Inspiration has never eluded Las Vegas' The Killers, and it's a damn good thing it hasn't, because their newest record, their third studio album entitled Day & Age, is full of their finest songs to date. "I think about moments when we were coming up with 'When You Were Young,' or, in this case, 'Spaceman,'" Flowers says. "If we'd decided at that moment, 'Let's go to the park,' they might not have happened. It's scary. It almost makes me not want to stop because I could be missing out on these wonderful songs. They're out there for the taking--you've just got to grab them."
Together with bassist Mark Stoermer, guitarist Dave Keuning, and drummer Ronnie Vannucci, Flowers helped to mold the album into 10 songs that work best together as a whole, each individually describing an evolution of the Las Vegas band's sound. "We're always pushing ourselves," says Stoermer, "and there's a lot of diversity here--from anthemic rock to dance songs." Flowers adds: "We felt like Sam's Town was a continuation of Hot Fuss, and we feel like this is a continuation of Sam's Town. But at the same time, Day and Age is totally different from both of them, while still sounding like us. It's kind of looking at Sam's Town from Mars."
Those familiar with the band's oeuvre will recognize their signature in the synth-heavy "Human," four minutes of sweeping, epic rock, on which Flowers sings: "My sign is vital/ My hands are cold/ And I'm on knees, looking for the answer/ Are we human, or are we dancer?" He says the lyrics were inspired by a disparaging comment made by Hunter S. Thompson about how America was raising a generation of dancers. But the song also had some help from album producer Stuart Price (aka Jacques LuCont), known for his work with Madonna and Missy Elliot, and who'd previously remixed "Mr. Brightside." "He was the icing on the cake," says Stoermer.
"We had just put 'Human' together, and we wound up shooting over to his house after dinner [in London]," Flowers recalls of his first time in the studio with Price. "A few hours later, we had something very close to what you hear now. I was on cloud nine." He continues: "When we walked into his flat, the first thing I saw was picture of the cover of The Man Who Sold the World, and further down the stairs there was a picture of Eno in his Roxy Music days. I just kind of felt that we'd found our man."
That he'd find comfort in the signifiers of those artists shouldn't come as a surprise: The band's made no secret of their admiration for both art-rock and stadium giants (collaborating with the likes of Lou Reed, who guested on "Tranquilize," a single from Sawdust, 2007's collection of B-sides, rarities, and new songs). Formed in Las Vegas in 2002, the band belongs to the lineage of high-energy rock bands that manage to be both commercially successful and critically acclaimed (both of their studio albums have received endless column inches bursting with praise), and it's almost mind-blowing to consider that without the classifieds section of a local paper, they might have never been.
Flowers first met guitarist Keuning while perusing said classifieds for fellow musicians; when Dave's ad mentioned The Beatles, Oasis and more, Flowers knew he was on the right track. They claimed the name The Killers (taken from the bass drum of a fictional band in a New Order video), and eventually recruited Stoermer and Vannucci into the fold, all of them agreeing that there seemed to be an intangible something to the music they were making, as well as the response they were generating from people who saw them play. And as these performances became bigger and bigger, and praise for the band began to spread rapidly, A&R men came from the UK and the US to see them, eventually leading them to sign with Island Records in America. Their debut, Hot Fuss, catapulted them onto the global stage upon its 2004 release, selling millions of copies around the world. The band toured for two years straight behind Hot Fuss, playing more than four-hundred shows, and eventually returned to Vegas to begin to work on the follow-up album with legendary producers Alan Moulder and Flood. The result, a love letter of sorts to their hometown entitled Sam's Town, was released in 2006 and spent forty-two weeks on the Billboard Top 200. In between all of this, the band managed to fit in two appearances on Saturday Night live, in addition to performances on The Tonight Show, The Late Show with David Letterman and more. One might think this would produce a generous amount of pressure as the band began to work on their newest collection of songs, but this was not the case. "We're confident together, comfortable with the way we work as a live band," Stoermer says. "So when we were writing this record, there was less anxiety, not that we're resting on our laurels."
This comfort in their work together is apparent on Day & Age. The album sees The Killers experimenting with different instruments: "I Can't Stay" has a tropical sound--thank the saxophone and steel drums--and, as the singer says, "could be the most perfect pop song we've ever written." "Losing Touch," meanwhile, is a gorgeous uptempo track with bright horns and grim lyrics ("impending doom, it must be true/ I'm losing touch") that lend it an ominous vibe. "Spaceman," an unabashedly arena-sized glam-rock number whose associative lyrics reference, among other themes, alien abduction. ("We've been playing it between 'Read My Mind' and 'Mr. Brightside,' and it feels like it's been there forever," Flowers says.) More than anything, The Killers are excited for their fans to hear what they've been creating, though, says Stoermer, "We're always a little nervous about whether people are going to like it."
The people have in the past. Besides the sales figures--including moving 4.4 million units of Sam's Town abroad--the band has received seven nods from the Grammys, and won a variety of MTV, BRIT, and NME awards. They've headlined some of the biggest festivals in the UK and Europe, including Glastonbury, the Reading and Leeds Festival and Pukkelpop, and have sold out prestigious venues such as Madison Square Garden in America. The attention has, at times, made it difficult for them to keep their composure, but this time out the band is trying to remain more level-headed.
"We got thrown up to the position very quickly that we're in now --the test is to retain it," says Flowers. "I want us to be a positive force. People think that we're overconfident and cocky, but it comes from excitement. It's not 'I'm better than you,' it's that I can't wait till you hear this song because I know what it does to me physically. I'm able to listen to our songs and not think 'this is us playing,' I'm able to allow the music to affect me and I know if it's good or not. Sometimes people think I'm running my mouth, when I'm truly excited."