Brandon Flowers talks to Ailbhe Malone about losing all his teeth, sex in sin city and how working on his solo project has cleared space in his mind for the next Killers album
It's an odd note to begin on, but here, in an all-white bedroom in an exclusive West London hotel, Brandon Flowers, Killers frontman and sometime solo artist, is telling me about his dental problems.
"My teeth are fake," the lanky, all-denim-clad, moustache-less (for now) singer, explains. It's not quite the scoop we'd been hoping for, but, now we've started, we may as well finish. Why do you have fake teeth, then, Brandon?
He opens up his mouth, and points at his front teeth. "I had braces, and there wasn't," he pauses, "a big emphasis on dental hygiene in my family. So when they took the braces off, the metal brackets took pieces of the tooth with them. I was numb at the time, so it didn't hurt. But there were huge holes, and I had to to go to school for two days with these black holes in my teeth. Just a little bit of air would be painful. Anyway, it's a long story. I didn't get these for any Hollywood purpose, it was necessity."
Dentistry aside, the reason we're in this hotel (which has a lift decorated like a solar system, for God's sake) is to discuss Flowers' visit to Dublin next week to celebrate Arthur's Day and his new solo album Flamingo. It's a record of songs that Flowers wrote for The Killers while the band were taking time off from touring and instead decided to record himself. Focusing on Flowers's hometown of Las Vegas (he was born there, and moved to Utah when he was eight), it's a lonely old record, all haunted memories and hopes of redemption.
Now based full-time in Vegas, married with a wife and two young children, Flowers' fascination with the city remains the same as it ever was. "I consider Las Vegas to be my hometown," he proclaims with certainty. "I always felt like it was where I belonged. I'd had a taste already. The place that we moved to didn't even have a stoplight. It was a very small town -- it was somewhere I could never get any excitement or thrill out of. I think it was a good place to live, for a while. But in Vegas I still get the thrill from the strip and the lights. It's always been sin city," there's an extraordinarily long pause. "But sex has never been so in your face as it is now. So having two sons, it's something that I'm noticing more now. But they're not going to go to school and get handed pamphlets for strippers. It totally depends on where you go."
Much has been read into the loneliness on the record -- from the obvious (Flowers's mother died of brain cancer earlier this year) to the facile (Flowers missed his bandmates terribly while recording). Clearly tired of being asked whether he pined for The Killers during the record, Flowers quickly retorts. "I wasn't lonely making this album. I had producers who were friends, I had other musicians, I was making it at home, so I was with my family. I mentioned that I was lonely a few times, and it's gotten blown out of proportion. I wasn't sitting alone, rocking back and forth, crying."
Normally, I mention, when people take time off from work, they actually take time off -- instead of writing an album's-worth of new tracks. Genuinely baffled, Flowers shrugs. "I'm always writing songs. I don't know what other songwriters do while on a break. I feel like I've cleared out my brain with this record, and I've made space for the new Killers record."
Surely though, he needed some down-time after a long stint touring and recording? Apparently not. "I'm fine with being at home, but this is my job. I don't relax, that I know of. I'm fine not relaxing."
He's got a kind of tense, kinetic energy about him -- watchful of wasted words, he speaks slowly, with long pauses in between phrases. There's no excess -- verbal or, indeed aural.
Flowers has a funny way of approaching new music. Wryly, he explains: "I don't listen to music often -- not as much as I did. I've come to the realisation that you don't get that four minutes back. It's better to listen to things that you know, that you're going to get some fulfilment out of. I got this satellite radio in my car. So, I heard some new music." There's a smile. It's hard to tell, but this might have been his version of a punchline.
He's touchy about this newe record, trying to suss out this publication's reaction to it, suspiciously. "What paper are you from? The Irish Independent? Did you guys give me an awful review? There was a pretty bad one, I think that was you guys." It wasn't. "It's frustrating, you want people to like your record."
This defensiveness could stem from the fact that The Killers, despite their massive commercial success, have never been accepted by America's critical elite. Resignedly, Flowers sighs. "We've given all that we've got, but it's just not appreciated by critics. Some people like my voice and hate the music. Some people think the songs are okay and hate the lyrics. It's a small thing, and silly as it may sound, but we've never been on the cover of Rolling Stone. It's frustrating. We belong there. We've earned it. Whether they like it or not, not only do we represent America, we're proud of it. It's going to be unavoidable at some point that we're here for some reason, and that we have done something good and lasting. But it's not going to be until the end."
It must be even more frustrating to feel outside of the American music scene, since there's a very American streak running through Flamingo. The theme of redemption is paramount -- especially in Playing With Fire.
Flowers' Mormon faith has been heavily discussed, but the redemption on the record is that of Springsteen and Faulkner -- an intensely American sentiment. On the aforementioned track, Flowers intones, "I've got this burning belief in salvation and love". It could sound mawkish, but instead, it's heartfelt and desperate -- and sits with his sweet, cynically gravelled voice perfectly.
Does he think that redemption is a particularly American theme? It's not one, I explain, that arises often in European music. He mulls, "I don't know whether it's the religious side of America, but there's something that's optimistic about redemption, that's instinctively American. I was brought up that way. I was brought up poor, but you wouldn't know it by the smiles on the faces in the house. That always existed."
Flowers' phone rings as the interview wraps up. It's an unknown number. "Oh no," he smiles, nervously. "I hate unknown numbers. I always get freaked out that it's someone that I would really like to talk to, who just doesn't give out their number." Brandon Flowers, the only rock star who won't answer his phone, not because of an ego, but because he's too shy of who it might be.
It's an odd end to our talk, which has been the subject of a PR kerfuffle and changing interview times, all of which served to shroud Flowers in a cloak of diva-ish mystery, only for him to half-shrug it off -- and then back on again. Like his hometown, it's a Las Vegas-like mix of honesty and intrigue. It suits him, and well he knows it.