It was another brush-with-an-icon moment for the Killers : back in May of this year, joining Duran Duran – the first name in ’80s fashionista Britpop – onstage, aptly in Las Vegas, to perform the vets’ chestnut “Planet Earth.” Brandon Flowers, resplendent as ever in a tux, looked like a young James Bond. And you know he had to have been stirred, if not a little bit shaken.
There are no more unabashed Anglophiles among U.S. pop-rockers than the Killers. From day one, they have made that clear: They took their name from a New Order video, they’ve covered Joy Division , Dire Straits , Morrissey and Bowie , they’ve been remixed by the Pet Shop Boys and Stuart Price (using Bowie’s nom de disque the Thin White Duke), they recently recorded a Christmas single with Elton John , and Robbie Williams and Coldplay are among their fans. We get it – just give ’em a knighthood already! After a sojourn into Springsteen sounds and “There Will Be Blood” fashions with Sam’s Town , for their just-released third full-length Day & Age , the Killers appear to have renewed their embrace of a poppier, funkier time – the era of eyeliner, Anthony Price, and Smash Hits. I talked with the self-described “more dance-y” half of the band, Flowers and guitarist Dave Keuning, backstage recently, before a pre-album-release show in New York.
Norris : Nice to see you guys. I have seen you describe the new album as maybe more global or universal in theme. Is that fair?
Brandon Flowers : I think it’s our most playful record. And that should be universal. I think more people need to have fun.
Norris : The single “Human” – with that galloping rhythm – is reminding a lot of people of the Pet Shop Boys. Was that in mind when you worked on it?
Flowers : Me and Dave are more on the Pet Shop Boys side of the band and, uh… it’s an influence, definitely. When we met Stuart to record it, I said, “I think it’s a cross between Johnny Cash and the Pet Shop Boys, if that’s possible.” So, it was born that night, I guess.
Norris : Stuart, of course, is the producer of Day & Age. Stuart Price, who has done a lot of things, but I guess in recent years is most known for his work with Madonna – on her records and on tour – and is generally thought of as more of a pop guy. Should we take that as an indication that the Killers wanted to get more “pop”?
Dave Keuning : I actually think Stuart wanted to go into a more of a rock direction. He’s good at that. Like, with his other side projects, like [Price’s band] Zoot Woman , I mean, he can do that stuff. He just kind of wound up working with Madonna.
Flowers : I think we hit somewhere in the middle with Stuart. We moved… and he did too. I think we both had to move into a new place.
Norris : A place that apparently includes a lot of variety. On this record you’ve got sweeping tunes like “Spaceman,” which I think is my favorite. … There’s steel drums and an island vibe on one song, “I Can’t Stay.” … You’ve got this big rock thing on a couple of tracks, like “A Dustland Fairytale” and this full pop-funk on “Joy Ride,” with a sax solo for God’s sake!
Keuning : Yeah, we’ve talked about a sax solo for years. We finally did it.
Flowers : You know, Psychedelic Furs and people like David Bowie – I’ve always admired their use of the saxophone. So yeah, it didn’t seem too far-fetched.
Norris : I was thinking Bowie’s “Modern Love.” David Bowie, “Notorious”-era Duran Duran. … I’m sure Nile Rodgers would approve of “Joy Ride.”
Flowers : We got to meet Nile the other day in an elevator. We should’ve told him about it, I guess. It’s very Chic.
Norris : And so when some say, as they have already, “Oh, they’re returning to the Hot Fuss days,” a more post-punk, ’80s-inspired sound, and taking a step away from Sam’s Town – what do you say? I’m guessing you view this record as more of a third direction altogether.
Flowers : Definitely. I even see it as an extension of Sam’s Town in a lot of ways. People are bound to put a tag on it, but for us it feels very fresh. We have so many different influences that are coming out on this record. We weren’t running from the criticisms of Sam’s Town by any means, and going back to Hot Fuss days – I think we’ve really grown and moved into a good place.
Norris : Because I don’t have to tell you that in this country there was a tendency to dismiss Sam’s Town or not “get it” as much the first record – you’re not feeling like you need to ‘win back’ America?
Keuning : I think there’s still a lot of fans in America to win over regardless. There’s a lot of ground to cover. It’s hard to get to Middle America, you know? They’re just a little hard to reach for some reason.
Flowers : And you know, Sam’s Town was a platinum record in America, plus our fans are getting more diverse and people are growing up with us. We’re proud of what we’ve done so far.
Norris : I saw someone refer to you recently as “America’s best British band” – I’m not sure if you have a problem with that term or not. But I had a similar conversation not long ago with Kings of Leon , who are just massive in the U.K. and less so here, and they said it is a bit weird because, after all, their passports are American.
Keuning : Well, they’re an extreme example of it – because they are just huge over there.
Flowers : We’re honored, because a lot of music that we love comes from over there, but at the same time, we’re a little hurt sometimes, I guess, on the American side of it, because we want to be understood here. I just think we’re a little bit misunderstood at the moment.