MH INTERVIEW: BRANDON FLOWERS
Brandon Flowers is 15 minutes late for his interview. But he's got a good excuse. "My gym is closing down today so it took a lot longer to get out: everybody was saying goodbye," explains the Killers frontman, apologetically. "Being in the city, it's the closest we get to that small-town sense of community."
As I've got older I've worked out more. The more comfortable I am in my own skin, the more comfortable I am in front of a camera
The city where Flowers makes his home is fabulous Las Vegas. Such a vivid, lurid locale can't help but infuse and inspire much of his muscial output. If The Killers' indie and dance-tinged debut Hot Fuss was a love lette to Britain and '80s bands such as New Order, Depeche Mode and The Cure, then their subsequent records have been an epistolary romance with Vegas, soundtracked by epic stadium rock in the Springsteen tradition. Sam's Town, The Killers' second album, was named after a Vegas casino, and Flowers' first solo record, Flamingo, after the road on which it sits. The lead track is called Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas.
Flowers' second, as-yet-unnamed solo album, due out this spring, promises to be a departure in more ways than one. Although he's in the studio without his regular bandmates, he's not completely alone, working with up-and-coming producer Ariel Rechtshaid. "Fresh: that's the word for Ariel," says Flowers, and not just because of Rechtshaid's background in hip-hop. (He's also produced Vampire Weekend and Haim.) "He's got a completely different approach to making records than anything I'm used to," says Flowers. "I feel like there's something authentic and a little bit more adventurous about this one, that's for sure." Thematically, Flowers is also leaving Las Vegas behind to an extent – or at least, not moonlighting for the tourist board.
You might expect that a rock start who has permenant residence in Sin City must live a life of such unbridled hedonism it would make a showering-while-swilling-whisky Nicolas Cage check into rehab posthaste. But Flowers is conspicuously, incongruously clean-living, certainly compared to the legendarily debauched rock stars of yesteryear. "Yeah, it's a new breed of rock star," he laughs. "I'm rebelling against the stereotype." He hasn't drank, or at least been drunk, for "probably seven or eight years." He doesn't smoke. He doesn't even drink coffee. And his much-publicised faith – he's a Mormon, a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, which issues guidelines on alcohol and caffeine consumption – is not the only explanation. Indeed, many of his lyrics are about struggling to remain virtuous and resist temptation.
"I had kids and started realising what I want and what I don't want in my house," says Flowers, now a father of three. "There were other deciding factors. I believe it's made me a better performer and given me more longevity with my voice. I know it has, because I was there on stage when I was drinking and smoking consistently and I just didn't... my pipes weren't as strong and I didn't have the energy that I do now."
That's probably because, instead of partying all night, Flowers goes to the gym five times a week. "I do cardio and weights," he said. "I mix the cardio up: I do elliptical, StairMaster and bike to distribute the damage and not put it all on my knees..." And he doesn't see it as a penance: "There are lots of things I like about it. I need to get out of the house sometimes. I really feel the benefits of running in my brain. I feel lighter on my feet. I've got a lot more energy." That extra wattage has, in turn, helped Flowers and his Killers generate a reputation as one of the most electrifying live bands around. "I don't know if I sing correctly but it's physical: I sing with my body," he says. "Fitness has helped me with the performances."
Given the opportunity, Flowers would rather fill his newly fortified pipes with fresh air. "If I can do cardio outside then I prefer to go trail running or hiking," he says. "The Mojave Desert around Vegas is beautiful for that: we have great trails and hikes. I take advantage any time I can." That includes the height of summer: "We'll go at night, when it cools off, and hike with flashlights." And he doesn't let touring stop him either: "We've hiked all over the place. I've taken down Snowdon. The Alps. We've done good ones in Chile, Sweden... all kinds of places. It's always on my mind, where we should hike on days off. I love it."
It's not your typical frontman's idea of getting high. On tour is where rock starts are supposed to go off the rails, not on trails. For most performers, being on stage is intoxicating, and in this regard Flowers is no exception. "I can't sit still for long after. I pace a lot. I'm talkative. I'm high, I guess, like a drug addict."
But where other performers might seek something similarly stimulating to postpone the comedown when they come off stage, he swerves the after-parties altogether: "I just don't go. There are only so many Cokes you can have at a bar... the whole thing doesn't attract me any more." In fact, for their Day & Age tour, The Killers had two buses: a party one and a, um, non-party one. "The party bus!" he recalls. "There are nights when it's still around... but the longer I go on, the easier it is to stay off it."
Although whisky and vodka have a reassuring presence on The Killers' rider, there's also kombucha – a fermented tea containing stomach-friendly probiotic bacteria. But it's not at Flower's request: "That might be down to Mark [Stoermer, bass and backing vocals]. My wife drinks that kind of stuff. I don't like it. In fact, nutrition is one area where Flowers isn't saintly. Although he's consistent with his breakfast (cereal with almond milk, banana, an Actimel), he occasionally strays from the path of righteousness. "I'm not great with diet," he admits. "It's something that I need to work on. But I love food, so fitness affords me that pleasure. Going to the gym makes it a lot easier to hit the In-N-Out Burger drive-thru and not feel so bad about myself." Hey, a rock star's got to have some vices.
Flowers' devotion to fitness has benefits extending beyond performance, and the excuse to keep up a fast food habit. Photo shoots like this is one. "As I've got older I've worked out more. The more comfortable I am in my own skin, the more comfortable I am in front of a camera," he says. Not that he has reason to feel otherwise. Even within the dandified sphere of rock frontmen, Flowers is frequently feted for his style. "It's born from the first music I listened to," he says. "It was always very style-driven, even though it was good music. People like The Smiths, New Order: they looked the part. It's like there's an obligation once you sign a record deal that you've got shoes to fill. I've taken some style risks and failed. It's always a gamble."
The odds are stacked in your favour if you can get shoes and perhaps a skinny black suit from someone like Hedi Slimane. Flowers was a disciple of the designer during his Dior Homme heyday, which coincided with the release of Hot Fuss. "Hedi was great and he did so many things for me," says Flowers, who remains faithful now Slimane heads up Saint Laurent Paris: "It's pretty apparent he's the best at it. He's got his finger on the pulse. He captures classic stuff and makes it feel new."
Although he doesn't place as much emphasis on being a dedicated follower of fashion now he's a family man – "it can be time-consuming" – Flowers still knows where the pulse points are: "I love Dries Van Noten and Burberry Prorsum. Now Levi's is bring back the classic T-shirts and denim from the '40s, '50s and '60s, so that's a real treat." Denim and biker jackets – rock classics as ageless as, well, Springsteen – are, like Vegas, recurring themes in Flowers' career. The same cannot be said of the snakeskin Dior Homme tracksuit top he wore around Sam's Town. "There's still a wardrobe somewhere with all that stuff in," he says. "I don't really wear it any more. But I kept some of the more... let's say interesting pieces." He says his style has matured and become more sure-footed as he's aged: "As I get older, it gets a little bit easier."
Which brings us to the killer question. Flowers' style has changed tempo with his record releases, from the guylinered Dior Homme of Hot Fuss to the feather-customised Dolce & Gabbana of Day & Age. So what's the look for the new album?
"I'm working on it," he laughs. "Sometimes you think, I want to wear this or that,' then you go on stage and you realise it was completely the wrong choice. I want it to be something that I feel comfortable in and comfortable performing in. Just because because Mick Jagger looks good in it doesn't mean you're going to. You've got to find your own style." Amen to that.