public. The band's second single, the irrepressible "Mr Brightside", was a top 10 smash, and in the past few weeks The Killers have appeared on TV shows ranging from Top of the Pops to Newsnight Review.

Tonight, the band are still hours away from their gig at the Rescue Rooms, in Nottingham, but a swarm of excitable teenage fans have already arrived and are loitering outside the band's gold- painted mini-van, hoping to sneak a peek at Flowers and Stoermer inside.

Fittingly for a band with such a swagger in their step, it was because of Oasis that The Killers formed. Inspired by seeing the Britpoppers' gigs two and a half years ago, the synth-player Flowers decided he quite fancied being in a band with guitars. Scouring the local music press, he happened on the guitarist Dave Keuning's classified ad seeking like- minded musicians, which cited the Gallaghers' band. Such ads were commonplace in Britain, but "in Las Vegas," Flowers says, "that stands out." Indeed, according to Stoermer's story, the fact that Keuning, an Iowa native, was even in Vegas to place the ad was down to another history-sealing twist of fate: passing through Las Vegas on his way back to Iowa after an abandoned move to California, Keuning apparently "stepped off the bus at Vegas and forgot to get back on", Stoermer says.

Flowers and Keuning bonded as outcasts in a Vegas music scene inhabited mainly by what Flowers describes as "chubby guys wearing baggy pants, goatees and tattoos, listening to Slipknot". Determined not be to be smothered by the city's vapid music scene, they sought to recruit fellow outsiders to their cause. Dry, softly spoken and 6ft 5in, Stoermer was first on board. The Scandinavian-looking bass- player didn't need much persuading: having come across one of Keuning and Flowers' early demos, he was a fan already. The drummer, Ronnie Vannucci, was last to enlist. A student of classical percussion, Vannucci was, Stoermer remembers, "the best drummer in Las Vegas. When I heard he was going to be in the band, I knew it was going to be really good."

Line-up complete the band, with characteristic confidence, decided to call themselves The Killers - after a fictional portrayal of the ultimate band depicted in a New Order video, and not, they insist, because they'd ever killed anyone. Well, Flowers admits that, aged nine, he shot a small bird with an air rifle (which he regrets to this day). And after a moment's thought, he adds: "I did hit a man with a car once. It was dark and he was drunk and he walked in front of me. He broke my windshield, and even when the ambulance came, he didn't get up." Clocking my shocked look, Flowers is quick to reassure: "Don't worry. I'm sure he's alive and well."

The Killers then moved on to developing their sound. The fact that their name came from a New Order video offers a clue to their direction. "Peter Hook's the man!" Flowers says. "With his jeans, leather jacket and hairy chest, he's a burly man in a tank top, yet he plays these beautiful bass lines." Flowers' older brother's Smiths videos were another key influence. "I liked the way Morrissey was, on stage," he says. "The way he performed and owned the audience - the way people wanted to touch him. That led me into his music."

Such references explain how the The Killers came to be modern purveyors of a classic British sound. And while they may share these influences with bands like Radio 4 and Stellastarr*, those bands tend to come from New York, where they are nurtured by a hip, educated scene; The Killers had to flourish on their own. "I don't think great bands come out of great music scenes," says Flowers firmly. "I don't need some local person to inspire me." Stoermer agrees: "Being outside a music scene helped us," he says. "Bands in New York and LA are inspired by each other but they are limited, too, because they have to fit into that scene."

The legacy of Flowers' musical idols is obvious but, like Franz Ferdinand, The Killers fuse their influences to create something very much their own. And despite an undeniably cool edge, they are also irresistibly poptastic. "Yeah," says Flowers. "We're a real band with a great talent for writing catchy songs."

Flowers' lyrics are graphic page-turners, cinematic epics, compared with the average chart-buster's aural greeting card. Spinning thrilling yarns of murder, obsession and jealousy, Flowers' lyrics tend to focus on the darker side of existence. "That's how life is," Flowers shrugs. He writes about what he knows best: his own compulsive thoughts. "Mr Brightside" is the story of a man driven mad by the conviction that his girlfriend is cheating on him ("I can make myself miserable in minutes with what my mind can conjure up," Flowers says). "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" tells of the murder of someone's girlfriend. Flowers is never short of source material, plundering the colourful lives of the band's Vegas friends and acquaintances. We meet real-life characters such as Andy, a high- school athlete shadowed by an ominous stalker, and Michael, a poker- player who takes home six-figure sums.

Not that this bunch are the types to dwell on unhappy events. Right now they're putting most of their energy into enjoying their burgeoning rock-star status. "Every time we come back to the UK, we seem to get bigger," Stoermer says. "It's almost too easy." Too easy? Do they fear they may fall from their current position of grace?

Flowers is tickled by the suggestion. "We're not going to crash," he laughs. "We write great songs and we're not going to stop."

Despite Flowers' charming bravado, his ego is not unshakable. There is one man capable of humbling him: Morrissey. Flowers' musical hero is a Killers fan ("He's bought our single - that's nuts!" he gasps) and invited the young band to support him in LA. "Morrissey really was unbelievable," Flowers says. "Everybody did want to touch him. If our fans felt that way about us, that would be awesome." So, when Morrissey turned up to watch The Killers' sound-check, it was all a bit much for Flowers. "Apparently he was tapping his foot," he swoons.

Flowers spots a group of girls he recognises and regains his composure. "Hey, look, it's our favourite fans," he says, affectionately. "We're the next Duran Duran because of them." Is he serious? Are they really on a journey to stadiums and yachts, platinum discs and beautiful women? The glint in his eyes says they are. "If you don't believe it, it won't happen." A true Las Vegas gambler's mantra if there ever was one. Don't bet against them.