The Killers can check off all the classic milestones of rock 'n' roll greatness: They've worn elaborate costumes involving feather epaulettes and occasionally moustaches; they've starred in a desert-set video that features a long, meditative shot of a soaring eagle; their frontman sports meticulously applied eyeliner; they have a devout following in Germany; a colossal light-up sign spells out their band name onstage. But they aren't a rock 'n' roll band, or at least not exclusively: The Killers' 2004 debut, Hot Fuss, spawned a trio of impeccable singles and established the group as the go-to ensemble for dark, synth-laden post-punk about philandering lovers and boys who look like girls. Its follow-up, 2006's Sam's Town, was a sprawling, unapologetically bombastic rock opus with more debts to Springsteen than Bowie. The new Day And Age is the band's glammiest, most pop-friendly effort to date. A few days before its release, The A.V. Club sat down with frontman Brandon Flowers and guitarist Dave Keuning to discuss aliens, bravado, and the wild, wild West.
The A.V. Club: What is this moment like for you, as a band, waiting for a new record to come out?
Dave Keuning: I guess we're anxious for it to be out there.
Brandon Flowers: We're excited. Obviously, we wouldn't be putting it out if we didn't think it was ready. So there's an anticipation within us. We're hoping that it translates.
AVC: The Killers have always had a considerable visual presence. How important is it to you that the image and the art correlate?
BF: The image is very much a part of the art.
DK: I think that everybody has an image, even if they choose to do nothing—then that's their image. But everyone has an image.
BF: We follow the direction of the songs, which is almost opposite to what a purist might think it should be. I guess a purist would say that the music is an exaggeration, or an example of their life. We almost do the opposite—we follow where the songs go. But I guess the songs are coming from us, so it's just where we are. It's just a weird circle. We change. We aren't the same four guys who wrote Sam's Town or Hot Fuss, and we're doing our best to represent that.
AVC: There's an awful lot of saxophone on the new record.
DK: Mark [Stoermer, Killers bassist] had always wanted a sax solo. We're open to the use of all instruments. We really didn't realize how big of a decision we were making at the time.
AVC: Until journalists started pointing it out to you?
DK: [Laughs.] We were just like, "Let's have a sax, it'll be cool." I like how it turned out.
BF: There's no such thing as a bad instrument. We were really open to new things on this album. It really made it more enjoyable, it made it fun.
AVC: You don't hear a lot of saxophone on pop radio anymore.
BF: It's greasy. [Laughs.]
AVC: The most palpable touchstone for Day And Age is '80s new-wave pop like Talk Talk, The Human League, Pet Shop Boys. But in certain spots, there's also a lot of Motown, a lot of Chicago soul.
DK: We have a lot of different influences, for sure. Interesting that you bring up the soul bit. It's in there, somewhere.
BF: We listen to that via David Bowie. Motown, things like that, they're unavoidable. That's American music.
AVC: "Spaceman" is about being kidnapped by aliens. I know you're relatively close to Area 51. How literally should people take the lyrics?
BF: There's a deep-seated fascination with all things extraterrestrial.
BF: Yes! I think it's in everybody. Everybody's got a little gleam in their eye when they talk about it.
AVC: Have you seen Fire In The Sky?
BF: I loved Fire In The Sky. Have you seen Fire In The Sky?
DK: No! How old is it?
BF: I think I was 8 [when it came out]. I'm 27. It's supposed to be a true story. These guys are camping, and one of them just gets taken from the forest. You should see it. They do a really good job. Those guys really believed.
AVC: I found that movie terrifying—he's literally lifted into a spaceship by a beam of light.
BF: Well, you were 10. Watch it now. It's probably embarrassing and ridiculous.
AVC: But those lyrics work on a not-so-literal level, too.
BF: Yeah, you could draw parallels with many things. It's almost a parable.
AVC: There seems to be reluctance to settle on one particular sound for too long—do you think about each new record as an opportunity for evolution? Are you afraid of sounding the same?
DK: It's just been the way it's worked for us. We have a lot of different influences, and we're not afraid to try different sounds or directions. It just depends on our mood around the time we're making an album. We may want to try different things in a different year.
BF: Change is inevitable. We're not afraid of sounding the same, but we're also not afraid of embracing what's happening. We just take it and go with it. This could have just as easily been Sam's Town, part two. But when we got together, it just wasn't.
AVC: Lyrically, there seems to be a vague longing, a demand for a more old-fashioned, more visceral way of living. Is it a response to an accelerated culture, or just a product of getting older, having children, things like that?
BF: Yeah, simpler times. I think it's a very exciting time right now. [Laughs.] No, I do. You don't know what someone's going to invent next to make our lives easier, and that's awesome. But at the same time, we are losing some basic human functions on the way. I bring up romance and devotion, things like that. It's sad that it's old-fashioned. It's sad that that seems strange to people who are coming of age now.
AVC: People are losing social skills. I can barely make a phone call anymore.
BF: Let alone just saying "hi" to someone on the street. It freaks people out. I try to do it as much as I can, just to watch the reactions. There's always a breath, for a second, while they look at you. "Why did he say 'hi' to me?" Me and Dave, even though we're based in Las Vegas, we came up in similar towns, small towns. They're holding onto it more in those places. I grew up watching my dad wave to every car that drove by. Little things like that, you don't see that anymore.
AVC: The chorus to "Human" is taken from a Hunter S. Thompson quote. Are you big fans of his?
BF: No more than anybody else. One thing I've learned is that in France, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is translated as Las Vegas Paranoid. [Laughs.] I'm always learning something new.
AVC: Do you take inspiration from literature often?
BF: To be honest, I don't read a whole lot. I've been struggling with writing lyrics, so I've really been trying to pick up on it. I read On The Road for the first time while we were making this album. I'm a little late there. But it's been a whole new world for me.
AVC: Did you like it?
BF: It was exciting. By about the fourth or fifth trip back west, I must admit, I got a little… There are less characters by his fourth trip. He could have stopped it after three.
AVC: Well, it really mythologizes the American West—a lot of people do, especially people from the East Coast. It's all cowboys and sunsets.
BF: It's good to have your fantasies. And some of it is a reality. That life still exists out there.
AVC: Do you think you'd write different music if you lived somewhere else?
BF: It's beautiful [in Nevada]. I love visiting New York City and London and Paris—the romantic element of it—but after 10 days or so, I yearn for the sky to open up, for the mountains. It's wide open where we live, it really is.
DK: I love playing shows. It's tough being away from home, but we enjoy what we're doing: We have a job where we get to play music and celebrate songs that we worked hard to write and record.
BF: We get to go places we never would have gone. I don't even know if I knew where Panama was before we played there.
AVC: Is your music received differently across the globe?
DK: Some places, it's dramatically different. In Europe, you've got to go country by country. In Germany, it's really picked up. Hot Fuss was lukewarm, but Sam's Town went much better, and "Human" is getting played on the radio there a lot, I hear. So we're happy about that.
BF: As big as you think we are, if you look at how we've done it, we're really going step by step. A lot of people think we just exploded, and that's it. But we really tried to make it a homegrown type of thing, from the evolution of the band to the way we choose to tour. It's all going according to plan.
AVC: Even with all the added arrangements, in some ways the new record feels really stripped down—there's more empty space. In a way, it makes sense with what we were just talking about, about the West being a place where the landscape opens up.
BF: There's a lot more space [on Day And Age]. I think it's a sign of maturity, and I think it's awesome that we've gotten to that point, but I suffer with that space live. I'm used to this freight train of a show that we put on, and I can run around. Now all of a sudden, there's breathing room. Dave has this long solo at the end of "Losing Touch," and I don't know what the hell to do while he's doing it.
DK: Come party with me.
BF: I love the solo, I love it, but what do I do? We're learning. It's still fun.
AVC: Did you feel like you needed to respond to people who thought Sam's Town was too bombastic?
BF: [Laughs.] I don't know if it was a response. Do you think it was a response to Sam's Town being overblown?
DK: I didn't even notice that until you two brought it up. I guess there is [more space]. I think we're getting better at making songs. I don't want people to think that sounds cocky… We are writing better songs, I think. But we're getting better at making songs. Having done this for four or five years, we've written in different ways, and I think now we're getting better at it. Whether they're good or not is not for us to decide, but we're getting better at making them and recording them. Maybe part of maturing and getting better at it is having adequate space here and there.
AVC: A lot of the work you did with [producer] Stuart Price was over e-mail. Was this the first time you'd worked that way?
BF: Yeah. It made it real fresh, I think. It was almost like pre-production was underway as soon as we hit "send" on an idea. He'd send something back, and we'd all fight about it, or embrace about it, and then we met for a month and sealed the deal. I just read this article on that new Eno and Byrne record. They did exactly what we did. They e-mailed the whole thing, and then got together for two weeks and finished it. They beat us to the punch. We thought we were gonna be, you know, matadors.
AVC: Is there an advantage to working that way?
DK: It's convenient. Even when people live in the same town, you spend time apart. But if you get a song idea at home, you can just e-mail it. You don't have to leave your house. And they can hear it, they can play on it if they want to, they can mess around with it. And then when you're in the same room, you have a head start on what the song is.
AVC: Did you specifically want a producer who had experience with dance music?
DK: It was never brought up like that. We just happened to like Stuart's work. He's really good to work with and knows his stuff, he knows all about recording and plays almost every instrument.
BF: We got along with him, too. That's something we take into consideration just as much. We loved [Sam's Town co-producers] Flood and Alan Moulder. And it was almost hard to move on, but it was just the right time.
AVC: The production is really clean, really pristine.
BF: He's capable of so many things. We have this Christmas song coming out that's really down-home, it's not a dance song, and it sounds great.
AVC: Lyrically, the syntax is really precise. Is that something you spend a lot of time thinking about? The rhythm and meter of language?
BF: It's selfish, almost, because I know I'm going to be singing the songs, and I want them to be fun to sing. So sometimes there's a heartbeat, a flow to them. [I've got] more rhythm than most people, I think. It's difficult to do that, because you also want to tell a story and have people believe it. Pound for pound, I think this is the best I've ever done, this album.