“I’m sorry this is so uncomfortable,” Brandon Flowers says apologetically during a long and, yes, rather painful silence. The 29-year-old musician is trying to round out a list of the 10 vocal performances that most influenced him, and in a group dominated by guys, he needs a woman. Shy and hesitant in person, Flowers is nothing like his onstage persona. Whereas that one—the superstar who fronts the Las Vegas–based arena rock band The Killers—sweats swagger and breathes bombast, this one fidgets in his chair inside New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel. This fall, Flowers will take the stage without his three bandmates when he tours Europe in support of Flamingo, his solo debut. If the first single, “Crossfire,” is any indication, the album (named after a road in Las Vegas) will stay true to the Killers’ synths and soaring vocals. But Flowers can’t help it. He’s never been one to conceal his roots and he isn’t about to start now.
U2’s “With or Without You.” This is quintessential U2. There’s great contrast in how low Bono’s voice goes in his verses and how he builds to this explosion of emotion at the end. His sound breaks through the clouds.
Lou Reed’s “Men of Good Fortune.” Lou isn’t the greatest singer in the world, so he uses a speaking voice to deliver his songs. He has such great lyrics: “Men of good fortune often cause empires to fall/ While men of poor beginnings often can’t do anything at all.” How can you not get sucked in when that’s the song’s first line? We were going to perform the song “Tranquilize” together on Saturday Night Live and it was going to be the highlight of my life, but then the writers’ strike happened.
Morrissey’s “Interesting Drug.” It’s as Morrissey as Morrissey gets. He has his own inflections, his own quirks, and they all surface on this song. I was his busboy once at Spago Las Vegas in Caesars Palace, but I didn’t have the guts to say anything. Years later, the Killers were asked to open for him in L.A. and Chicago. The highlight of the whole thing was when he came to watch us rehearse before the first show. He’s had such an impact on my life, and it felt like everything had come full circle: he was just standing there, watching us.
Annie Lennox’s “No More ‘I Love You’s’” She pushes the envelope and looks great doing it. I often wonder about [Lennox’s partner in Eurythmics] Dave Stewart’s genius. It turned me off that he was involved with making that dildo [for sex toy manufacturer JimmyJane’s collaboration with Stewart’s Rock Fabulous line]. His face was on it or something? Tom Waits’ “Ruby’s Arms.” My wife and I bonded over this song when we first met. I’d never heard it before and she played it for me while we were driving through Las Vegas. Both of us were crying in the car at some point. There are a lot of myths that Waits used to scream in closets to mess up his voice. What amazes me is how dirty it is, but how romantic he can be with it.
Johnny Cash’s “Give My Love to Rose.” I love the way Cash tells this story of a guy getting out of jail and basically dying on his way home. When he asks the stranger who finds him to tell his boy that his daddy is proud of him… I don’t know why, but that gets me every time.
Pet Shop Boys’ “Tonight Is Forever.” I’ve had two weird experiences with Neil Tennant’s voice. One night, on my first trip to London, I heard Ladytron was playing. We got to the show for the encore, and we heard this guy talking. I knew it was Neil Tennant without seeing him. That’s how distinct his voice is. Later, we were working at [producer] Stuart Price’s house on [the Killers’ third studio album] Day & Age. He had a little studio and his wife had just started managing the Pet Shop Boys. So I was upstairs, and in between songs I could hear Tennant’s voice downstairs. He actually came up and sang on a Christmas song we were recording.
Bruce Springsteen’s “Youngstown.” He’s able to make statements while still being romantic. “Youngstown” is about a mine for the materials that make weapons. He writes of smokestacks reaching up like the arms of God. Springsteen helped me understand my roots and helped me to connect with America.
Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” This one doesn’t sound like Bob Dylan to me, not that I don’t like the way it sounds. The lyrics are amazing as always, but I chose it because of his vocal versatility, which I think is important in singers. There is something to be said about having that recognizable quality in your voice, but I really like it when people are able to switch it up a bit.
Chairlift’s “Evident Utensil.” We made a video for “Spaceman” with [music video director] Ray Tintori, and he’s in the same circle as Chairlift. He had just done their video for “Evident Utensil.” The video was fine, but the song was amazing. The synth lines reminded me of Erasure. I couldn’t believe these young people from Colorado who now live in Brooklyn were doing this. Caroline Polachek and Aaron Pfenning are great singers. Hearing them for the first time was a breath of fresh air.
Brandon’s Favorite New York Spot: Gramercy Park Hotel