Killers' Brandon Flowers on Mormonism, Why 'Mr. Brightside' Is Bigger Than Ever

Singer also talks writing about Mike Tyson for band's new 'Wonderful Wonderful' LP, crying when he saw U2 live, what music his kids are into and more

The Killers' Brandon Flowers goes deep on his love for U2, his Mormon faith, how Mike Tyson inspired a song on the band's new LP and more. Credit: Esther Lin

It's been 13 years since the Killers exploded with their debut single, "Mr. Brightside," and they're still one of the biggest rock acts in the world; the Las Vegas band just headlined Lollapalooza and has an arena tour kicking off in January. "There's still a need for what we have to offer, obviously," says frontman Brandon Flowers. "Our shows keep growing, and the tours just keep getting more fun." He sees their upcoming album, Wonderful Wonderful (overseen by veteran U2 and R.E.M. producer Jacknife Lee), as an improvement from their last one, 2012's Battle Born. "We worked on that incrementally with different producers," Flowers says. "Some of the songs I'm not so enthused about." Wonderful Wonderful is more upbeat, with danceable tunes about everything from Mike Tyson's historic 1990 loss to Buster Douglas ("Tyson vs. Douglas") to Flowers' content life as a father of three.

On your new single "The Man," you sing, "I got a household name. ... Don't try to teach me, got nothing to learn." Are you singing about your cocky younger self right after the Killers broke?
Yeah [laughs]. I felt special, invincible, and all that. I don't feel like that anymore, so it was something I was exploring on this record. I know what it's like to stand up onstage and lie to people. I prefer the songs where I'm just telling the truth. Those are the songs that will resonate more.

What made you want to write a song about Mike Tyson's bout with Buster Douglas?
It was significant to me as a child because I thought Mike Tyson was perfect, infallible. I looked up to him. My perspective on the world changed when he was knocked out. It just kept creeping back into my consciousness and I thought I might as well explore that. On the third verse, I basically turn it around on myself and now I have three sons and to them I'm as pristine as Mike Tyson was to me. I don't want to let them down, so it comes full circle.

Are your sons fans of the Killers?
They're aware of what I do and they know some of the songs. We're introducing them to a lot of music.

What sort of music do they like?
My middle son, Gunnar, likes Journey, and my oldest boy, Ammon, loves "Life on Mars?" On the way to school, I play the classic rock station. They love to ask questions about the bands and how many of them are alive still, where they came from. What's crazy is is how often the answer is that the singer is dead and that he died from drugs. They also love the Beach Boys song "I Get Around." One of the highlights of my life came a couple of years ago when we played GeorgeFest and Brian [Wilson] was there. I got to tell him that my kids love his song. It must feel so good to be in that position and know that your music is still living on and affecting people.

You said in 2008 that you hope to one day write a song as good as "Imagine." Are you any closer to that dream?
I don't know. By the time you put my answer in Rolling Stone, it's just gonna be a bunch of old bastards bitching about me writing an "Imagine," so ask another question. I mean, I wish I'd written "Forgotten Years," by Midnight Oil. That song touches my heart. 

You're a devoted Mormon. Does it bother you that your religion is so often mocked with things like The Book of Mormon and South Park?
I'm not losing any sleep over it. Mormonism is still pretty misunderstood.

What's the biggest misimpression about Mormonism?
There's this kind of weird mystery around it. With Christianity, you have 2,000 years of separation from when the events took place and these supposed miracles. We don't have that much separation from Joseph Smith in the 1800s and the other events that we believe took place, so it's a lot easier to home in on it. People that knew Moses didn't keep journals, but we actually have that information.

You cut this album in one of the craziest years in political history. Did that seep into the songs?
Well, there's two ways to look at it. You can address it, or you realize that music can be an escape. It's tough to write protest songs. Neil Young and the Clash and Bob Marley are really great at it. If you're going to step up to that plate, you better have a big bat. I don't know if I was ready to do that. I also had a very specific thing that I was shooting for on this record that didn't have much to do with Donald Trump. 

You're a huge U2 fan. Did you see their Joshua Tree tour?
I went to the Rose Bowl. When they began "Where the Streets Have No Name" and the screens lit up, I started to cry. I was just overwhelmed with what it meant to me and how happy I was to be there. I live in Las Vegas, and I see Joshua trees every day of my life, and I always think of that record.

Could you envision a day when the Killers might go on tour to celebrate the anniversary of Hot Fuss?
I don't know if we would do it to the extent that U2 did Joshua Tree, but it's not ever a bad idea to celebrate something. 

In "Out of My Mind," you sing that you "went back to back with Springsteen, you turned and rolled your eyes." Who are you talking about?
My wife. I still feel like I want to impress her. I sang "Thunder Road" with Bruce Springsteen once. That's a special song and was a real highlight of my life and career. She's happy for me, but those things don't mean as much as me being a good husband.

"'Mr. Brightside' just keeps snowballing and getting bigger."

How do you respond to Gene Simmons saying that rock is dead?
I wouldn't say it's dead, but we're sort of in a post-rock environment right now. But I believe that people still have rock & roll hearts and we can still write rock songs. Our new song "Run For Cover," I would classify that as rock & roll. I would just advise Gene to go check that one out.

Do you still want to be singing "Mr. Brightside" when you're 65?
I'm not sure. I'm 36 now. But Mick Jagger looks fine singing "Get Off My Cloud" however old he is. So maybe I'll wear it well. I don't know. I hope to amass a lot more songs by then that I'm happy to perform. 

"Mr. Brightside" has had a long afterlife. I hear it more now than I did when it first came out.
I hope it doesn't eclipse anything else we're doing. It just keeps snowballing and getting bigger. That said, anybody that's ever started a band envisions something like that happening to them. It's incredible. I can't complain.

Most other bands from that era have faded away.
We had a strong work ethic and really believed in rock & roll. I think that's been the integral part of this band. I don't see it much in young bands. But that's why we've been able to follow it up again and again.

How do you feel about turning 40 in three and a half years?
I'm looking forward to it. I feel like that's really when you become a man. I hope that I still feel creative and I still have the fire.