Brandon Flowers, wearing a black leather jacket and grasping a mug of green tea, is stood in the centre of a mixing studio in West London unable to keep still as he listens back to some of the final mixes for his second solo album,
He nods his head to the calypso-influenced beat of ‘Still Want You’ and grins as we hear his backing singers come crashing in. “Nuclear distress, I still want you,” they sing. “Climate change and death, I still want you.”
The subject matter may be apocalyptic, but Flowers knows exactly where he wants these songs to end up. “I want to be on the radio,” he says. “I’ve never been ashamed to say that.”
The Killers frontman is putting the final touches to his new record, which will be called ‘The Desired Effect’, ahead of its release this spring. It’s currently being mixed at Assault & Battery studio in West London by Alan Moulder, who’s been working with Flowers since the first Killers album ‘Hot Fuss’ back in 2003.
A lot has changed since then, and Flowers knows that the radio is a very different place to the one where ‘Mr Brightside’ found a home. “I can’t believe where radio has gone,” he says. “It seems to be such a weird world now. Where I once seemed to fit in, now I’m seen as a little different. I used to be considered mainstream but now I’m almost avant-garde or artrock compared to what’s on the radio.”
His plan for ‘The Desired Effect’ was to make a grown-up pop record with singles that can get played on Radio One while also carrying some weight and meaning for his long-term fans whose lives, like his, have changed over the last decade. “I’m 33 years old and I have three sons, I’ve got to try to commit to myself and not embarrass myself,” he says. “A lot of these songs could be about a man and his wife. I’m coming up on 10 years of marriage, and it’s not a cakewalk.”
Flowers took his cues from his heroes: Genesis’ Peter Gabriel, The Police’s Sting and The Eagles’ Don Henley. He says they showed him how to mature away from the bands that made their names: “I think if you look at those people, they weren’t just catering to little kids. I think adults like pop music too, and we shouldn’t be – I’m speaking for all of us – we shouldn’t be listening to a lot of that music that we’re listening to! There has always been pop music but it can speak to you too, you know? I think we’re walking a line on my new record, and hopefully we’ve found a place where there’s sophistication to it but it also feels accessible.”
Having first emerged in the wake of bands like The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Flowers says that he’s been listening with interest to the solo records put out by his peers, like Karen O. He laughs off the suggestion that he could ever make an album as abrasive as Julian Casablancas’ recent record with The Voidz. “I don’t know if I have that in me,” he says. “It’s like Bowie doing ‘Tin Machine’ or something like that. I just can’t… I’m too much of a pop tart.”
One contemporary record he does admire is The War On Drugs’ ‘Lost In The Dream’, although he has one problem with Adam Granduciel’s work. “I’m with everybody else on the War On Drugs train,” he says, “but I just don’t know what the hell he’s saying. I just want to turn up the vocals. The vocal melodies are great, and I love what’s happening, but I just want to be able to hear the words. I love a song that I can sing along to.”
‘The Desired Effect’ will be the follow-up to Flowers’ 2010 debut solo album ‘Flamingo’. Many critics at the time noted that it sounded a lot like a Killers record, while NME’s review argued that it was “more that The Killers’ albums sounded like Brandon Flowers solo albums, with a bit of indie guitar on top.”
This time round, Flowers wanted to make a conscious effort to explore new territory. To that end he recruited producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who made his name working with the likes of Vampire Weekend and Haim. “I’m so much a part of that Killers sound,” Flowers says, “so for me to move away from it I had to give Ariel some freedom, a little bit more slack on the rope. A lot of times it worked, and when it didn’t I was able to have a strong enough hold on things to pull the rope and get it where I need to get it.”
While Flowers says the image he’ll be presenting with the album is still being figured out, there’s some clues in the fact that the video for lead single ‘Can’t Deny My Love’ has already been shot in the Nevada desert with Evan Rachel Wood and Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs. Having dismissed most treatments he got from video directors as “the worst ideas”, Flowers decided to create his own adaptation of ‘Young Goodman Brown’, a short story by 19th Century American writer Nathanial Hawthorne. “It’s a little bit nerve-wracking to go out on a limb when you’ve had the idea,” he says, “but I love the story, so if we get it right it’ll be so cool.”
He’ll definitely be taking the record on the road, and he’ll have a similar touring band to his first solo album. There are already dates in Mexico confirmed, with more worldwide to be announced. He’ll also break from his personal schedule to headline a festival in Delaware with The Killers in June. Flowers confirms that whether or not ‘The Desired Effect’ has the desired effect of getting him back on the radio, he still sees a future for his band. “I like being in the Killers and I’m proud of what we’ve done,” he says. “I believe we still have something to offer.”
Originally published by NME, 28 February 2015.