It’s been 17 years since the release of Hot Fuss, but when you hear Brandon Flowers on Imploding The Mirage—The Killers’ excellent sixth studio album released last August, which gets a deluxe release with three additional tracks today—you might flash back to the band’s iconic 2004 debut. Perhaps a song like “Mr. Brightside” called out to you, like me, one morning on the ride to middle school. It’s not hyperbole to say things would never be the same, right?
That’s an understatement: Last November, it became the first song by a 2000s group to hit 1 billion digital streams. The world these days is different for Mr. Brightside himself, though. He’s at home with his family in Utah—not on an epic world tour—as the coronavirus pandemic reshapes, well, everything. Still, Flowers and co. aren't exactly taking it easy. The new album, packed with some of the group’s strongest songs in years, has delighted fans and critics alike, debuting at number 8 on the Billboard 200 before hitting number 1 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart.
Destiny has been kind to The Killers. The new album has moments every bit as magical as “Mr. Brightside,” including the singalong-ready “Caution,” where Flowers belts, “the winds of change are coming over me.” Then there’s the deeply romantic “Dying Breed,” the Tom Petty-esque cruiser “Blowback,” the monumental “My Own Soul’s Warning,” and the album’s definitive statement on “My God”: “My God, just look who’s back in business.”
And then there's Flowers himself. Nearing 40, he's still every bit the sharply dressed frontman, known for sporting everything from a black moto jacket and combat boots to a Dior feather blazer. In photographs for the new album, he wears a white tux and a cowboy hat. It works, even better than you might expect. But that's not his only style move nowadays. We caught up with Flowers over the phone to talk about staying productive during lockdown, Levi’s jeans, and why he (like all of us) is fated to dress like his father at the end of the day.
First of all, I've got to know: What does a guy like Brandon Flowers wear during quarantine? Sweatpants? Denim? T-shirts? Dressing up at home?
I really don’t feel motivated at all if I don’t get dressed. So sweatpants and pyjamas have never been on. It’s almost like it’s a part of my personality or something. It’s more ingrained than just being comfortable or not comfortable: I just don’t feel like I’m going to be productive at all if I don’t at least put some jeans and boots on or something.
So what are your go-to style essentials, pieces you think every guy should own?
Man, y’know, it’s funny—you start to emulate, whether you like it or not, your father, and I find myself slipping into some of his habits. My dad always had Levi’s on, and he always had a T-shirt on. I don’t know, that might not be the greatest answer for the sophisticated readers of Esquire (laughs). But, I am a big believer in a good pair of Levi’s and the right pocket tee. I feel as good in that as I do in just about anything, if I’m feeling good about myself.
Let's talk onstage style. You've had quite some looks over the years, like the Dior feather jacket on the Day & Age Tour, the moto jacket during the Battle Born Tour, and the sharp tailoring on the tour for 2017’s Wonderful Wonderful. What's your favourite ensemble to wear onstage?
Being from Las Vegas has given us permission to maybe do things or take attempts at things that not every band does. So I’ve always funnelled things—whether it’s musically or even in a fashion sense—through Las Vegas. If I think about something like the feather jacket from Day & Age, I was just kind of trying to emulate somebody like Bryan Ferry or Brian Eno or Freddie Mercury, and put my own little bit of Western flair to it, and that’s where something like that was born. At the end of the day for me, these ensembles, whatever you want to call ‘em, are sort of protective. Especially in those days, I was still very unsure about being a frontman or my authenticity and whether or not I belonged on the stage, so those things became very much like suits of armour.
Now, off-stage: I have to ask about your Alexander McQueen denim jacket. You've said you used to wear it a ton. Is it still in your rotation?
I have two of those. It’s like worlds colliding, where it’s this high-fashion brand but it’s this classic kind of thing like a denim jacket. I loved how it fit, and it became a second skin for me. I wore it hundreds of times, and I wore it out. It has some holes in it, but I have another one that I’ve never worn, and maybe I’m going to start breaking that baby in.
Are you a big collector of any style items—watches, sunglasses, boots—and if so, what's one dream item on your wish list?
I always kind of feel confined by jewellery. I gave it a shot, but watches and rings and bracelets and that stuff, I’ve always kind of struggled with it. Even sunglasses, even though some of the best looks of all time have included sunglasses. I’m aware of this (laughs), but I just am stubborn about that kind of stuff. Yeah, I don’t collect anything.
I have a shoe “problem,” so it’s good to hear that you’ve got it pared down.
(Laughs) Yeah, I mean, I have a few pairs of the same kind of boots, maybe different colours. I guess it’s sort of a collection of Red Wings, but nothing that I am that precious about.
One more on the style front: Who's your personal style icon, living or dead?
It’s tough to just pick one. When you’re a singer or just have an eye for that—or have an affinity, or a desire to attain your own personal style—it starts with some kind of emulation, I guess. You’ve got to find out what works for you. I don’t know if there’s anybody that’s just perfect for me, but all the heavy hitters that are on everybody’s list are on mine: Marlon Brando, James Dean, Dennis Hopper. And then there’s the more sophisticated guys, again going back to Bryan Ferry. I love what he has to offer. And I love Mick Jagger, but, I mean, I can’t wear what he wears (laughs). I always say, Just because you might be into that, doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
You worked on this album with quite the cast of collaborators, including Lindsey Buckingham on "Caution." I know you also worked with Lucius, and Adam Granduciel of The War On Drugs. What did they bring to the album that's different from past Killers records?
We actually didn’t have as much activity from our guitar player (founding member Dave Keuning), and that’s where somebody like Lindsey Buckingham came in. And it was just sort of us being spoiled, being able to call someone like Lindsey Buckingham (laughs). But he did deliver, and it’s a great moment on the record. And then, the older I get, I’m just a lot more open and more receptive to other people lending their gifts. Lucius and Natalie from Weyes Blood and k.d. lang, we wanted them to really capture the female component that was being submitted by the album cover [which features the Thomas Blackshear painting "Dance of the Wind and Storm."] There’s a man and a woman, and we wanted her voice to be heard, and that’s where those women came in.
I’ve read that more music might be coming sooner than one might think following this release. Anything you can divulge right now from that process?
We’ve got about 15 songs ready. We’ve just sort of had a little bit of a renaissance, I guess, because of the extra time on our hands. It kind of reminds me of what it felt like when we were starting the band and you just have these kind of empty pages in front of you. That’s kind of what it felt like, because there’s no touring in sight. I’m lucky enough that I have this time and I didn’t have much to worry about, I’m totally forthright about that. I had it a lot easier than most people during the pandemic, and I chose to go to work every day and take care of my kids and write songs.
Last question: When I saw you on tour for Wonderful Wonderful, you referenced an Ernest Hemingway quote before the song "I Can't Stay": "There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility lies in being superior to your former self." With this album and your work over the years, do you feel like you've lived up to that promise in a way?
We are nothing if not honest and earnest, and if you watch the trajectory of the band and you take a look at what we do from record to record, you really can see a pattern of, and an evolution of, people trying to be better and trying to find out who they are. I think a lot of people relate to that, and to that vulnerability. It takes a lot to admit that you can improve upon who you were when you were younger, and that’s something that I strive to do in my life with the way that I live it and with the songs that I write.
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