Friday 20 September 2019

‘I’m a student, a sponge, a thief’ - Killers frontman Brandon Flowers talks fatherhood, Irish connections and Bono's advice

Interview: The Killers' frontman Brandon Flowers talks to John Meagher about fatherhood, Irish connections, advice from Bono and adjusting to life on the road without two founding members

Brandon Flowers. Photo: Anton Corbijn
Brandon Flowers. Photo: Anton Corbijn

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At the height of the Killers' early success, around the time of second album Sam's Town, Review interviewed Brandon Flowers in Brighton. The band had played an electrifying show the night before, but the next morning the frontman was subdued. The contrast between the passionate performer who had 10,000 people following his every word and the shy Mormon struggling to make small talk in the bland hotel room could hardly have been greater.

Today, he's on the other end of a phone line, chatting happily about life on the road and the demands of being a father of three young boys. He cuts a very different figure and you have to pinch yourself to believe that anyone could be this relaxed, shooting the breeze with a journalist on the other side of the world, just a couple of hours before going on stage in Perth, Western Australia.

"It took a lot of time [to become the consummate frontman]," he says, with what sounds to these ears like a Southern drawl. "It wasn't something that came completely natural to me. I'm obviously a student and a sponge and a thief and I've always been attracted to the great frontmen like a lot of people. I've taken what they've had to offer and funnelled it through my weird life in Las Vegas, and that's kind of how I came to become what I am."

He says he had an awakening in his mid 20s, after the Killers' startling electro-rock debut, Hot Fuss, was released. "I fell in love with people like Bruce Springsteen and it showed me another road, another avenue, that I could take. So it was powerful to me to realise that I share things in common with him and I ended up falling in love with that [way of conducting oneself] and of music that spoke to me and my life - and it's nothing to do with debauchery. He's almost 'clean', if you know what I mean. The light went on for me - that's really who I am.

"I fell in love with music at 12 or 13, listening to stuff like the Cars and New Order and David Bowie and it was strange to have it happen again when I was 25."

He says Springsteen's example has helped him juggle the demands of being a parent with fronting a globally popular band. "I've been lucky. There are the foundations put in place by my parents - I have that going for me right away. But in the beginning, when I started to make music, I didn't know what it meant to be a successful rock 'n' roller or pop star and the only examples I have are these people that are mythologised or idolised and often lived lives that weren't conducive to having a healthy family. But now I know that I can be in a band and be a father and not go down a debaucherous road. And Bruce lit the way for me."

Flowers has also looked to other clean-cut rockers, including Bono who helped him come up with the title of the closing track on latest album, Wonderful Wonderful. "I sent Bono an email and the subject was 'Have All the Songs Been Written?' He told me he thought it would be a great title. But it's something that I was thinking about when I was writing the songs on this album and it's something I still think about? Are there still great songs to write?

"It's been 60 or 70 years of great songs, and what's left to be said? That's something you wrestle with every time you go into a recording studio. And, of course, there are still great songs that have yet to be written. We just have to be inspired by all those great songs of the past - hell, I even wrote a couple of them myself!"

Wonderful Wonderful has attracted generally good reviews and it's widely thought to be the band's most personal album to date. Flowers says he was inspired by difficult periods in his life and of the challenges faced by his wife of 13 years, Tana, when she suffered depression so dark in 2015 that she considered ending her own life.

"There's a song on the album, 'Rut', that I'm really proud of and writing it helped me to become more compassionate and have more empathy for my wife," he says. "We had some really intimate moments when I was working on that song because I was checking that she liked each line I wrote and I'd run any changes by her. You can connect with a loved one over other people's songs, but I never expected it would happen with one of my own songs."

Another song, 'Tyson vs Douglas', is about the relationship he had with his father and it's centred at a time of that famous 1990 boxing match when Flowers was eight years old.

"Sure, it's about my father, but it's also about me and my sons now and what I mean to them. At some point they're going to realise I'm fallible, just like I did with my own father, but I'd like to hold on to [the child-parent innocence] as long as I can. I want to be a better father to them and be around, you know."

Flowers says the world tour - which calls to Dublin on June 26 - is going well, but admits its taken a while to get used to playing without original members Dave Keuning and Mark Stoermer. Both have taken time away from the band's live duties - Keuning to spend time with his family and Stoermer to go back to university - although Flowers stresses they're still fully fledged members.

"At the end of [previous album] Battle Born we did a month in Asia without Mark so we sort of got a little bit of the feeling of what it would be like. And then we had to do the same thing without Dave for a little while." He laughs, conscious that sounds as though the band is falling apart, although he stresses that's not the case at all.

"It's not unsettling for me as you might think," he says. "My job is to sing. I'm trying to look at the things that are more familiar rather than dwell on the things that are not familiar."

As he is speaking to an Irish journalist, one thing he is keen to talk about is the band's relationship with Dubliner Garret 'Jacknife' Lee, who produced the album. Having worked with the likes of R.E.M. and U2, Lee is in demand. "He's really musical and he's inventive and he was just as excited about the album as we were," Flowers enthuses.

"When someone is like that and has this infectious energy, you can't help but want to be part of it. He's still like that. It's almost like he joined the band - and that's what I think a producer should do. We did a lot of it in his place in Topanga Canyon (California) and Vegas and I'm really happy with the outcome."

Flowers has released two solo albums and five Killers albums to date, but what's next? "The plan is for it to be a sixth Killers record, but damn, I love my last solo record! We only toured it for a few months and then…" His voice trails off. It was then that he left the tour in order to care for his wife. "No, the plan is for it to be another Killers record and we have to figure out how to make it work [for Stoermer and Keuning].

"Mark is all over this new record - some of his best bass lines and progressions are on this record and he brings a darkness to our music that doesn't really exist without it."

For now, Flowers is just happy to be on the road, showing packed arenas what a consummate frontman looks like. "I'm really starting to believe right now," he says, "that I belong up there."

The Killers play Dublin's RDS on June 26 with support from Franz Ferdinand

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