The Killers get ready for Battle
- 20 September 2012
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
The Killers have returned after a four-year hiatus with a new album, Battle Born, and a reinvigorated frontman. "But I still get butterflies," Brandon Flowers tells the BBC.
Just over three weeks ago, Brandon Flowers' eldest son started pre-school.
As the pupils got to know their new playmates, they were invited to stand in front of the class and talk about what they had done over the summer.
Taking his turn, Ammon Flowers gave a short speech and showed a few photos. Then his teacher asked: "What does your dad do?"
Quick as a flash, the five-year-old replied: "Oh, he's a rock star".
His father was mortified.
"We don't ever... We would never use that phrase to him," says Brandon Flowers. "It's not even part of my vocabulary. It's just amazing what they pick up on."
Modesty aside, Brandon Flowers is a rock star, and a pretty successful one at that.
The Killers' first album Hot Fuss sold seven million copies and was nominated for five Grammy Awards. Their last record, 2008's Day and Age, went triple platinum in the UK.
Flowers now rubs shoulders with the likes of Bono, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John, who christened one of The Killers' new songs Miss Atomic Bomb during recent recording sessions.
But speaking backstage at the Jonathan Ross Show, the singer is fidgety and shy. An uneasy, breathy laugh punctuates his conversation.
"I still have those butterflies going about the release of the record," he admits. "But I think that's a good sign. We're not going through the motions."
Battle Born is The Killers' first album for four years. For most major-league rock bands, that's the norm, but The Killers had previously produced a new CD every other year.
Flowers had been keen to continue that pattern - he wrote several songs during the Day And Age tour, which eventually ended up on a solo album - but the other members of the band wanted time off to see their families.
Going back into the studio after two years apart was daunting.
"We thought we should make it worth the wait," the singer says. "We've raised a bar for ourselves and we wanted to make sure we reached that bar."
Record label battle
Named after the state slogan of Nevada, Battle Born is the most direct, guitar-driven Killers album since Sam's Town in 2006.
Lyrically, Flowers is on familiar territory - sin and redemption, love and fear - but one song stands out as The Killers' first attempt at a lighters-aloft stadium ballad.
Here With Me, written with Fran Healy from Travis, is an archetypal tour bus lament. "I don't want your picture on my cellphone," croons Flowers, "I just want you here with me."
Flowers says he was "deliberately trying to write ballads" after noticing the bands he looked up to - U2, REM, Radiohead - all had them, but "we didn't have any".
What he wasn't expecting, however, was that the track would trigger a crisis of confidence at his record label.
"Here With Me is such a massive, obvious song," he says. "I have just as much understanding about that as I did with Mr Brightside or When You Were Young or Human.
"But, because it's all about beats-per-minute and drum machines on the radio, the American label is scared to death of it.
"It's strange - a few years ago we would have been on the fence and they would have been arguing for it. Now the tables have totally turned."
Presumably in an attempt to prove the record label wrong, the band have been playing Here With Me during encores on their current tour. Fans, who have yet to hear the album, have been singing along by the final chorus.
Other new tracks include Deadlines and Commitments - a song about the global economic crisis.
Improbably, Flowers wrote the track after being prompted by comedian Jimmy Carr, who told the singer "the next big breakthrough record" was going to be "about the problems of the economy".
While Flowers may not be struggling to pay the rent, he says he has witnessed the effects of the recession first-hand in his home town.
"Las Vegas was hit harder than any other place," he says.
"In my street there were eight or nine empty houses. There's an empty shopping mall near my house, this brand new complex, and nobody ever occupied it. It's a weird wasteland-looking thing. Dead palm trees. I guess that's where that song was born."
Where Springsteen or Dylan would rail at the injustices done to the working man, Flowers, a practising Mormon, takes a more compassionate view, singing: "Don't be afraid to knock on the door if you fall on hard times."
He says: "I always felt that sort of security from my parents. I'm sure most people did. I'm sure that having my own kids feeds into these songs."
Sometimes it seems this reluctant frontman is happier as a father than a rock star. But occasionally he allows himself a moment of pride.
He recalls The Killers' first gig following their two-year break. After their pre-show ritual ("we get together and we touch feet"), Flowers turned to his bandmates and pronounced: "We still got it".
Later, he reflects on having turned 30 in the gap between Killers albums.
"I'm looking forward to getting older," he says.
"I look at people like Peter Gabriel and Sting and even Tom Petty, Don Henley. People that didn't lose it. I'm hopefully going to join that club."
Battle Born is out now.