Brandon Flowers sits bolt upright in his train seat. So handsome you feel like putting a paper bag over your head the minute you meet him, his teeth a gleaming testament to the might of American dentistry, he is nevertheless not merely visibly uncomfortable but audibly uncomfortable, too. His conversation is punctuated with a high, fluttering giggle that seems to have nothing to do with amusement and everything to do with anxiety. Interviews make Flowers nervous. (A few days later, when I see him at a photoshoot — where a fearless snapper faces the prospect of becoming the first person in history to be charmed to death — Flowers is sweet, endlessly amenable and positively radiates good humor, a change of mood he explains with admirable candor. “I’m a lot more confident in my handsomeness than my wisdom,” he says.)
I have tried to make small talk about his children — married in 2005, he has one son and another due next month, hopefully during a two-week break in The Killers’ touring schedule — and about the festivals The Killers are traipsing around, but Flowers seems no better equipped for small talk than he is for breathing underwater. He answers politely, but monosyllabically, then silence falls over the first-class carriage on Eurostar, which is conveying him to yet another festival, this time in Belgium. His fear of flying is only one among a panoply of traits you might assume would preclude Flowers from a career as an international rock star. Indeed, that is something Flowers neither looks like — he has the face of a wholesome 1950s matinee idol — nor behaves, nor talks like. He is wont to describe The Killers as a “business.” “Well, it is a business. People want their rock stars to be stumbling around and we’re not that way. I can’t help it if I’m businesslike.”
It is a job at which he is awesomely successful. In five years, The Killers have been fast-tracked into the upper echelons of musical superstardom, where U2 and Bruce Springsteen ask him to join them on stage. Meanwhile, artists who once stared down from Flowers’ bedroom wall turn up to pay homage: The Cure’s Robert Smith, David Bowie, Pet Shop Boys, even Morrissey (the latter having apparently recovered after a starstruck teenage Flowers, waiting on his table in a Las Vegas restaurant, attempted to deliver a heartfelt eulogy with his mushroom pizza and was removed by a bodyguard for his trouble). Their 2004 debut album, Hot Fuss, sold more than 7 million copies, was nominated for five Grammys and went to number one in Britain, Australia and Argentina. Its follow-up, 2006’s Sam’s Town, almost perfectly replicated its success: 7 million copies shifted, number one around the world, awards won. At the end of last year, their third album, Day & Age, went three times platinum in the UK alone.
Flowers is very much the band’s public face. General knowledge of the rest of The Killers amounts to: looks like the guy from My Name Is Earl (drummer Ronnie Vannucci), has curly hair (guitarist Dave Keuning) and nothing whatsoever (bass player Mark Stoermer). It’s not as if he hasn’t been interviewed before, which makes his obvious unease all the more peculiar. But then Flowers is a very peculiar kind of rock superstar. He is a practicing Mormon, who claims his devotion to a religion that frowns upon alcohol, tobacco, tattoos, premarital sex and body piercings has only been strengthened by five years in the godless world of rock ’n’ roll. He is a man who refuses even to swear on stage — “It’s just a cheap way to get a rise out of the crowd,” he sniffs — yet swiftly gained music press notoriety for gobbily starting feuds with other bands, among them Radiohead, whom Flowers suggested should try writing some proper songs again, and emo bands such as My Chemical Romance, whose music he described as “dangerous.” He is an Anglophile who briefly considered thumbing his nose at Mormon orthodoxy by getting an Oasis tattoo, but who has taken other US artists to task for being insufficiently patriotic, particularly when it came to their views on the presidency of George W. Bush. “I’m not saying we should be complacent, but you should try and find some hope. Which I didn’t get out of 60,000 kids who aren’t from America screaming, ‘I don’t want to be an American Idiot.’ I didn’t like it.”