Rock Gods

09.15.12

The Killers Talk New Album ‘Battle Born,’ Mitt Romney, Mormonism & More

The Vegas rockers have performed for President Obama, gotten a shout-out from Mitt Romney, and racked up Grammy Awards. Frontman Brandon Flowers and bassist Mark Stroemer talk to Marlow Stern about Mormonism, their new album, and those early days performing at transvestite bars. Plus, exclusive video.

Since forming in Las Vegas in 2002, The Killers have become one of America’s biggest rock bands. They’ve been nominated for seven Grammy Awards and sold 15 million albums worldwide.

On July 4, 2010, they were personally invited by President Obama to perform on the White House Lawn for the second annual “Salute to the Military” USO concert, and performed at a rally on July 8, 2010, for Democratic U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election campaign. They’re also a favorite of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who put two of their songs on a 19-song playlist that he disseminated to the public. Like Romney (and Reid), the front man of The Killers, Brandon Flowers, is a Mormon, and Romney personally requested a one-on-one lunch meeting with him last year. Of his political allegiances, however, Flowers remains torn.

“It’s really back-and-forth,” he says, followed by a long pause. “We all have different opinions in the band.”

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Flowers and guitarist Dave Keuning first formed the band in 2001, and bassist Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. later joined in 2002 after answering an ad. According to Flowers, the band’s name is derived from a New Order music video for the song “Crystal.” In the video, the camera pans to the band’s drum kit and “The Killers” is written on it. “We took it and never looked back,” he says.

In the early days, the band would practice in Vannucci’s garage or sneak into the band room of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where Vannucci was studying, to jam. They cut their teeth playing in “strip mall bars, cafes, little dives for as few as five people sometimes,” according to Stoermer, and witnessed some bizarre things in the Nevada desert.

“You’d have your parents, cousins, and fans, and then the odd tranny walking around,” said Flowers.

“Probably the weirdest thing that we experienced from those early days was playing in a transvestite bar,” says Flowers. “You’d have your parents, cousins, and fans, and then the odd tranny walking around.”

The Killers’ debut album, Hot Fuss, was released in June 2004 and became an instant smash, with its infectious disco-pop sound resonating everywhere from caliginous clubs to suburban station wagons. In particular, the track “Mr. Brightside,” inspired by Flowers’s devastating break-up, caught fire.

“‘Mr. Brightside’ is a more autobiographical, straightforward story, so I think it resonates with people because a lot of people had gone through those experiences I had gone through,” says Flowers, who acknowledges it was about his first love. “At the time it broke my heart…but I’m over it now!”

Hot Fuss would go on to sell 7 million albums worldwide and garner three Grammy nominations, vaulting The Killers from an unknown local Vegas act to international stardom.

Their latest—and fifth studio album, if you count their compilation LP Sawdust—is Battle Born, which is a fusion of sorts of the Springsteen-esque, arena rock stylings of 2006’s Sam’s Town and the synth-heavy disco-dance of their last proper album, 2008’s Day & Age. “Miss Atomic Bomb,” a five-minute ditty that swells into a soaring rock anthem, is an early standout. 

“There’s a definite flavor on each album and this one has it’s own, too, but we just follow the songs,” says Flowers matter-of-factly.

In addition to their considerable music talents, The Killers were also the beneficiaries of great timing. They burst onto the scene in 2004, just before MTV transitioned to a fully-fledged reality TV network and MP3s cannibalized record sales. The band acknowledges their good fortunes, and feels for all the struggling music acts out there today trying to make it big.

“It seems like the music industry isn’t evolving but is going back in the wrong direction,” says Flowers. “I feel sorry for a young band. We were lucky that we got our foot in the door in the last minute. If you grew up loving the Rolling Stones and you want to start a rock ‘n’ roll band, there’s just not a home for you.” He pauses. “It’s weird and it’s not right.”

Flowers, who is still a practicing Mormon, struggled in the early days to reconcile his dual roles as a Mormon and a rock god.

“It was harder earlier on and it’s gotten a lot easier now,” he says. “There comes a point where you’ve got to decide and once you make that decision, it’s easy. Now, it’s my job and I love it and I’m thankful… but I also have these beliefs.” 

He’s married with three young children—Ammon, Gunnar, and Henry—and released a promotional video, dubbed “I’m A Mormon,” last year, where he discussed balancing his lives at home and on the road entertaining thousands. And, as far as The Killers goes, he feels the sky’s the limit.

“You have normal jobs that you wanna quit so you start a band and you see where the music takes you, and we’re still on that journey,” he says with a smile. “We’re still growing and we feel like we’re getting better.”