The Passion of Brandon Flowers: On His Solo Album, Kicking Booze, and Mitt Romney’s Mormon Shame
The Killers frontman opens up about his upcoming solo LP The Desired Effect, his battle with alcohol, and how he feels Mitt Romney “wasn’t a great ambassador” for Mormonism.
Brandon Flowers is mid-rant. If you’ve had the distinct pleasure of meeting the placid, incredibly soft-spoken frontman of The Killers, it’s a rare sight. His publicist is desperate for him to stop, waving her hands in the air, but something has struck a serious nerve.
“When I listen to a rock radio station in Las Vegas, I don’t hear rock ’n’ roll,” he says, shaking his head in frustration. “I don’t even hear fragments of it, and it’s frustrating. I’m not in the most rock ’n’ roll band on the planet, but you can trace what we do to those roots, and I can’t hear it on the radio anymore. And I don’t hear anything that’s good. I’m not being a dick, but I don’t hear anything that’s good.”
He pauses to take a breath. “Everyone goes into their living room, fires up their computer, and are just putting stuff out, and they haven’t earned the right to be where they’re at. These kids that make these keyboard records, it drives me nuts! It’s like, ‘Do you hear New Order? Do you hear it? Because yours is not as good as that! Go back and work harder.’ It’s so strange to me, and there’s so much of it.”
The new wave artist isn’t done. He declares “DJs’ names should not be on songs,” and points to his own dealings with DJs in the past. For years, he says, numerous DJs have tried contacting him through various avenues with the hope of having him sing a hook on one of their dance songs—only the songs aren’t theirs, just the beats. “They don’t write any of their own songs!” he says incredulously. “I’m on the phone with some random guy in Norway who actually wrote the song, talking it through. It’s crazy.”
But Brandon Flowers does write his own songs, thank you very much. He’s written 10 of them for his second solo album, The Desired Effect, which hits stores May 19. Variegated and often sing-along worthy, it’s a big step forward from his previous solo effort, 2010’s Flamingo. Heck its catchy lead single, “Can’t Deny My Love,” has even received the Lorde’s blessing.
We’re seated at the Club Room of New York’s Soho Grand Hotel—a venue that bills itself as “melding downtown style and old New York gentility,” and is filled with leather chairs and a massive framed photo of a circa-1960s Sean Connery in a bathtub hanging on the wall. The 33-year-old singer, meanwhile, is slim, clean-cut, and all-American, like the mild-mannered little brother to Jason Sudeikis (with whom he shares Lithuanian roots).
The previous evening, Flowers turned in a rousing performance at New York’s Webster Hall, wowing the crowd with a mix of newbies and Killers classics like “Mr. Brightside” and a reworked “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine.” And while Flowers has a Jimmy Stewart-aw shucks persona in person, onstage he transforms into a galvanized, wildly gesticulating performer.
“You know, it took a long time,” he says of his stage presence. “I’ve probably done over 1,000 shows now. I just learned to enjoy it more and more, and that’s started to show, and you feel like you’ve earned your place there. There are people who come out onstage and feel like they belong, but it’s taken me a bit longer to get there.”
That journey began in Henderson, Nevada. Flowers is the youngest of six. “You can forget that a person you’re listening to or a person on a marquee has real-life experiences,” he says. “I have four sisters who are all much older than me, so I grew up with the whole plethora of experiences that people go through—divorces, and all these things that go on. I’m not removed from these things.”
One of his biggest life-changing experiences was the transformation of his father, Terry, from a third-generation alcoholic to a loving father—a change he credits to the Mormon faith.
“My dad converted to Mormonism when I was 6, and he smoke and drank. His dad was an alcoholic, and his dad’s dad was an alcoholic, and I saw him turn his life around,” says Flowers. “It had a big impact on me, so as I got older and was coming of age, I came to that same realization of, ‘I don’t know if I want that in my fridge, and I don’t know if I want that stuff around.’ My dad became a better person when he stopped doing all that stuff, so it was a big lesson for me.”
Flowers had just turned 22 when The Killers blew up in 2003 with their single “Mr. Brightside.” When they first tasted fame, Flowers says he gave in to some of the trappings that come with it, smoking and drinking regularly—and sometimes to excess. “It’s so attractive when you’re young,” he says. “You hear the stories and all the rock ’n’ roll mythology, so it’s all there in the palms of your hands. It’s enticing. I never went to rehab or anything, but I drank and smoked.”
He married longtime girlfriend Tana Munblowsky in August 2005, and the two started a family shortly thereafter. Around 2007, with a wife and a son on the way, he decided—like his father before him—to kick booze and cigs and commit himself more fully to the Mormon way of life.
“When I stopped smoking and drinking, instantly the shows started getting better,” says Flowers. “I sang better, I had more longevity, and I felt better. That was about eight years ago. And being committed to my wife and family, I can’t think of a downside to it. There are people in the past who’ve done the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll thing and made it happen for them, but I knew even when I was young that that wasn’t going to work out for me.”
He adds of sobriety, “You’re more yourself, and you’re more wholesome. I believe in God, so I believe it’s the way that He intended us to be.”
Mormonism, of course, became a very hot topic during Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run. You had not one, but two Mormon presidential candidates (Romney and Jon Huntsman), the opening of the Broadway smash The Book of Mormon, etc. The Killers even held a private lunch with Romney back in February 2011. And there are many high-profile celebs who were raised Mormon, but have since distanced themselves from the faith, including Ryan Gosling and Katherine Heigl.
“The redheaded girl, what’s her name? Amy Adams,” adds Flowers. “A lot of them have nice things to say about it, but none of them practice it anymore. I went a different route.”
And because Romney is a Mormon, his faith came under attack during election season, with many questioning whether a person who believes in the tenets of Mormonism could hold the Oval Office. But the fact that Romney tended to dodge questions about his religion left a very sour taste in Flowers’s mouth.
“It’s still a very misunderstood thing. There’s weird rumors, and somebody just needs to clear it up!” Flowers says of Mormonism. “I think Romney would even admit that he wasn’t a great ambassador for it. His answers weren’t great, and it made it even worse; it seemed like he was hiding something. But there’s really nothing to hide. You can find out what you need to find out! It’s all there.”
As someone moderately familiar with the principles of Mormonism, I ask Flowers about the LDS Church’s stance against same-sex marriages. He pauses. “Do Catholics perform same-sex marriages?” he asks, taking another moment to ponder the query. “I doubt our church ever will perform them. I doubt it. But I was always taught that everyone on this Earth is my brother and sister, so maybe from an outsider’s perspective it looks worse than it really is, but we don’t teach fire and brimstone.”
The LDS Church also doesn’t allow drinking and boozing, but Flowers says he had a bit of “a rebellious streak.” Thankfully, he managed to get a lot of his partying out of his system during his teenage years. Though the family had moved to Utah when he was 8, as soon as Flowers turned 16, his parents let him move to Vegas to live with his aunt. The reason? “Golf,” he says.Flowers’ cousin is on the PGA Tour and his brother is a scratch golfer, so he wanted to go pro. But Utah winters weren’t exactly conducive to a golfing career, so his parents allowed him to move to Vegas where he could play year-round. He got a job on a golf course (“it was like Caddyshack almost,” he recalls) and played for his high school team. It was working on the golf course where he met an eccentric fella by the name of Trevor, who introduced him to music.
“He turned me onto the idea of starting a band,” says Flowers. “And then my car got stolen with my clubs in it, and it was a transitional moment for me because I had just started getting into making music. It was a crossroads if there ever was one, and I just never bought another set of golf clubs. I ended up going into music. I’m thankful for Trevor.”
Now, he’s fronting one of the biggest rock acts around in The Killers, who’ve released four studio albums that have sold over 25 million copies. And he began recording The Desired Effect on Super Bowl Sunday 2014 at L.A.’s Vox Studios with Ariel Rechtshaid, who’s produced for Vampire Weekend and Haim. It took about a year to put the album together, and Flowers says he was influenced by “the dynamic between a man and a woman as you get older, and not being afraid to go into that territory, and the responsibilities I have of being a dad and a husband, and not being prepared for that.”
Despite his recent, impressive solo album, Flowers insists that The Killers are not over. “No, everything is cool!” he says. “This is born out of them wanting to take breaks, so this isn’t, ‘Hey guys, I want to make a solo album so find something else to do for two years.’ This is them saying, ‘We want to take a break.’ I made a record before, and then we made Battle Born. As soon as I finished this record, a text went out to [Killers guitarist] Dave saying, ‘Hey, send me some stuff!’”
As for Flowers’ marriage and family life, he says things are going great there, too. “I’m really happy,” he says, flashing a teethy smile. “I would suggest my route to others.”