The campaign for The Killers’ new LP Imploding The Mirage has already endured a delayed album, postponed tour and potential scandal against the dystopian backdrop of Covid-19. Here, the band’s Brandon Flowers and Ronnie Vannucci, manager Robert Reynolds, WME agent Kirk Sommer and EMI’s Clive Cawley reflect on a turbulent few months – and roll out plan B...
For one of Las Vegas’ favourite sons, Brandon Flowers plays his cards close to his chest. The Killers frontman has retained an enigmatic aura in the age of celebrity and social media, so having a fellow indie rock‘n’roller on hand to fill in the blanks feels like hitting the jackpot.
“Brandon is a workhorse,” enthuses Travis singer Fran Healy, Flowers’ one-time touring partner. “He’ll come off stage and go and run for an hour on a treadmill; then he’ll have a shower, go to the back of the tour bus and start songwriting until 3am. He doesn’t stop.”
“I don’t know that he’s any different to me, maybe no treadmills,” chuckles Flowers, confirming the veracity of the account. The rock superstar co-wrote Here With Me – the final single from the US band’s 2012 Battle Born LP – with Healy.
“We love Fran,” beams Flowers, speaking to Music Week from his home in Park City, Utah. “At our very first gig me and Dave Keuning, our guitarist, did an open mic night at a café and played a Travis song, Side, which I love. So getting to know him and becoming friendly has been really nice. It’s always good to be able to talk to someone who’s shared some of these experiences and has done it before you.”
This was meant to be The Killers’ year. A career-defining Glastonbury headline slot laid the groundwork for their biggest ever British tour (250,000 tickets sold in under two hours), while outstanding new album Imploding The Mirage looked set to enshrine their place in rock’s Champions League.
Alas, 2020 had other ideas. The group’s UK stadium run was put back 12 months, while the accompanying long-player finally saw the light of day last Friday – three months later than originally planned (thanks to you know what).
“It brought a lot of activity to a halt unfortunately,” sighs their agent, WME partner and head of music Kirk Sommer. “We had a complete 18-month plan with some additional stadium shows in other territories.”
Forecasting the chaos that was to come, Sommer moved quickly to secure alternative dates for 2021.
I've noticed songs are coming easier as I get older
“I had some early visibility as I saw what was happening in Asia and some other territories, and by the end of February or first week of March – while shows were still playing out in the UK – we were able to successfully hold the same markets,” he says. “I do not have a crystal ball and there is no science or data to support this will be a viable time period, but it’s as late as we could go in these venues and there are other tours getting confirmed and going on sale for the spring in the UK and in far worse impacted territories. So we remain very cautious, but have to remain hopeful as well. Demand remains very strong.”
Nevada-born Flowers, who turns 40 next year, upped sticks from Vegas a couple of years ago and has been relishing life in lockdown with wife Tana and their three sons. “I feel a little bit guilty,” he confides. “I’m so used to travelling so much and being away that I’m enjoying the extra time being in such close proximity to everybody. It’s been a nice experience.”
“I’m spending a lot more time in the kitchen,” chips in drummer Ronnie Vannucci, halfway through making a sandwich. “I don’t mind it so bad, except that I was really looking forward to sharing these songs and playing them for people and now it’s... a little different.”
On the album delay, The Killers' manager Robert Reynolds says the decision was effectively taken out of their hands.
“It was hard, but there were two factors,” explains the Reynolds Management boss. “First, the album wasn’t completed. Part way through mixing we couldn’t get into the room with our mixer, who had a new baby. Things were done remotely and certain finishing touches had to be completed.
“Still, everyone hoped that Covid-19 would be resolved quickly. At first, the label hoped we could delay a few months and perhaps things could be different. When it became clear that performing live wouldn’t happen for a while, we just did our best to get this music finished and out to our fans as soon as possible.”
“People need music now more than ever,” asserts Flowers. “Music has always been a place that I go to for comfort or escape, or to feel like I’m not alone, and I think those attributes of music are still alive and kicking and people need them now.”
Even with the intervention of a global pandemic, EMI MD Clive Cawley says the campaign’s core objective remains the same – to deliver a sixth straight UK No.1 studio album for The Killers.
“It’s been a stop-start process since we launched a ticket pre-order bundle as far back as November 2019,” reflects Cawley. “With the album originally slated for a May release, it’s been somewhat of a challenge to maintain public and media interest and enthusiasm. Full credit to both the band for delivering an excellent record and our team working the project for never giving up and making sure we do it justice across every department. It’s just kept rolling along very nicely indeed.”
Lead single Caution (49,560 sales, OCC), which features former Fleetwood Mac star Lindsey Buckingham on guitar, got the latest Killers era off to a flying start, reaching No.1 on the US rock airplay chart. Three other tracks: Fire In Bone, My Own Soul’s Warning and the soaring Dying Breed were also put out ahead of time. “We released as many tracks before the album dropped as we could,” says Reynolds. “It’s hard to sit on songs you know are great.”
The Killers have never wanted to headline rooms too big, too fast
Robert Reynolds, Reynolds Management
Recorded in studios in Utah, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Shawn Everett and Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado were drafted in to handle production duties, with other cameos including KD Lang, Weyes Blood and The War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel on what is trumpeted as the band’s “most collaborative” record to date.
“I feel good about it,” nods Vannucci, who names Blowback and Running Towards A Place as personal highlights. “We went off track a little bit with the way we do things and arrived at a very pleasing spot,” he continues. “It was like going camping without knowing where you’re going, and then arriving at a really good camp spot.”
Every track is brimming with mass singalong potential, befitting the enormous stages on which they were intended to be played.
“We’ve always written a certain type of song that resonates with a lot of people,” notes Flowers. “We’ve never been shy about our admiration for the Rolling Stones, U2 and these bands that do that well and so I think it’s just part of our DNA. It’s definitely there and it’s something that you think about.”
Reynolds admits to keeping his initially sky-high expectations in check due to world events. “Now that we won’t have touring to support the new songs, I’m not sure what to expect,” he concedes. “Bands that aren’t using the biggest pop writers to dominate Top 40 radio rely on live performances to expose fans to their music. All of The Killers’ hits – and even non-hits that became fan favourites, like All These Things That I’ve Done – became such as a result of live performances. I can’t wait for us to get back on the road to do this album justice.”
Guitarist Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer stepped back from touring prior to the 2017/18 Wonderful Wonderful tour (“I wanted to have more of a normal life,” Keuning told MW last year). Though Stoermer contributed to Imploding The Mirage, the record is the group’s first to be made without Keuning’s involvement. However, Reynolds insists both founding members remain part of the band. “Extensive touring takes its toll,” he says. “Everyone is getting along fine and I expect that both of them will be more involved on the next album cycle.”
Seasoned festival headliners, The Killers are already a proven draw at the highest level, but their 10-date jaunt now set for 2021 – scheduled to kick off in Doncaster on May 25 and conclude at Manchester’s Emirates Old Trafford on June 12, prior to two outdoor shows in Ireland – will be their first UK stadium tour.
“The Killers have never wanted to headline rooms too big, too fast,” says Reynolds. “Other bands in similar positions would have played full stadium tours at an earlier point in their career. We were certain we would sell the shows out, and the band have been touring in the UK with consistent No.1 records for six albums now. The time felt right.”
“We also wanted to launch with something really big that would reverberate around the world,” adds Sommer. “We had already sold out Wembley Stadium on a previous campaign and sold out Hyde Park in record time to signify the beginning of the last campaign, which was immediately followed by a sold-out arena run.
“We put our toe in the water [in 2018] with a couple of outdoor regional shows in Swansea and Bolton that accompanied a larger European festival run to see how the band and the fans would like them. It was an easy way to try a couple before we overcommitted to something more extensive that we might not love. The thought was that, if they were a success, we would and could plot the whole next UK and Irish album run outdoors.”
The year took another unwelcome turn in the last week of July, when The Killers camp was rocked by lurid sexual misconduct accusations dating back more than a decade. In a blog, Chez Cherrie, an audio technician who worked on the band’s Day & Age tour for three weeks in 2009, described a misogynistic backstage culture and, most seriously, alleged hearing crew members boast of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman in a dressing room at a Milwaukee venue.
They are cementing themselves even deeper in the history books
Clive Cawley, EMI
A subsequent internal investigation deduced the claims were “an attempt at a joke or a ‘hazing’” by a front of house (FOH) engineer after interviewing crew and tracing the alleged victim, who confirmed “she did not experience, witness or hear about a sexual assault”. The group’s lawyers identified the FOH engineer, dismissed from the touring team in 2013, as a “problematic workmate” whose “pattern of poor management” and “series of sexist remarks and rude comments” had caused “great distress” to the complainant.
Reynolds tells Music Week that although the band were “shocked” by the allegations, they were determined to find out exactly what had happened. “It was important to us that we were thorough in our investigation – including reports from the venue, security, and depositions of crew members conducted by a separate law firm – transparent in our findings and also that we carefully considered what changes can be made going forward,” he explains.
“I’ve seen first-hand what bad men can do to a woman’s experience in this life,” says Flowers. “So if there was something like that going on in our camp, of course, I wanted to get to the bottom of it and thank God, it was proven to be a false alarm. I want our fans to know that we would never turn a blind eye to an assault. We respect women and we want everybody to know that.”
For a band whose two decades in the business have been devoid of scandal, the episode was a reality check.
“It changed our way of thinking about everything,” remarks Vannucci. “We are constantly trying to promote good living and responsibility; that is how we run the ship and we’re going to continue to do so – perhaps with a little bit more of a vision and an outlook for keeping people safe and making them feel safe when working under our umbrella.”
The Killers have directed their team to establish an off-site independent HR contact for future tours.
“If there is something positive to come out of this, we’re going to have a HR development on our next tour where if anybody feels scared or like they are being treated unfairly, or feel uncomfortable in any way, they’ll have a number to call,” says Flowers. “Hopefully that will make women especially feel more comfortable on a job that is predominantly men.”
“Touring and the music industry as a whole was really different 10 to 15 years ago and we hope we can be part of the change to make it more welcoming to everyone,” reflects Reynolds. “We all need to be vigilant that no one is ever made uncomfortable. Unlike other large companies, touring bands don’t have HR departments. For that reason, we decided to retain a third party HR company going forward. I’d suggest every band do this so that all crew members feel like they have a reliable third party to voice and investigate concerns.”
Imploding The Mirage’s predecessor, 2017’s Wonderful Wonderful (182,398 sales), gave the rockers a first No.1 LP in their homeland, although much of the attention was focused on ubiquitous first single The Man (345,592 sales) and its memorable music video. “I always associate the record with the tour and I loved the tour,” says Flowers. “I’m really proud of songs like Rut, The Man and Run For Cover, I feel like they are going to stick around.”
For Vannucci and Reynolds, the period conjures up mixed emotions. “That was an odd time for me personally,” recalls Vannucci. “My father died and I was fresh off the heels of a divorce when we were writing that record. I wouldn’t say it was dark, but there was definitely change in the air. But I really enjoyed the tour.”
“The Man was very successful — a great video and the first [US] alternative No.1 in 10 years since Read My Mind,” notes Reynolds. “Still, there are songs on that album which I don’t think enough people are familiar with. The campaign went well, but I wish music consumption today wasn’t so singles-oriented and people spent more time appreciating entire albums.”
Flowers, for one, hasn’t lost sight of the power of deeper cuts. “We still strive to create an overall listening experience or a feeling with an entire record,” he reveals. “You can’t really do that without having those types of songs and sometimes those are people’s favourites. When I was growing up, I didn’t necessarily know what the singles were when I bought an album. I gravitated towards what my heart gravitated towards.”
Lest we forget, The Killers sold records when bands really sold records – 2004 debut Hot Fuss has moved 2,333,888 copies in the UK, while sales of follow-ups Sam’s Town (2006) and Day & Age (2008) have also reached seven figures. The group has amassed over 15 million monthly Spotify listeners – outranking the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters, Kings Of Leon, The 1975, Muse and Radiohead – and continue to straddle the line between the old and new (albeit, just 16% of Wonderful Wonderful’s sales were from streaming). But it’s not a subject Flowers is losing any sleep over.
“It’s kind of out of our hands,” he shrugs. “It’s interesting to watch it happen – Napster was just making headlines when we were starting, so it was in its infancy and it seems like there is no going back. Sometimes I’ll get a statistic and hear how many people are streaming you per month and it’s amazing. But my heart goes out to a young band that have to prove their statistics before they get a certain amount of attention from their record label. I’m a lucky one because our foot was already in the door.”
Vannucci is hopeful rock music can re-establish itself as a mainstream force. “Everything is cyclical,” he says. “I really hope there is a resurgence.”
The band’s 2013 compilation Direct Hits (752,492 sales) remains ingrained in the albums chart, due in no small part to their cross-generational anthem Mr Brightside (3,212,710 sales!), incredibly still a fixture of the Top 100 almost 17 years after it was first released.
“The strength and depth of their hits over more than a decade clearly keeps winning over new audiences week in and week out,” observes EMI’s Cawley. “Stick it on, I’d be amazed if you skip any of those tracks and also if you manage to resist the urge to crack open an ice cold cider or foamy lager of choice to enjoy it with.”
With the globe in such a state of flux, questions about the future can seem misguided, but Flowers’ ambition is undimmed.
“We were just about to go on our biggest tour that we’ve ever gone on. I was really looking forward to that and I’m still looking forward to that,” he says. “But I just want to evolve and keep getting better. I have started to notice that songs are coming easier as I get older and as I write more and exercise these muscles that I’ve developed over the years. So I’m really looking forward to the next decade and it’s something that I’m definitely on top of.”
“I just trust that we’ll make better and better records,” offers Vannucci. “That is our objective right now – trying to do good with what we’re given.”
Sommer’s thoughts are naturally fixed on the live arena. “We have multiple global options held but refrained from putting anything further on sale to preserve the cash flow of our fans and ultimately be mindful of everyone’s health and safety,” he says. “Once we have more visibility and a better handle on timing we will be ready to go. The guys thrive in the live setting and I know they can’t wait to get back out there and perform some of these great new songs.”
“Every tour cycle has been more successful than the last,” finishes Reynolds, who already has one eye on LP number seven. “Nobody is ready to rest on any laurels,” he insists. “I can’t drop any names, but let me just say that one of the top three Killers songs ever written is on the next album. It’s the best of early Killers while staying fresh and reflecting their development as a band. I can’t wait for the world to hear it.”
EMI is bidding to keep both the band and Imploding The Mirage at the forefront of people’s minds through the end of the year, with a view to a second promotional push around the rescheduled stadium dates.
“There’s plenty of quality in there,” sums up Cawley. “It all feels very much like they are cementing themselves even deeper in the history books of greatness.”
Maybe 2020 will still be their year after all...