Brandon Flowers is aware that the Killers have a “sound,” even if he can’t quite describe it. He knows that you know it, too. “I don’t know if I have all the answers,” Flowers says over the phone from his home in Utah. “I just know that we have a specific type of song that we create. We’re not always trying to seek out to sound like ‘a Killers song’ or ‘Killers chorus,’ but we got a certain way of doing things and people are attracted to that.”
Nearly 20 years on, people are still attracted to it. With millions of records sold globally, and having built a later-career reputation as the rare rock act with top billing alongside rap and pop stars (they were a 2019 Glastonbury headliner), the Killers remain in the conversation of the most successful bands in the world right now. (During our talk, Flowers even has a hard time figuring out the most bizarre place he’d had heard “Mr. Brightside” — probably because he’s heard the song literally everywhere.) The band’s latest album, Imploding the Mirage, will likely go No. 1, just like their last, 2017’s Wonderful Wonderful, did. More impressive, it’s the best Killers record in over a decade, or at least the most consistent from start to finish.
Flowers is just relieved that it’s being released at all. The album, the band’s sixth, was originally set for May 29, along with a U.K. stadium tour, but finally arrives on August 21, after a months-long delay due to the pandemic. A planned European tour has been rescheduled for summer 2021. “I was a little frustrated that we had to postpone it for as long as we did,” he says, “but it just proved difficult to finish because we weren’t finished mixing when the lockdown [began]. But I’m happy that we stuck to our guns and are getting it out, instead of making people wait.” Don’t expect any sort of drive-in Killers show anytime soon though. “We’ll just kind of see how this plays out,” he says, “and pray for a vaccine.” Flowers talked to Vulture about the highs and lows of the Killers, where to start with his solo songs, standing by Sam’s Town, and the songs he loves to belt in the bathroom.
Strangest place you’ve heard “Mr. Brightside”
Whenever I’m out and about and I hear the songs, I just get a little bit uncomfortable. I’ve seen people do karaoke of it. I’ve been in restaurants and heard it, but nothing that’s stood out as being really bizarre. I’ve been walking past bars and heard a kid doing it by himself on the guitar, and he had no idea I was walking by. I’ve had those kinds of strange experiences, but never anything that was pretty wild.
Most properly rated Killers song
Usually, things fall underneath underrated or overrated [laughs], you never get one like, “Yeah, that’s all right.” I feel like “Human”? I think it’s a great part of our catalogue and fans love it; it did really well on the charts throughout the world, and it deserved it, and I don’t feel like it’s too underappreciated. There’s a little bit of mystery around it. I think it achieved that.
Most misunderstood Killers album
Oh, hell. I’m not sure what everyone’s understanding is. In the early days, Sam’s Town was definitely underrated and misunderstood, by critics at least. It was sort of our venture into our American roots, and maybe even exploring our masculinity a little bit more than we did on the album before. We did start noticing more male fans coming around at that time. I don’t think people were prepared for us to make such a 180 from the record before. The way our aesthetic changed, and the sound changed and kind of toughened up a little bit. There was also this newfound heart that I don’t think was really on Hot Fuss. I think Sam’s Town is definitely that record. We have a soft spot for that one.
Killers song you never want to hear again
I gotta be careful there. I might say a song that somebody has got tattooed lyrics on their back and it really means something to them. I’ll just plead the fifth.
Best new song
Currently, I’d pick “Blowback.” I’m proud of the storytelling. We recently did a live thing for the BBC and it was our first time playing the record, and it just played itself. It just feels like it’s existed. And when you have a song out in the universe like that, it’s a nice feeling. We had about eight months of stuff that was okay but that wasn’t feeling great or good enough. Once we really went with [producers] Jonathan Rado and Shawn Everett, things started to open up. This was one of those songs that just came really quickly. It just kept its head above water the whole time and we’re grateful for it.
Imploding the Mirage’s most “Killers” moment
“Caution” has that type of chorus that people already come to associate with our band, and it has a beautiful countermelody that happens in the post choruses. It’s that sort of arms-open, on-top-of-the-mountain kind of a feeling.
Album cover that’s caused the most drama
I think maybe Wonderful Wonderful. It was the first time that we didn’t have our logo on the album cover. I guess that became a little bit of a controversy. There were actually a couple of versions that we were pulling around with. Both of them were so beautiful, and Anton Corbijn took the pictures and they were so pretty on their own that it just ruined it to slap our logo on it.
That became, I think, a point of contention, but I kind of went into it wholeheartedly because I was into the change, and the band was changing, and a lot was happening. It was a transitional time for the band, so I thought it appropriate to do something different. There was another version of the shell, but it was on the ground and it was very vaginal, so it was also a little bit strange. But there was such a female component about the record that it ended up being on the deluxe version.
First Brandon Flowers solo song you would play for someone
I have a few that I’m really fond of, so it’d be tough to just choose one, but I think there’s four or five that I would suggest. I’m really proud of “Crossfire,” coming out on my own and being able to write a song like that. [Ed note: In an interesting twist, “Crossfire,” which attempted the War on Drugs just two years after the War on Drugs’ 2008 debut LP, would fit perfectly onto Imploding the Mirage.] I was just really thrilled, and it holds up still. Also, on that record, “Only the Young.” I tapped into someplace that I had never gone before. I did that with Stuart Price, so it was coming off the heels of doing “Human” and Day & Age. For me and him to strike again like that with “Only the Young” is something that I’m proud of and I couldn’t have done it without Stuart.
On the second record, “Lonely Town” and “Between Me and You.” I heard “Between Me and You” the other day and I just … strange that it’s my own song. I really like that song. The agenda’s the same. You want it to do justice to the experiences in your life and make your parents proud [laughs] and all that stuff. That’s always the goal, whether I’m with Mark, David, and Ronnie or not. I sort of try to check those boxes. It’s not really too far off, the two worlds. I made those records because people in the Killers wanted time off, so it wasn’t like I needed to scratch some itch. I just gotta write songs.
Most satisfying song to sing
I’m lucky to have so many songs that, no matter the size of the room or what country you’re in, it’s going to go down a storm. And so I would go back to those touchstones of the career — you know, “Mr. Brightside,” “When You Were Young,” “Human,” “Read My Mind” — as some of my favorite songs to do.
There’s something really gratifying about being able to go full voice that high. My heart goes out to people that end up using falsetto a lot because it is an insane payoff for you personally. It is nice. I have those capabilities and I’m thankful I’ve been able to do that. It’s something that I work on. I see a voice coach every now and then and practice at home. “Caution” has a gratifying chorus, bathroom or not.
Most memorable bad review
Sometimes there is constructive criticism, and you can learn from it. I pay attention sometimes to live reviews. I remember reading once about how there wasn’t enough of a journey. It was all just banging people over the head. I took that into consideration and thought about the shows that I’ve seen that I loved and if they had those moments that we were lacking, and tried to incorporate that into our shows. It can be a positive thing.
But we were really beaten up, by Rolling Stone in particular, for Sam’s Town. [Ed. note: In a two-star review that RS has since taken down, Rob Sheffield noted the album’s glockenspiel solos and called “When You Were Young” “the closest thing to a good song on the album.”] I took it pretty hard at first, but then when we took the album on the road, it sort of lit a fire in me that didn’t exist before as a performer. We elevated as a band. We wanted to show the world that these songs were better than what was being said about them. It ended up making us a lot better at performing and embracing our strengths in that department, and that’s paid off a lot, too.
Most meaningful praise you’ve received
It’s a tough one to answer without being braggadocios. I’ve received compliments from people that I admire that’s kind of blown my mind, and that’s been nice.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.