Before the seven Grammy nominations, before the 370-plus million YouTube views for “Mr. Brightside,” before selling 28-plus million records, Brandon Flowers, lead singer and co-founder of The Killers, wanted to be a golf pro. The Las Vegas-born front man with movie star good looks thought he had a chance to make it hitting drives down fairways and putting with precision on the greens, say, of St. Andrews, Augusta National or Pebble Beach. In fact, Flowers spent so much time on the golf course practicing his skills alone that his golden singing voice improved daily and nearly by accident.
“I had a cousin on the PGA Tour,” Flowers says. “And my older brother is a scratch [read: really good] golfer. He got a full ride to college. So, that was something that seemed attainable to me in my life, too. I really loved it. I spent a lot of time alone on the golf course and I was obsessed with bands like The Smiths and The Cars. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I spent a lot of time out there singing to myself.”
Despite the fact that Flowers didn’t notice he was learning how to sing while swinging a driver, the seeds were assuredly planted. Muscle memory formed, musical tactics solidified. Flowers, who started playing music at a young age after inheriting a piano from his late great-grandmother, already had experience playing songs — just not really singing them in front of anyone. At the age of six, Flowers joined his older sisters and began piano lessons. But while his sisters didn’t last past a couple of sessions, Flowers continued through eighth grade and beyond.
If you were to watch Flowers on stage on a given night, you very naturally might think that he was born on one. But The Killers, Flowers says, was the first band he played with in public. Nevertheless, he remains acclimated like a fish in the ocean of center stage. One of the major reasons Flowers is so attuned to performance has to do with where he grew up.
Las Vegas, in many ways, Flowers says, shouldn’t exist. It’s a metropolis of bright lights and high rollers in the middle of the otherwise empty hot desert. This dualism, however, helped push him to become the creative stalwart that he is today.
“The juxtaposition of the Western frontier with what’s going on the Strip, I think that’s a big part of who I am still,” Flowers says. “I’m almost trying to reconcile those differences and make them live together internally the way Las Vegas lives in the Mojave Desert. As a songwriter, that push and pull has always been a part of my life. It’s a never-ending search to unify those two things.”
Flowers grew up in a Mormon family and was raised with five older siblings; his oldest sister is 17 years his senior. As a result, Flowers got to see and experience much at a young age, albeit mostly looking on from a distance. He grew up developing a propensity for people watching, a skill he now often takes advantage of in his songwriting. He was a young witness in a big religious family in a one-of-a-kind, very far-from-religious city.
“I saw all kinds of transitions and experiences growing up,” he says. “I definitely was an observer and so that side of me got fed. It got a lot of nutrition. My sisters gave me a lot of good stuff, seeing what choices they made and what that led to. I got to see the different avenues they took, the men that they chose and the boyfriends they chose, that whole dynamic.”
The Killers burst on the popular music scene in 2004 with the debut LP, Hot Fuss (and its hit single, “Mr. Brightside,” written about a breakup). Since then, the band has released five more studio records, including 2020’s artfully bombastic Imploding the Mirage. Before recording the new record, Flowers made the decision to move his family from the sweltering Las Vegas heat to the more versatile Utah outdoors. It was a choice that ultimately helped his mental state and, in turn, the writing and recording of the new album.
“I think I didn’t realize how much of a nature head I am,” Flowers says, “and what nature does for my creative side. It opened me up. We’re up in the mountains and it’s gorgeous here. Growing up in Vegas, it’s rare to get an overcast day. I think we have 325 days of sunshine a year. So when I got up here, it felt special to me. I love the access to all the seasons.”
The Killers released the exultant lead single, “Caution,” from the new record in March. To call the track epic might be an understatement. On it, Flowers achieves a vocal clarity and brightness perhaps only ever matched by “Pretty Woman” troubadour, Roy Orbison. While Flowers had the idea and lyrics for the new wave, narrative song about a small town for more than five years, it wasn’t until recently that he felt right laying it down in permanence.
“I never quite made it work but I always liked the lyrics,” Flowers says. “I just kept trying to cram it into spaces but, finally, we found a home for it.”
The band’s previous album — 2017’s Wonderful Wonderful, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 — incorporated very personal subject matter for Flowers and his family. Before its recording, Flowers experienced writer’s block for the first time in his career, while his wife was simultaneously dealing with very serious bouts of depression. After navigating those tumultuous, tenuous times together, the band’s 2020 release has a more uplifting slant.
“On this new album,” Flowers says, “it’s more about the other side, the fruits of persevering and sticking together. It’s about two people becoming one and making it through the storm.”
As a Mormon, family has always been important to Flowers and it remains ever so. One crucial aspect of the Mormon faith is the idea of eternity when it comes to relationships, to love. Marriage, as a result, is not an “until death do us part proposition,” the Sin City-born songwriter explains. Instead, it’s forever. This idea of being everlasting adds an extra level of pressure or even perfectionism to any relationship, Flowers notes, whether it’s musical, private or professional. But it’s a challenge he is happy to meet and work to overcome.
Part of that work, however, involves a sense of letting go. On the standout track, “My God,” from Imploding the Mirage, Flowers sings the quick and simple lyric, “Control is overrated.” With that one utterance, Flowers aims to level the playing fields, democratize day-to-day behavior. No longer should the mettle of a man be judged on how far he walks ahead of his fellow humans. Rather, Flowers explains, a man should be judged by whom he walks shoulder-to-shoulder beside.
“The idea for that line came from the shifting nature of what I think a man is and what the role of a man should be,” Flowers says. “We can change for the better. We can become more unified. We can walk side-by-side and appreciate the idea that we’re all doing this together.”
“My God” is one of several songs on Imploding the Mirage that inspires and implores its audience. Another is the track, “Dying Breed,” which sounds as if it was inspired by the beaches and boardwalks made famous in the Garden State. Flowers sings boisterously, “Baby, we’re a dying breed!” The songs point to one of the major influences in Flowers’ career: Bruce Springsteen. In the same way the “Born in the U.S.A.” rock star knows how to give a crowd or a melody all he’s got, Flowers summons great strength and power on the new album. And he credits Springsteen for introducing this extra push to him.
“I owe a lot to him,” Flowers says. “I’m very grateful for him. I started off idolizing people like Morrissey and David Bowie and all the ’80s post-punk greats. But after our first record, I had this new jolt, an awakening to American music and I realized how much more a part of it I was than I realized. (Bruce) was the first one to open that door. So, he’s in the pot. And once somebody like that gets in the pot, it’s hard to get him out.”
But while Springsteen is immensely popular — idolized by many, even — The Killers, which have sold some 28 million records to date, aren’t far behind him in musical recognition or fan adoration. The band is now in its 16th year, releasing records in three different decades, and that’s not to mention the abundance of Grammy nominations, Billboard charts and digital streams. Flowers, however, doesn’t overthink the fame. That stuff doesn’t ultimately fuel his artistic fires.
“I don’t wake up thinking about it,” he says. “But I am grateful. I’m not bothered if someone wants to take a picture or ask me about a song. That doesn’t bother me at all. Besides, we’re not as famous as Elton John or Elvis or Justin Bieber. That would be a whole other thing. I wouldn’t know how to handle that. We’re lucky that we can have this kind of success and not be burdened by it.”
Another standout song on the new record is the track “Fire In Bone,” which points to the creative passion and desire to take action for which Flowers has become known and beloved. For Flowers, there is no room to shrink away, no reason to hide from the light. What would be the point to life if aversion and fear marked one’s time on earth? Another track on the new record, “My Own Soul’s Warning” speaks to this very idea as well. Be yourself, Flowers practically shouts to his listeners.
“You want to do justice to your experiences and observations,” Flowers explains. “Because if you can’t do that, what good were they, what was it for? I’m always working in my beliefs; they’re always lurking in the songs I write, even if they’re about other people.”
Originally, Imploding the Mirage, which also features artists including Lindsay Buckingham and kd lang, was slated for a May release with a subsequent multiple-city tour to follow (which had already quickly sold out). But even The Killers weren’t immune to the problems brought on by the global Coronavirus pandemic. But, as the saying goes, good news can wait, and new tour dates will be scheduled.
Flowers, now nearly 40, has earned some patience and perspective. After all, as the title of the album would suggest, he has come out of some difficult times of late, challenges well beyond a triple-bogey or a sliced drive on the 18th hole of a golf tournament. It’s as if he’s finally coming to terms with a new, more mature reality, coming out of a haze that at one time seemed honest but now feels false. He’s embracing the necessary evolutions that come with age, living and experience.
“At some point,” Flowers says, “you look back and realize what was a façade and wasn’t real in your past. And you learn to embrace what is real and what is eternal. I’m looking forward to what’s coming in the next decade of my life. It feels like I’m washing my hands of something and stepping forward into something new.”
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