Brandon Flowers: 'I wasn't comfortable with stardom at the start... but I've eased into it'
The Killers frontman talks to Ed Power about religion, U2, and the release of his new album
There’s a weird moment early in my conversation with Brandon Flowers when The Killers frontman and custodian of the most blinding smile in rock music suddenly stands bolt upright. Several of his retinue are outside his dressing room and their nattering is interrupting his train of thought. He opens the door, shushes them, sits back down.
It’s a revealing gesture. Most rock stars could care less about interviews, much less whether they give good quote. But Flowers is a perfectionist — even if you think his music overblown and sort of cheesy, you can’t argue that it is meticulously assembled, trace elements of Springsteen, U2 and Bowie sprinkled in just so. He’s friendly — the kind of guy you maybe imagine bonding with over beers (only he doesn’t drink). Still, he believes in doing things correctly and does not tolerate nonsense.
He’s also refreshingly plain-spoken. On his way to Dublin’s Olympia for a sold-out concert, Flowers was struck by the frenzy of pro-and anti-gay marriage placards affixed to every lamp post and pillar. I canvass his opinion, expecting the standard entertainment industry spiel about being all for same-sex nuptials. Only he doesn’t quite go there. As a practicing Mormon, this is a tricky subject and Flowers doesn’t mind admitting it.
“My church has a pretty definitive stance on it. Within the church, I don’t think they would allow gay marriage and so it puts me in a little bit of a bad spot.
“I definitely have gay friends — a lot of gay people have been iconic to me and inspired me all over the spectrum. I have always been taught that we are all brothers and sisters. It’s a weird spot for me to be in.”
Mormons are painted as socially conservative. Where does he fit in?
“What do you mean?” he asks. “You mean socially… as in, out to dinner?”
I’m not sure if he’s joking — honestly, he probably isn’t. Anyway, at least he’s willing to discuss Mormonism. That was not the case the last time we spoke, in 2012, when The Killers were releasing their fourth LP Battle Born. This was in the run-up to the American presidential election; Mitt Romney was pushing Flowers hard for the title of World’s Most Famous Mormon. Asked about Romney, he seemed supremely fed-up — understandable as every journalist he’d encountered across the previous six months had lobbed that exact question.
Three years on, with Flowers and Romney no longer joined at the hips in the mind of the media, he's relatively at ease talking about his faith. He was raised Mormon but drifted away as a young man: indeed, in the early days of The Killers, whose hits include Mr Brightside and When You Were Young, he partied pretty hard. However, as he got older, married childhood sweetheart Tana, had kids, he returned to the faith - today he's teetotal going on a decade, a picture of clean living superstardom.
"It is part of my identity," he says. "It isn't something I am going to try to hide or shy away from. I guess some people are pretty private about their beliefs and their spirituality. I've always been (out there with it). It is a Mormon thing to be that (way). It is part of the deal."
Our conversation takes place several days after U2 commenced their world tour in Canada. Flowers and the Dubliners go back - The Killers supported U2 across the United States and hung out with the band when they passed through Flowers' home town of Las Vegas. As is the case with many in the rock world, the singer was taken aback by the harsh treatment meted out to U2 over their Apple iTunes giveaway of last year. "People were a little bit hard on them," he nods. "So you woke up one day and there's a U2 record on your phone? Things could be worse."
Would he ever countenance following the example of U2 and giving an LP away for free?
"Of course I wouldn't do it now. If Apple or iTunes came to you and asked you to do that - just about every band would have said 'yes'. It makes sense that U2 got dibs on it first. If they would have turned it down, Coldplay would have done it."
Aged 33, Flowers is finally at peace thinking of himself as a rock star. He's always been at ease on stage. Early on, however, the trappings of celebrity freaked him out a little. It didn't help that he was prone to shoving his foot in his mouth in front of journalists. He notoriously called out middle-aged punks Green Day as America-haters - which did little to harm their image but burnished in the public imagination the caricature of Flowers as tetchy and excessively sharp-tongued.
"You have Green Day and American Idiot. Where do they film their DVD? In England," he said in 2006.
"A bunch of kids screaming 'I don't want to be an American idiot'. I saw it as a very negative thing towards Americans. It lit a fire in me. In the early days I wasn't comfortable with (stardom)," he says. "I'm just starting to ease into it - finally starting to feel at ease lacing up those boots."
Flowers has just released a fantastic new solo LP, The Desired Effect. For those who have wished The Killers would return to the zingy FM rock of their early career, the record will feel like manna from pop heaven. Variously evoking The Pet Shop Boys, Hall and Oates and The Cars, the project is beyond catchy, every tune spring-loaded with hooks. It hasn't escaped the attention of many that it is a good deal more agreeable than the last Killers album, though Flowers shrugs when I put this to him.
"It's all relative I guess," he demurs. "You never know who the people are who like this or that. I am proud of it and excited for it to be released." Still, the critical success of the LP has caused some to wonder if The Killers might be on borrowed time. "People want something to talk about," he says of break-up rumours. "Everything in the group seems fine."
He recently finished a US tour and will spend the next few weeks performing around Europe. With a wife and three young boys, does it hurt to be away from home so often?
"It can be hard. I'm also lucky - the success I've had means I can bring the family out. They're in London and will be with me right until mainland Europe. So it won't be long until I'm home with them. Three weeks was the rule of thumb for the "rocker dad", I'm told. That's a little too much for me. My goal is two weeks."
The Desired Effect (Virgin EMI) is out now