Brandon Flowers is in his pants. Not trousers. Actual pants. Though, to be fair, they are rather sensible pants. Briefs, actually. But still, somehow, we’re shocked that he’s so freely, unselfconsciously, whipped off his trousers to change in the makeshift wardrobe area to our left. For while Brandon Flowers – frontman of The Killers – is a real-deal rockstar, he’s also rock’n’roll’s biggest enigma.
A Mormon, a father, a husband, a traditionalist, a pelvis-thruster. A man who clearly – without a drop or a puff as his giddy partner – regularly and carefully unpacks the contents of his brain. You sense him toying with the personal, the musical, the political, the spiritual; turning it between his palms, squinting for meaning.
When we speak in a North London studio, it’s only been a handful of weeks since The Killers played a surprise show at Glastonbury and a sold-out Hyde Park gig within days of each other to promote new record, Wonderful Wonderful. Flowers, 36, is still clearly reeling from the relief that floats in on the back of knowing: hey, you may have been gone five years (the band – he’s released solo records in the gap), but we still kind of like you. In fact, as you cast an eye at the rock’n’roll scene of 2017, we’d go so far as to say: hell, we need you, man.
The sexy side of rock’n’roll has been handed over to rap and hip-hop
The Big Issue: How do you think the music landscape has changed since the last Killers record?
Brandon Flowers: It’s changed a lot. I don’t really hear a home for a band that would have grown up on the same music that I grew up on. And that sucks, I guess. We’re so lucky. We got our foot in the door at the last second. I don’t know how a band like us would have the opportunity right now.
What do you think about rock’n’roll in 2017?
Yeah [laughs]. It’s a tough one. It’s hard to answer it without sounding cynical. It’s in a bleak… [pauses, laughs]. It doesn’t look great. But I don’t know that that’s necessarily anybody’s fault but the bands’ either. Bands need to write better songs, you know. It’s undeniable, if you do it right.
Is it still alive? Or on life support?
It’s simmering, maybe. Or it’s dormant a little bit now, for sure. But someone’s just got to fan those embers. They’re always gonna be there.
Is rock’n’roll sexy any more?
The sexy side of rock’n’roll has been handed over to rap and hip-hop. And that seems more fruitful and fresh and forward-thinking than rock has been in a while.
So, what role do The Killers play in that in 2017?
We’re starting to understand our role and the traditions that came before us. So, we, to some degree, are flag-wavers and torch-bearers.
But regardless, you need people coming up behind you, right?
Yeah, we need more than us!
People talk about sexiness but then there’s the likes of Ed Sheeran, who’s a businessman. Do you respect that?
Sure. There used to be room for all this. The problem is that it doesn’t feel like there’s room for everyone any more. You’re either massive or you’re struggling. That’s frustrating. I don’t have the answers.
What’s the role of a frontman if you don’t have those bands coming through? Is it still a relevant thing?
Sure… I have to… [laughs].
It would be boring if we didn’t have people like me
Well, it would be bad if you said no…
Hopefully we’re not archaic in that sense. But there are traditions that work. I grew up loving frontmen. I was drawn towards what the singer was doing and what they were singing about and what shapes they were throwing. So, I think it’s really important. It would be boring if we didn’t have people like me [laughs].
Is there a craft to being a frontman? And how did you learn yours?
For me, it was about maybe the 10 people that were on my radar as frontmen and soaking them up and then funnelling them through the Las Vegas strip. And this is what you get!
Who are those people?
It started off with Morrissey. My brother used to bring home Morrissey Live in Dallas to watch. It was like a pinnacle of what a frontman is. And then, you learn, you take more in – David Bowie, Dave Gahan then Bruce Springsteen. And Elvis Presley later on. I tell people, I’m really just a glorified Elvis impersonator.
So, is it adopting a persona?
Yeah. I like the ritual of it and the excitement of getting ready for a gig. It’s part of my job now but I still get off on it.
Let’s talk about [album track] The Man, where you play different ‘types’ of man.
Well, we wanted to make a more mature record. And to put all the pieces of the puzzle together I had to go back and inhabit my 22-year-old self.
How was that?
It was really easily done, actually! He’s still lurking. He’s not far [laughs]. The video [where Flowers plays a gambler, a performer, a cowboy]…we were a little worried that people weren’t going to get it, and think I was being completely sincere. I’ve met people who’ve seen the video and still don’t know, who still think that I’m being cocky…
I’m really just a glorified Elvis impersonator
What were you like at 22?
I was critical of other people and I thought that I was special. I wasn’t as kind as I could have been. And over time, having kids, life experiences, my view of what masculinity is, and what being a man is, has changed.
How has being a husband and a father affected that?
It made me have more empathy – just for everyone. I used to be judgmental. It’s still something that I’m working on. And then just having my wife; she’s had certain trials in her life – maybe in those early days I wasn’t as compassionate and as wise as I needed to be for her. And that’s something that’s taken time.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
Do you think what being a man is has changed dramatically?
It has. It is changing. I still think there are specific roles. I don’t think it should be totally frowned upon for us to see each other as different and have different roles in the home or whatever that is. But it is changing for the better now that men seem to be getting more involved with their kids and that can’t never be a
Did committing to your faith shift how you viewed who you were as a man?
Probably. I guess it’s dramatic to say there was a fork in the road, but I definitely, at some point, had to decide which path I was going to take. And once I – I mean I’d never stopped believing in God – but once I’d decided I was going to be more devout, it just made it a lot clearer and a lot easier to go down the path that I went down and I’m thankful that I did.
I definitely had to decide which path I was going to take. But I never stopped believing in God
In track Tyson vs Douglas [about Mike Tyson’s 1990 shock defeat at the hands of Buster Douglas], you look at fallibility. Are men more able to speak about vulnerability?
That’s certainly happening and that’s nice. Maybe the way it’s changing has helped give me permission to do things like that. I saw Mike Tyson as perfect. I guess my perception of the world changed when he got knocked out. When you say Tyson vs Douglas, I can see the living room where I watched the fight and I just think about it all the time. So, I decided to explore it. I love how it comes full circle in the third verse and we just talk about if I have a son that’s the age that I was when that fight happened. I realised what it is that I wanted to express, is that I don’t want to go down in front of my kids. Which I think a lot of fathers and husbands do that to their family. So maybe it’s helping me keep myself where I need to be.
You must be conscious of the man he’s going to become. You may be able to talk more about vulnerability but you have a President who has a very, er, different view of masculinity. How do they find a path through that?
I’m definitely cautious… I went from being so excited about the first President that my sons would know being a black man to this. It’s a strange leap. They’re seeing different sides of things already, but they understand. They know what side they should be on.
What are the other key themes of the record?
A lot of it is about my wife. A lot of the songs were about me deciding I was just going to be vulnerable and sing about what was going on in my life. My wife has PTSD from her childhood and I guess it’s very common for women that have this damage done, for it to rear its head in their 30s.
Is there a fear about committing that stuff?
Yeah and I had to okay it with her. We had to edit things and clear things and we didn’t divulge too much but I think it’s going to be powerful.
And does it help how you speak to her?
Sure – people talk about it being cathartic and it sounds like this clichéd thing to say, but it was. There was definitely some healing and some understanding that took place in the process.
A lot of the new album is about my wife. She has PTSD from her childhood
Now, you famously keep your beard shavings in a zip-lock bag. Do you still do that?
I do. And it’s not as big as you think it would be. The hair just kind of condenses.
What are you going to do with it?
I was thinking of trying to do something with it and then I realised that on its own – the bag and the hair – is powerful. They represent enough on their own without doing anything too artsy with it.
What do they represent?
My rock’n’roll and my pop side and who I am. And that I need to follow my heart.
You get all that from hair?
The Killers’ new album Wonderful Wonderful is out on September 22 | @Terri_White