- 09 Oct 20
Whilst buzzing with new album excitement – k.d. lang, Weyes Blood and Lindsey Buckingham are among those who’ve helped his band score yet another No. 1 – BRANDON FLOWERS is sickened by the state of the American nation, and praying for a Biden victory in November. He talks heroes and villains (thankfully there’s more of the former) with STUART CLARK.
He hasn’t seen any little girls riding tricycles down corridors or maniacally typed “All work and no play makes Brandon a dull boy” a gazillion times whilst possessed by a demon, but otherwise life during Lockdown for The Killers lead singer has been a lot like The Shining.
“Yeah, we’ve been away from everything and everyone up here in the Utah mountains, which when all of this craziness started in March and April were covered in snow,” laughs Brandon who, with there being nothing quite as romantic as a Hot Press interview, is curled up on the couch with his wife Tana Mundkowsky. “It is a bit like The Shining. We’ve done okay, though. Well, apart from the home schooling. That was a disaster!”
So his three pupils, Ammon (13), Gunnar (ten) and Henry (nine) gave Mr. Flowers a hard time.
“No, we’re just really bad teachers,” he grimaces. “I tried the piano a little bit with them and it didn’t go down very well. Our oldest boy was able to navigate it – he’s more independent – so that was nice but the other two had a tough time.”
Asked whether he was a model pupil himself, Brandon gives me a withering “are you kidding?” look and says, “No, I wasn’t a great student. It was before they were really handing out ADD diagnoses and I had a touch of that for sure. It feels like such a long time for kids to be sitting at a desk. I can’t remember a time that I really didn’t struggle.”
How bad did it get?
“I missed most of sixth grade. I was having a hard time at school and we moved from one town in Utah to another one thirty miles away. We were doing a bunch of renovating at home, which was a nice experience. My Dad always had the oldies station on when I was a kid, so I discovered a lot of great music early on. I’m kind of equating what’s happening with my kids now to that – hopefully we’re bonding the way I did with my Dad. We’ve talked before, haven’t we?”
Yep, twice in 2004 just before and immediately after The Killers’ debut Hot Fuss went to number one in a pile of countries including Ireland.
It’s fair to say that Brandon’s life since then has not been dull. We’ll run through some of the many highlights later but first to the not inconsiderable matter of Imploding The Mirage, the band’s eighth studio album, which has also claimed the top spot on both sides of the Irish Sea.
It’s an, ahem, all Killers, no filler affair with a guest-list that includes Lindsey Buckingham whose six-string participation in ‘Caution’ is one of the numerous highlights. Was he still smarting at being booted out of Fleetwood Mac last year?
“Um… I think he was just, you know, happy to get the call,” Brandon says diplomatically. “I can’t speak as to the problems within Fleetwood Mac but from our short encounter… I blame everybody else! We recorded that a couple of months before Lockdown so we got to share a studio, which I loved, and afterwards go to dinner. He was open to everything. We felt like we needed something for the end of ‘Caution’ and to hear Lindsey deliver his solo like he did is something we’ll remember for ever.”
Was there a money song they nailed and thought, “We’re okay, we have that one in the bag; the rest will follow”?
“I think Bono once said, ‘If you aren’t sure what your second single is, you don’t have one’,” he reflects. “There’s another great quote from (legendary Queen producer) Roy Thomas Baker, which is, ‘There’s no such thing as a bad mix of a good song.’ So these things were swirling around my head – ‘Maybe ‘Caution’ isn’t good enough.’ So I kind and went and forced ‘My Own Soul’s Warning’ out of the universe. I knew I was really proud of that one, and then we came up with ‘Running Toward A Place’ and ‘Blowback’ and I was really like, ‘I can walk with my head held high now.’”
A kitchen-sink drama about a “born into poor, white trash” girl leaving home on the bus – it’s so cinematic the screenplay writes itself – ‘Blowback’ features ‘FX manipulation’ from War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel, which I’m assuming is code for just dicking around in the studio.
"No, he does a great synthesizer on the second verse, and a really cool slide part on the chorus in the counter melody, which he took and applied effects to,” Brandon says sticking up for his new studio buddy.
Whose idea was it to also throw a bit of Frankie Knuckles and Jamie Principle’s Chicago house classic, ‘Your Love’, into the ‘Blowback’ mix?
“Did you pick up on that?”
I knew it was something I’d bopped to during my chronically ill spent youth, but no, I had to wait for the nice record company person to mail me the credits, which also confirm the sampled presence of Krautrock legends Can on ‘Dying Breed’.
“I wouldn’t sit around listening to them all the time, but I know about Can’s impact on a lot of the music that’s shaped me. They’re in our DNA. That song was going down a very particular road, but the sample opened it up. As for the Frankie Knuckles one, that was Sean Everett’s idea.”
Everett being the quintuple Grammy Award-winning Canadian who co-produced Imploding The Mirage with Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado. He previously shared a studio with Bob Dylan, as did another album contributor, Blake Mills, who plays guitar on The Big Zim’s Rough And Rowdy Ways. Did he give Brandon and the boys the nod that a new Dylan record was on the way?
“No, he kept his cards quite close. Only a few people knew. ‘Murder Most Foul’ came out and I thought it was going to be a one-off. And then we started getting more singles. I really love ‘I Contain Multitudes’. Gosh, that song just floors me.”
‘Murder Most Foul’ feels like going round to Bob’s house and flicking through his record and his DVDs. It’s 17-minutes long and too short.
“Yeah, I loved it,” Brando enthuses. “What a song to come back with – especially during Lockdown.”
Dylan dropped ‘Murder Most Foul’ just after we’d seen Bono sing ‘Let Your Love Be Known’ in his living-room after very obviously staying up all night, and just prior to Michael Stipe debuting ‘No Time For Love Like Now’ (there’s a theme developing here) in his own not-so-humble-abode. It’s interesting how many big artists thought, “All bets are off, let’s just get it out there” during the height of the pandemic.
“Yeah, necessity is the mother of invention,” Brandon nods. “The first performance of ‘Caution’ ended up being for our friend Jimmy Kimmel. It’s just me and Ronnie in a bathroom. No amplifier, no effects, no Auto-Tune. It forces you to prove yourself in a different way, so it’s been interesting.”
Lockdown also found The Killers performing a poignantly paired down version of ‘Land Of The Free’, their 2019 standalone, which reacts to the murder of George Floyd with the updated lines: “When I go out in my car, I don’t think twice/ But if you’re the wrong colour skin/ You grow up looking over both your shoulders/ In the land of the free/ How many killings must one man watch in his home/ Till he sees the price on the TV?/ Eight measured minutes and 46 seconds/ Another boy in the bag/ Another stain on the flag.”
Like Bruce Springsteen’s ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ before it, it’s a damning inditement of the institutionalised racism that blights US law enforcement.
“We did it in Provo in a great studio, June Audio, which is about an hour from where I live,” Brandon adds soberly. “I just felt compelled to re-work it and document it. I was right here where I am now, in my living room, when the news broke. I believe it was the CNN video. I cried on the couch watching it. I couldn’t believe that people weren’t rioting already. I thought that first night that things were going to start burning – and they did. It simmered for a minute before they went on to the streets.”
Depressingly, Provo was also where the 15,000-strong Utah Citizens Alarm militia staged its first anti-Black Lives Matter counter demonstration, which resulted in the shooting of a passing motorist. The fallout is still being felt statewide.
“You get people coming out of the woodwork for strange things like that,” Brandon rues. “They’re worried about their guns being taken away from them. Whole campaigns are run on issues like that.”
Does Brandon regard Trump vs. Biden as the most important election he’s been able to vote in?
“I think so. You know, four years before was important and my wife and I voted for Hilary Clinton. We deserve more from our leaders. It’s sad that democracy has led to this, and that celebrity has gone this far.”
Having done some top quality digressing, let us return to Imploding The Mirage, which with Lucius, Weyes Blood and a certain catherine dawn lang also on the guest-list is purposefully not the Killers boy’s club of old.
“The women being on there was a very pre-determined thing we wanted to do because we had the album cover picked out long before we finished recording,” Brandon explains. “It’s a painting by Thomas Blackshear of these two celestial beings, so it needed to have a female component. We started thinking about women who might work, and came up with Lucius who are great singers and toured with Roger Waters; Weyes who’d just made a record with Rado – her bridge on ‘My God’ is so beautiful, and all the things she did on ‘Blowback’ are fantastic too; and then because I needed someone to basically represent my mother on ‘Lightning Fields’, k.d. lang.”
Was she told that when they were selling the song to her?
“No, she still doesn’t know that,” he says a tad guiltily. “It was my late mother talking to my dad. It was during quarantine so she was up in Canada and sent it in. It ended up being great. She’s iconic, and it was so gracious of her to lend her voice to us.”
As I mentioned in my Imploding The Mirage album review – if you didn’t read it in our Rave On, Van Morrisson issue, why not, eh? – it’s a peach of a song with a half-inched Pet Shop Boys intro giving way to a barrage of synths and guitars of the squalling maelstrom variety.
Brandon is great but lang even better as she belts out her Mrs. Flowers verses – “Don’t beat yourself up/ You laid good ground/ Look at ‘em walk from scratch to sundown/ You put the work in and then some? Where is all this coming from?” – with ‘80s AOR gusto.
It’s another example of Brandon painting his characters in an almost Springsteenian way.
“I was lucky enough to get to Bruce’s Broadway show and it was just the best,” he coos. “To do that and Western Stars and the autobiography at this stage of his career gives us all hope. His work-rate is phenomenal. It’s almost an addiction. You don’t want to take the opportunity for granted. It becomes part of your DNA and your identity.”
Bruce’s film version of Western Stars is part of The Killers’ reason for working with Muse and Halsey director Sing Lee on their own Imploding The Mirage short.
“It’s going to be 30 minutes long and feature ‘Caution’ and snippets of other songs,” is all a spoiler-avoiding Brandon will say for now. Given Lee’s past output, it’s likely to mirror the epic widescreen feel of the record – and then some.
I happened upon a YouTube clip the other day of Brandon grinning like a kid at Christmas as he belts out ‘Thunder Road’ with The Boss. One of the best moments of his life?
“It’s up there,” he reminisces fondly. “It was 2009 and we were on the same Pinkpop festival bill as him and the E Street Band in Holland. I looked over during ‘Mr. Brightside’ and behind our sound engineer you saw these Aviators and a very familiar countenance nodding along. Just that would have been enough. We finished the set and walking back to the dressing-rooms with Bruce he said, ‘Do you wanna do a little ‘Thunder Road’ later?” It was just a dream. My favourite part was the preparing for it. I got to go back to his dressing room and we chose which verses we were going to sing. It was almost like a test, you know? I knew all the lyrics by heart and I wrote them by hand, and he helped me mark up which parts he would sing and which ones I would sing. We got a guitar and worked it out. That behind the scenes moment was very special. I didn’t really have time to feel nervous. If it had been suggested a day or two before I don’t know if I could have made it!”
Before we let Brandon and Tana snuggle up properly on the sofa – two’s company, three when one’s a journo is definitely a crowd – what have been his other ‘pinch me, am I dreaming moments?’
“In the early days, it was things like being recognised by people you admire,” he concludes. “Getting to open for U2 on the first album. Or Morrissey. That was like, ‘How did this happen?’ These are people who I still had posters of on my wall. Glastonbury 2019 was a special gig for us. I was just really proud and thankful for everything. It felt full circle. That was a great moment.”
• Imploding The Mirage is out now on Island. The Killers play rescheduled Malahide Castle shows on June 15 & 16, 2021.