Entertainment & Arts

Brandon Flowers interview: 'I have a knack for pop'

Brandon Flowers Image copyright Record label
Image caption Brandon Flowers: 'You squeeze the sponge and the song comes out'

The Killers' frontman Brandon Flowers has won rave reviews for his new album - but he tells the BBC he's uncomfortable striking out on his own.

Brandon Flowers invites the BBC into his bedroom.

It's an unusual start to our interview - but a camera crew is setting up in the living room of his rented London apartment.

He checks his hair in the mirror ("a few grey hairs now") and settles on the edge of the pristine white bed to talk about his new record, The Desired Effect.

The singer has been in the limelight for more than a decade now, as the frontman of stadium rock superheroes The Killers.

But despite his onstage swagger, the 33-year-old is softly-spoken and full of nervous energy, with a tendency to giggle after he speaks.

He confesses he'd rather be promoting this new record with his bandmates.

"I'm the singer in The Killers. That's what I am," he says.

"That's a big part of my identity. And I do wish that we were all here. That's the dream - a band of brothers going out to take on the world."

'I love pop'

The Desired Effect is Flowers' second solo album - the rest of The Killers are unable, or unwilling, to keep up with his prodigious work rate.

While its predecessor (2010's Flamingo) seemed like an extension of his day job, this record veers towards the melodramatic pop of the late 80s, full of orchestra hits and Phil Collins drum sounds.

Image copyright Record label
Image caption Flowers displays a more playful side to his personality in the video for Still Want You

Lead single Can't Deny My Love could easily fit on the soundtrack to St Elmo's Fire. And, when it appeared online in March, the response was unanimous: "This is the record we've been waiting for Brandon Flowers to make for years".

"Right when I started doing interviews, I realised I'd made The Killers' second record," he laughs.

"I mean, I made what we were supposed to do on our second album, but we never gave anybody that pleasure. We threw everyone a little bit with Sam's Town."

Did he know that people wanted him to be a pop star?

"No," he replies. "Sometimes you want to be more macho and you want the word 'rock' next to your name. But I'm not ashamed of it or anything. I love pop music. And I definitely have a knack for it."

Flowers spent a year recording the album in Las Vegas and Los Angeles with producer Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Vampire Weekend).

Staying true to the 1980s vibe, they enlisted Bruce Hornsby to play piano, and called in a guest appearance from Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant - who delivers a typically laconic line on the Bronski Beat-sampling I Can Change.

"I just texted Neil with the line and within minutes I got a voice memo," Flowers says.

"We just stuck it right on the computer. It's cool. Incredible. He didn't even hear the song or the tempo or anything. It just worked."

Image copyright BBC / Getty Images
Image caption The singer says his favourite Pet Shop Boys songs are Being Boring and Rent

But the sessions weren't entirely smooth.

"Ariel had a big job, because he's used to going in with people who are just starting out," Flowers explains diplomatically.

"I always have a lot of ideas and my demos have a really strong identity. So he had to take it and bring it into his world and pray that we both liked it.

"Sometimes he maybe went a little bit too far."

Rechtshaid was nearly fired "four times", says the singer, "but it was mostly over scheduling. He's a sought after guy right now, and I want all the attention!"

Family man

Flowers grew up in America's Southwest. The youngest of six children, he was born in Las Vegas and moved to Utah aged eight when his father became a Mormon.

His elder brother educated him in music, giving him cassettes of British indie bands like New Order and The Cure; and aged 16 he moved back to Las Vegas to live with an aunt, playing keyboards in a group called Blush Response while working as a bellhop.

When the band abandoned him and moved to LA, he stayed behind, answering an advert placed in a local paper by guitarist Dave Keuning.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Killers' hits include Mr Brightside, Read My Mind and Human

Inspired by an Oasis gig, they decided to form a group that placed as much emphasis on guitar as the synthesizer. Naming themselves The Killers after a fictional band in a New Order video, they wrote Mr Brightside almost immediately - propelling them to international stardom.

It was a big change for the frontman, whose previous ambition had been to get a job as a car valet.

"That was the top of the ladder," he laughs. "I was working in restaurants and I was a bellman at a hotel and I worked on a golf course. I loved working for tips. It was exciting. And the upper echelon, the top shelf of that in Las Vegas is the valet parkers. They make a lot of money."

He's still connected to that world - writing songs about life on the breadline and the struggle to keep love alive in hard times.

Those fears are crystallised on the track Between Me and You, where Flowers observes a fractured home life, singing: "chasing every dollar - is that what I was born to do?"

"I really wanted to represent men in this song, and the pressure that is placed on you to provide and lead your family," he says.

"I don't have to worry about that - but I'm definitely not far removed from people that do."

"So I'm speaking about problems I see with people that are around me. I try to take it all in, then you squeeze the sponge and the song comes out."

Image copyright Record label
Image caption Flowers still lives in Las Vegas with his wife Tana Mundkowsky and their three children

Flowers says the general theme of The Desired Effect is "growing up" after a decade on the road.

He gave up alcohol nearly eight years ago after recommitting to Mormonism, and spends his days off raising his three young children - cooking barbeques in the back garden and doing the school run.

"I'm a late bloomer but I'm definitely an adult now," he says. "It takes a while."

What does he make of Bono's assertion that rock stars remain frozen at the age they became famous?

"I think it can be a wonderful thing - being young at heart and all of that - but it can also be terrible," he muses.

"You meet people you assume are full-blown grown ups but they've been millionaires since they were 19 because they're in big bands and they act like they're 19. I've witnessed that and I don't want to be like that. I hope that I have grown."

"I'm happy. I'm happy to be on this earth."

The Desired Effect is out now on Virgin EMI.

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