The Lady Killer: An Interview with the Killers’ Brandon Flowers
The Killers are the latest in a series of bands determined to rescue synths and faux British accents from the dustbins of 1984. The Las Vegas quartet’s excellent debut, Hot Fuss, which features the hit single “Somebody Told Me,” sounds as if Joy Division borrowed Duran Duran’s Wayfarers and recorded an album beneath pulsating neon lights on the roof of the Palms Casino Hotel. We caught up with lead singer/songwriter/keyboardist Brandon Flowers, 23, to discuss his childhood dalliance with rayon, his past as a chubby bellboy, and why Vegas isn’t a cultural wasteland.
You grew up in Utah and then moved to Las Vegas. Why did your family relocate?
Actually, I was born in Las Vegas. My parents moved to Utah when I was eight because after 40 years in Vegas, they were tired of it. We ended up in Nephi, a really small town in Utah.
How did you get into music, living in a place so remote?
I had a brother [Shane] who was 12 years older than me, and he was into the Cars, the Beatles, Morrissey, and the Cure. He was always watching U2’s Rattle and Hum and Morrissey videos. I would sneak into his room when he was at school. He had the coolest posters. Like the Cure from The Head on the Door, where their faces are painted. When my great-grandmother died, he didn’t go to the funeral. We were all in the car waiting for Shane and he never showed up. My mom went in the house and ripped every single poster on the wall in half because she knew that was the worst thing she could do to him.
Las Vegas and Utah are two places not traditionally known for their sophisticated culture. What kind of impact does that have on a band?
I could get shot for this, but I don’t think having a museum in your town makes you better than anyone else. I’m really sick of that attitude. Maybe that’s me being ignorant, but we did fine without it. I mean, you can watch movies and read books, and there is music, you’ve just got to find it. We did it all on our own.
Which bands inspired you to make music rather than just listen to it?
The Cars. I bought Greatest Hits when I was 12. It was really weird because other kids were buying Tool and Nirvana and I was buying the Cars and the Psychedelic Furs. I was pretty alienated as a kid.
What is your family like?
My dad was a produce man. He worked in grocery stores for 35 years. My mom just babysat kids and raised us. I have four sisters and one brother. I’m the baby.
What did you learn from growing up with four older sisters?
I learned the difference between good girls and bad girls. I can tell the second I meet someone.
Speaking of “bad” girls, what was it like living in a city where there are so many strippers?
Well, I remember hearing girls behind me in English class talking about turning 18 and being old enough to strip. It wasn’t that weird at the time.
You were born in 1981. What do you actually remember from the ’80s?
I remember a lot of the weird hip-hop stuff, like rayon shirts. I had a couple of those. I was really torn when I was eight because I had one sister who loved, like, New Edition. She was trying to put me in rayon shirts, while my brother made me listen to the Cars.
If you could burn a mix CD of music by your contemporaries, whom would you include?
The White Stripes would be on it. The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kings of Leon. Those are my favorites.
What about Interpol or the Stills?
You could throw Interpol on it. I don’t like the Stills.
Spin once described you as an ex-Mormon. Is religion important in your life?
It’s very important. I mean, it’s important in everyone’s life. Basic religion is the reason we have morals. I am actually a Mormon, not an ex-Mormon. I occasionally drink and smoke, but I’m trying-I’m human.
How did you balance your religion with growing up in the epicenter of decadence and then becoming a rock star?
It can be really hard sometimes. The band is pretty used to it. Ronnie [Vannucci], our drummer, went to school with kids who are Mormon. None of us is really a party animal. I think our friendship is the best way I can contain it. It’s what I grew up with, so I know what I need to do.
In what situation would it be hard to resist temptation?
[Stammers] I don’t know. If I see drugs or slutty girls or something, it just might be me who turns away. I don’t know if it’s just the way I am, saying, “I’m going to go to bed now,” or if it’s from being raised Mormon.
The Killers recently opened for your hero, Morrissey. Is it true that when you were a bellhop at the Gold Coast Hotel you once went through a bag of CDs belonging to a member of Morrissey’s band? Confess!
It’s true. The hotel held a lot of rockabilly conventions, and Morrissey’s guitarist, Boz Boorer, would always come. I got to know him a bit. One time he asked me to store his bags while he went to have a drink. I shouldn’t have done it, and I still feel bad, but I went through one of them. I just wanted to see what Boz was listening to. One of the CDs said “The Album,” and it had all the tracks [from You Are the Quarry] on it. I knew they were making a new record and I recognized the song titles. I called Ronnie and he was going to come and burn it because it wasn’t out for months. But I put it on the CD player at work, and it was only the music, not the vocals, so I called Ronnie back and told him not to bother.
You have described yourself as “a golf-addicted chubby kid from Utah who had never been kissed until [he] moved to Las Vegas.” If that’s how you see yourself, is it weird suddenly to be a rock-star heartthrob?
It was always in me. My dad is a big dreamer, so I got that from him. Golf was my main thing when I was a teenager, and that’s what I wanted to do. But, yeah, making the transition has been weird. I always wanted this.
To finish up, we want to test your allegiance to the ’80s with a quiz.
Which Cars song is playing in the background when Phoebe Cates steps out of the pool in Fast Times at Ridgemont High?
That’s “Living in Stereo.” Wait! “Moving in Stereo!”
Correct. Who did “Turning Japanese”?
I can sing it, but I don’t know who did it.
The Vapors. What song features this lyric: “Looking out a dirty old window / Down below the cars in the city go rushing by”?
Oh, I know that song, but I only know the chorus!
It’s Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America.” What is the title of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s debut album?
I don’t know. Relax?
Wrong. That was the first single.It was Welcome to the Pleasuredome.
[Laughs] You know, I like David Bowie and the ’70s just as much!