Rumors were circulating this year that Killers bandleader Brandon Flowers was considering uprooting his family—his wife Tana and three young sons—from their longtime home in bustling Las Vegas and moving to the more tranquil environs of Park City, Utah. Flowers and The Killers have so long been associated with Sin City, it seemed almost impossible that he’d leave. But…
“We did it!” Flowers, who is 36, said recently in an interview with Paste from his new home, not far from where he was raised in a Mormon household. “I’m here in Utah now, and I’m looking out my window at real trees, no sidewalks.”
It wasn’t easy for him to pull up stakes and leave, especially after The Killers’ take on the traditional “Don’t Fence Me In” was used as the soundtrack to Nevada’s latest tourism campaign. And his heart broke for his home cityin the aftermath of the Oct. 1 shooting that left 58 concertgoers dead outside the Mandalay Bay Hotel. I’m devastated for my community and for all of the people who gather together to see live music,” he said at the time. “I miss my town, I miss my mom, I miss these victims I didn’t even know, but I look forward to getting together with you real soon to keep their memory alive.”
But change is in the wind. The band is currently touring without cornerstone members Dave Keuning (guitar) and Mark Stoermer (bass), who helped record the new Wonderful Wonderful album, but chose to let Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci soldier on without them for the time being. “So it’s just the two of us with extra musicians, and we’ve got three backup singers now, which was a necessity because of the new songs,” Flowers says. “So we’re just rolling with what we’ve got.”
“I’ve had such an onstage life, but this has made me even more on the lookout for those simple exchanges that you have with people; I’m much more aware of what people could be going through, because you really don’t know what the people that you’re passing on the street are going through. I think we could all learn from that.”
While Wonderful Wonderful boasts signature new-wave-effervescent rockers like “Run For Cover,” “Tyson vs Douglas,” and a Kool-and-the-Gang-sampling “The Man,” the crux of it, from “Rut” to “Out of My Mind” and “Some Kind of Love,” is dark and pensive, and features the vocalist’s most introspective, diary-honest lyrics to date—some of which concern his spouse and her being diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Flowers shut down the entire tour backing his inventive 2015 solo effort The Desired Effect to fly home and help her deal with the debilitating condition, after which he himself fell prey to writer’s block, even though he was sitting every day at the majestic grand piano given to him by his friend and longtime supporter Elton John. The only way out was deeper in, he found. Once he started detailing his family experiences in song, The Killers got back on track. He explained his radical new process to Paste.
Paste: One young artist I was talking to recently was marveling at your wordplay on
The Desired Effect, especially the closing ballad “The Way It’s Always Been” and its line, “She’s standing in the front yard / Cutoffs and skin.” He said he could just picture her clearly, whoever she was.
Brandon Flowers: Well, I’m glad somebody’s picking up on it. I love that line, the imagery of that line. Even for me, too, I have my own vision of what that yard looks like. And that girl just standing there. Lyrics are kind of trial and error for me, but it’s nice when those little moments happen, when your own personality shines through and it resonates with other people. Those are the connections that I think you’re setting out to make.
But it’s almost like you’ve created your own language—as in your hit “Human,” for instance, and its enigmatic chorus, “Are we human / Or are we dancer.”
For sure. It was strange. But it also just felt so natural, especially when I sang it. Mark and Ron really were opposed to it, to that line. So I even entertained the idea of changing it, and I went back in and tried different words and different lines. But nothing made as much sense with that melody as that line. So sometimes music is funny like that. And I guess the song is about nine or 10 years old now, and it’s still one of our most beloved songs when we play it live. But sometimes I have a snide, ironic side that’s hard for people to pick up on because I have a sincere-sounding voice. So there have been times throughout our catalog when people don’t realize that I’m being kind of playful, because I can’t pull it off when I sing it. And “Human” was one of those times, when the DJ culture was really starting to take hold in Las Vegas, and I saw the clamor for the velvet rope and bottle service. This change was happening, and it was all based around dance music—which I grew up on. I loved good dance music like Erasure and New Order. But this just seemed different to me, and I was making a comment on that. And what’s funny is, the song lends itself to that genre at the same time; so it’s this weird, ironic kind of song. So we knew we were doing something strange, but it all felt so euphoric.
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And you actually just guested on a New Order track, “Superheated.” How awesome was that?
I am a huge New Order fan. So getting to know those guys and playing with them has just been an incredible experience for me. And now when I go to Manchester, I’m going to go have dinner with [lead singer] Bernard [Sumner], and that’s just the most incredible thing. He’s a great guy, and we just took a shot at a song, and it ended up sticking and making it onto their last album. I think it’s a beautiful song, and I love the lyric. So it’s just been a great honor for me, to actually be on a New Order song.
The Desired Effect was this amazing achievement for you, creatively. And then you stumble into writer’s block. That must have been terrifying.
It was frustrating. I’d always heard about it. You always hear of people getting writer’s block, but you don’t know what it feels like until it sits in your lap. And it’s a son of a bitch. But I just powered through it, though. I was really proud of The Desired Effect, and I feel like songs like “The Way It’s Always Been” and “Lonely Town” and “Between Me and You” are some of my best songwriting. So I was coming off the back of that, and I went to sit down at the piano or step up to a microphone, and nothing. Nothing was happening—at least, nothing worth recording or pursuing. And I just kept going back in every day, but it just started to feel really redundant. And it was disheartening, you know? And scary. But I just kept waiting for one of those aha moments, or something, any kind of spark. And that finally happened for me with the song “Rut” on the new record, where it felt like it was definitely worth pursuing.
“Rut” was written for your wife. And you were wise enough to shut down your solo tour to see to your family. Family should always come first.
Yeah. And I’d never done anything like that before, or had to call anything off before. But it was really important. And you can’t really tell people what’s going on in the heat of the moment. So in hindsight, it was nice to eventually be able to explain what was going on, and how that fed into this record. And that’s the whole thing about art being cathartic and all that. It was really helpful for me and my marriage, too, just by dissecting what was going on or tackling it, or whatever you want to call it. I became more empathetic and compassionate, and it brought me and my wife closer together. So it ended up being a real blessing. I’ve had such an onstage life, but this has made me even more on the lookout for those simple exchanges that you have with people; I’m much more aware of what people could be going through, because you really don’t know what the people that you’re passing on the street are going through. I think we could all learn from that.
And art should please the artist first.
Yeah. And that’s something I’m really proud of us as a band for, for always sticking with that. Maybe down the road, we won’t be as happy with something as we would have liked to have been. But when we’re in the studio and writing and recording something, or even putting it out, we are genuinely thrilled about it. We have never put a single out that didn’t give me the chills at some point. So I’m into it. I’m invested in it.
And when The Killers are firing on all six, as on “Run For Cover,” not a band alive can touch you. No joke.
Thanks. That song’s got power. And of course it’s the next single. We’ve only played it a handful of times, but you can see it growing, simmering, just waiting to blow up. It reminds me of some the songs from our first or second record, where you just know it’s going to go off. So we’re lucky to be in a band that has those moments—those real, euphoric moments that make me want to get out onstage.