To celebrate the release of the Killers’ greatest-hits compilation, Direct Hits (out now), frontman Brandon Flowers told EW the tales behind some of the band’s best-known anthems.
“Mr. Brightside” (2003) “This was literally the first song that me and Dave [Keuning], our guitar player, wrote. We didn’t have a drummer yet but he gave me a cassette, and it had a few demos with complete songs of him singing, and then there would just be these riffs that he had — so he basically had the guitar for “Mr. Brightside,” and the pre-chorus. I had an idea already of this sort of monotone, linear delivery, and it just fit so well over his guitar line. So I slapped a chorus on it, and it was written pretty quickly.
I remember the first time I heard it [set] to a beat, it was a monumental experience. We wrote a lot of songs after that, but then the Strokes’ first record came out and we ditched everything we wrote except for that song and started again. [Laughs] Because that record’s so good, you know? It was just… we realized that they raised the bar. Whether the Strokes know it or not, they really changed our path.”
“Somebody Told Me” (2004) “We were going out to clubs a lot at the time. I think it speaks to a young man’s frustration, the difficulty of picking up girls. [Laughs] That’s probably where it stems from. I was just able to run with it, and the band supplied a wonderful backing track.”
“All These Things That I’ve Done” (2005) “I worked at a casino called the Gold Coast as a bellman. This was back when there weren’t cell phones yet, so I used to call the guys and tell them I was gonna call them back and leave an idea on their answering machines. I was very heavily into glam rock at the time, and I felt like [Lou Reed’s] Transformer and [David Bowie’s] Ziggy Stardust — the delivery of those records, sometimes it was almost talking to you, especially Lou. The lines ‘Help me out, yeah yeah, you gotta help me out/Don’t you put me on the back burner, you gotta help me out’? I was just trying to be Lou Reed funneled through the Las Vegas Strip. And the bass line is a direct rip-off of a Bowie track called ‘Slow Burn.’ I can say it now because I don’t think he’s gonna come after us.”
“When You Were Young” (2006) “It was an important song for us, maybe the most important song, because a lot of bands come and go. We knew that Hot Fuss put us all over the world and it was a great ride, but who knows what’s gonna happen next? So yeah, when we got back, we didn’t waste any time after the tour. When we got back together and started to sort of pursue this next chapter, it’s incredible — this was one of those moments when we were just all four of us were on the same page. ‘He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus/But he talks like a gentleman,’ that came instantly to me. I remember driving home, and this load just lifted off my shoulders. I knew everything was gonna be all right.”
“Read My Mind” (2007) “It was originally called ‘Little Angela,’ but we changed that because it didn’t feel right. Thank heavens [producer] Alan Moulder had the courage to tell me he didn’t love it. He thought it was too much like the Simon & Garfunkel song ‘Mrs. Robinson.’ So we changed it, and once I had the lyrics, I started to get a story about my [own] life.”
“Human” (2008) “I didn’t know the line ‘Are we human or are we dancer?’ was going to be so controversial! [Laughs] I had seen a Hunter S. Thompson interview where he talks about America and says he fears that we’re raising a generation of dancers. And I adapted that, basically. The verse is about the decline in our values and our morals, but everyone just picked up on the chorus. It just became a stumbling block for people, but it’s still a great song. I still love it.”
“Runaways” (2012) “I have this push and pull between these influences: I love British rock and British New Wave and stuff like that, and, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten into more American stuff. So this is just one of those moments where the American side sort of took over and won that battle. As for the story, it’s just it’s an observation of what I see happening with a lot of people my age. It’s a struggle to stay married, basically and how hard it can be. [Chuckles] It is hard, and it is a lot of work, but I do believe it’s worth it”