"It’s a bold album and not something you expect from The Killers..." - Brandon Flowers talk working fast on new LP, Pressure Machine
The long-held plans of bands at every spot on the food chain was thrown into chaos by the onset of Covid-19. Album campaigns that had been planned and tweaked over months were tossed in the bin, stadium tours that had been routed to every corner of the globe were shelved and plans to record were put to one side as it was simply no longer safe to work in the sweaty, intimate surroundings where the best albums are made.
But for bands at all levels, they were handed a different question, what do you do with the downtime you’ve suddenly been given? Do you pursue a long-dreamed-of side project? Take up a hobby, write a book or get really into fishing? Or, do you simply keep going?
The Killers chose the latter path.
The band were already sat on one album, 2020’s Imploding The Mirage, which came out pretty much a year ago to the day. That was an LP written with a stadium tour of the UK already booked and filled with the band’s classic stomping taste for a chorus. Their new offering, Pressure Machine, is a very different beast.
Some things remain the same from Imploding The Mirage, Jonathan Rado and Shawn Everett, who handled almost all of the production for that record, remain in place. Personnel wise, guitarist Dave Keuning, who'd been on hiatus from the band since the completion of work on 2017's Wonderful Wonderful, is back in the fold, but bassist Mark Stoermer wasn't involved in the sessions.
Imploding The Mirage, like much of the band's work, was a widescreen, expansive record, something this new LP sits in sharp contrast to. This is a concept album, with the songs all based on singer Brandon Flowers' childhood in Nephi, Utah. The singer had moved back to Utah and suddenly found himself inspired by a deluge of old memories, as well as the classic heavy American literature of John Steinbeck and Sherwood Anderson.
Unlike Imploding The Mirage, which was laden with guests, there's just one on this LP, but it's a special one. Phoebe Bridgers' stellar time continues with a duet on 'Runaway Horses'.
With the album now on hmv's shelves and named hmv's Album of the Month, we spoke to Brandon Flowers about the band's desire to keep going after their touring plans were shelved and why album number eight is already well underway...
You had planned to take Imploding The Mirage for a long tour, then that was taken away. Did your attention immediately turn to new material?
“It was very shortly after we released that we couldn’t tour at all in 2020. We really just got straight back to work.”
Did you have any songs left over to keep working on?
“It was a completely new batch. None of these songs has any relation to the previous record. This record is so much its own world, they couldn’t have been written at any other time.”
When did you nail down the concept?
“I’d moved back to Utah and I was suddenly immersed in the geography and my senses were flooded with my adolescence in Utah. I started having a lot of memories of my time there and these characters and observations all turned into songs.”
Dave is back with you for this record, how did he come back into the picture?
“He came around whenever he could. It was difficult to get all of us in the room together because of Covid. Mark was very reluctant because he really didn’t want to get sick and so he opted out of this record. Dave made time whenever he could and he started a few of the songs on this record. Mostly it was me and Ronnie (Vanucci, drums) and our producers, Jonathan and Shawn.”
They worked with you on the last record, that relationship must be going really well…
“We love them. They’re a great duo to work with. They’re very different from each other, but they complement each other so well and we really hit it off from the get-go.”
You’ve worked with some of the biggest producers in rock, does their style differ from theirs?
“Shawn is very familiar with how people used to make records, but he’s so committed to pushing forward and constantly trying to get new ideas across. He wants to use the studio as an instrument, a bit like Brian Eno. Rado is a rock and roll purist, so that combination works really well with us.”
It’s a tight record, all done in 11 tracks, did you have much left over?
“Not really. Every song had to reside in Nephi, Utah. Those limitations made it easy to see which songs were going to make the record. We knew when the record was complete because those were the ones with roots in the town.”
Did the concept ever feel like a constraint?
“In the beginning, I had some anxiety about that. I was worried it was going to be too much of an insider’s take and wouldn’t resonate with anybody else. But then I thought about it some more, and it’s an offering for people, a way into this town, almost like a documentary. It was a very new way for us to make a record and we really enjoyed it.”
Was it always called Pressure Machine?
“That came really early on. I was thinking about American pressure and the American dream, that pressure to succeed and deliver, the pressure to win, how everything is compounded by religious pressure. It feels like a machine.”
You’ve got Phoebe Bridgers on the record, did you get to record in person or was it all done remotely?
“She was able to come in, which was great. It was just before we were vaccinated, so everyone was in masks, but she was there. We went to the studio she works in in Los Angeles, so she was very comfortable there. It was a lovely experience, to listen to her singing, I was afraid we’d just have to do it remotely.”
You’ve done collaborations throughout the band’s career, are they always good things to have on a record?
“There’s something to be said for it just being you and doing what you do. It was more that ‘Runaway Horses’ was begging for a femininity and somebody to be the girl I was singing about. Phoebe did it perfectly.”
Everything’s gone back, but you will be taking this record and the last one out on tour, how on earth are you going to fit everything in the set?
“I’m going to figure out how durable my voice is and how much we can do. There’s going to be some gymnastics.”
Are you thinking about how a song will go live when you record it?
“There’s always a certain amount of pressure that hovers over when you make a record and you’re in a band like The Killers. We want to meet people in arenas and stadiums and that walks with you in the studio. On Imploding The Mirage, it was definitely on our minds, those songs are really tailor-made for big stages. This album is completely different and there was some trepidation about that. It’s a bold album and not something you expect from The Killers. We’re really happy with it.”
It’s out there that you’re already into the next thing, how’s that going?
“It’s going great. We’re gearing up for touring in 2022, if the world doesn’t shut down again, that’ll take precedence. But it is going and I can’t believe we’re talking about album number eight, but we are. It’s so exciting to have that longevity.”
With this being such a singular piece, the possibilities must be open for the next one…
“We’re really open to anything at this point. We’re enjoying the process. It’s very exciting.”