When Brandon Flowers calls SPIN, he’s in the middle of a tightly packed day, in the middle of a tightly packed week, in the middle of a tightly packed month, all in preparation for the release of the Killers frontman’s upcoming sophomore album, The Desired Effect. An Ariel Rechtshaid production that features ten retro-future alt-pop tracks, the project finds Flowers mining emotional and personal depths — about fatherhood, marriage, and adult responsibility — that he’s rarely touched on so specifically (or eloquently) before. Two weeks before The Desired Effect hits shelves, the 31-year-old walked us through the ten songs he’s written that he considers — at this moment in time — his favorite.
“Mr. Brightside” (Hot Fuss, 2004)
Brandon Flowers: At first, all I heard was the riff. The lyrics came later. This was before cell phones came along… when I first heard those chords, I wrote the lyrics down and we didn’t waste much time. We went in and made demos pretty quickly after that, and it took a ton of time. That’s also why there’s not a second verse. The second is the same as the first. I just didn’t have any other lines and it ended up sticking. We’ve never not played that song live, because it’s stood the test of time and I’m proud of it. I never get bored of singing it.
“All These Things That I’ve Done” (Hot Fuss, 2004)
I think it’s got such a strong sense of identity. I was heavily into U2 at the time, and the way that they incorporated gospel to their music. That was something that had a huge effect on me, and you really hear it in this song… everything from the chord progression to the actual gospel choir we recorded with. There’s something to guitar music and gospel. You can make something that feels unique and honorable.
That’s kind of the Holy Grail for rock music, and I think we achieved something with that song. Another thing that stands out to me about it is how strong it is for being on our first record, for how young I would’ve been, 21-years-old or whatever, and we were pretty… what’s the word? We were fully realized.
Those gospel references you mentioned show up a lot on your new record, too.
It could be if you hear the similarities, that’s what Ariel [Rechtshaid] was picking up on. Ariel is familiar with the Killers’ catalogue, so I think one of his goals was to bring things out of me that he already liked and already knew worked and run them through his effects, his brain. That’s what we strive for on the [new] tracks.
“When You Were Young” (Sam’s Town, 2006)
There’s a tremendous amount of pressure that’s on a band after you have that hit first record. So that was weighing pretty heavily on us and I just remember when Dave [Keuning] played that riff… that song was born. We knew it had a real weight to it: It just felt really powerful and I felt confident. You’re going into the studio and you’re writing, literally waiting for lightning to strike, and that was one of those times where I was just happy to be in the room when it did and to be part of it. It set the tone for the rest of the record, and it also set the bar. Without that, I don’t know if we would’ve written “Read My Mind” or whatever else we wrote.
“Read My Mind” (Sam’s Town, 2006)
This used to be called “Little Angela” and it was pretty terrible. It had the same chord progressions, but it sounded like a really bad rip-off of “Mrs. Robinson.” So we were actually recording the song and plus we were doing it with Flood and Alan Moulder and they were leaning on us heavily to change it a little bit and thank heavens they did. It’s a perfect example of where a producer is really integral and really important because it got us to push ourselves. That’s not something that a band wants to do, to take a song and reshape it and rearrange it. They were really adamant about it, so we reworked it and it became “Read My Mind.”
There’s something — every night, no matter what town we’re in — when we play that song and it starts, the room just changes. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know why it is, but even though shows can be rowdy, there comes this reverence. I’m just grateful to be a part of it.
Do you remember the specifics of what you had to go through and change when the producers stepped in?
It was basically everything on top: My singing, my story, everything I had to change. Everything had to go, and we kept the backbone. The blueprint was sort of the chord progression on my keyboard and so it had to become a new song. It was one of the first times that I started to really believe in the voodoo of some of these people, like Flood. Flood is one of those names that’s attached to so many great records , and you grow up reading the liner notes on songs — he has worked on a lot of great songs. I remember him just saying, “Let’s just play the song and let’s try something different,” and he just stood there in the room while we did it. He was locked in with me, watching me, and I just felt like he passed off some voodoo that day.
Did you feel a similar “eureka!” moment while recording the new album?
For sure: “Still Want You.” I had a demo of “Still Want You” and when it got sent back to me from Ariel after he had shaped it and put his spin on it, that’s when I knew that he was the right guy, the man for the job.
“Spaceman” (Day & Age, 2008)
This was hard to choose… I wrote “Spaceman” in a hotel room in Panama. We were having a couple days off on our way to South America and we decided to go to this strange resort in Panama and check out the sea. [Laughs.] I keep weird hours when we’re on tour because I stay up really late and it’s just fun to write for me. I was always a guy with some kind of recording gear, so that was where that one started. I think there are a lot of great analogies that you could make for “Spaceman.” I just sort of let people analyze it or apply it to themselves however they would like to. I was trying to write, like, a light Wang Chung kind of song and I couldn’t make the guitar sound anything like, it but that’s what I was feeling at the time.
People have always felt like that’s one of the least Killers-y tracks. How did the band respond when you brought back that kernel of an idea to them?
Everybody liked it! Ronnie [Vannucci, Jr., drums] especially liked it. I think it’s probably Ronnie’s favorite from Day & Age. We sent it to Stuart [Price, producer] — it was like Christmas, waiting and checking my email to see if he had sent something back after he had done some production work — and that was one that, early on, we were really excited about. It was written right in the middle of touring for Sam’s Town.
“Dustland Fairytale” (Day & Age, 2008)
We were trying to make a more playful, pop record with Day & Age, but I think that “Dustland” is a great example of us not being able to let go of that sort of earnest seed that we had planted on Sam’s Town. It was an important song. I went through a lot of things: My mom got diagnosed with a brain tumor and I just started to think a lot about her and my dad’s generation. They were born in the ’40s, which comes with a certain type of difference. They’re just different Americans than we are.
I reflected on that and tried to just capture a little bit of their story and put it to music and it ended up representing more than that to me, and I think to a lot of people. It grew. It started out as just a small seed of my parents meeting in 1961, and then it transcended all of that and it touched a lot of people.
What do your parents think of the song?
It was an emotional thing. They’re sort of baffled by my job anyway, so I think they were honored to have contributed to it somehow. It’s still emotional. Sometimes when we play it, I go back to that place and it can bring back a lot of memories. Music is pretty powerful like that. Something that we’ve never shied away from was playing songs that people want to hear, though. They’re paying their money to see us and they expect to hear certain songs, so I’ve never shied away from that.
“Magdalena” (Flamingo, 2010)
“Magdalena” is all about a pilgrimage that takes place in Mexico every year on October 4. I had heard about this and I researched it a little more and I was impressed by the idea of these people going and walking sixty miles for forgiveness, or for blessings for their family, and that people gather together and do it. So many times we are rooting for people, you hear about a lot of negative things in our world and it’s so nice that these people undertake this marathon. It’s just such a positive thing.
So I sort of took it upon myself to take on a character who has something he needs to repent. He needs to repent and rid himself of something so he goes on this pilgrimage. It’s still one of my favorite songs to perform.
“From Here On Out” (Battle Born, 2012)
With Battle Born, we hadn’t played in a while because the guys wanted to take a break. I made Flamingo, Ronnie made a Big Talk record, Mark made a solo record, so it was tough getting back together, trying to get everybody excited and do something that we felt was worthwhile. “From Here On Out” is probably one of the most uncharacteristic of us, it’s probably the most un-Killers song I’ve ever written. It is two minutes, and it’s just really concise and playful.
I don’t know what [other artists] it sounds like! Sometimes when we played it, it sounded like Fleetwood Mac and sometimes we played it and it sounded like George Strait or something. So we just sort of embraced it, and on the Battle Born tour we turned it into about an eight-minute experience where we introduced everybody on stage and people had solos and we did a call-and-response thing at the end, it ended up being a whole thing. That’s one of my favorites.
“Lonely Town” (The Desired Effect, 2015)
This is probably the funkiest song that I will ever write. It doesn’t seem like a white 33-year-old wrote it. [Laughs.] Ariel helped out a lot on that. He’s a funky dude and I’m excited to see how it sits with people but right now, I’m really excited about it.
“Between Me and You” (The Desired Effect, 2015)
Nobody’s heard it yet, but I think this is going to be one of my favorites. It’s the first time I’ve ever written a song where I knew what I was going to write about before I sat down to jam. I had it mapped out, the way that there are two different meanings in the song. I’m just proud of myself for pulling it off and tackling this sort of subject matter.
This album in generally digs very, very deep emotionally. Why now?
Because I wanted to embrace where I am in my life and I feel like if I’m honest, it’s got to impact and resonate with people. So “Between You and Me,” I feel like it’s not really talked about a lot, the responsibilities and the pressures that can be on a man to raise a family and to be the leader of the family. So it was new territory for me, and I’m really happy with the way it turned out.