When Brandon Flowers started writing songs and formed his first group, Blush Response, he found himself pursuing a sound that wasn't exactly a chart-busting trend of the late '90s: the keyboard-driven style of synth-pop.
"You know what it was, I met this guy at work at a golf course, and we loved the same bands," Flowers says. "I mean, we weren't doing anything else; we always just hung out and listened to music and things like that. So basically one day, we decided to try to write songs. We loved music so much, and the reason I think it ended up being synth-pop is both of us had taken piano lessons when we were young and we didn't really play anything else. The only way we could write songs was on piano and keyboards. So we really got into keyboards."
Blush Response never had much of an impact. Flowers, in fact, was dumped by the band in 2001 when the other members decided to leave Vegas for Los Angeles in an attempt to snare a record deal.
But Flowers never left his synth-pop leanings behind. That musical ingredient is one of the defining features of the group he now fronts, the critically acclaimed breakout band, the Killers.
After being unceremoniously dumped by Blush Response, Flowers brushed off his setback and answered an ad in Las Vegas Weekly placed by guitarist David Keuning.
Soon after meeting, they had completed a song, "Mr. Brightside," that would play a key role in their future.
Flowers and Keuning quickly recruited a drummer and bassist, named themselves the Killers after a fictitious group in a New Order video, and went about building a repertoire, local following and career.
Things started falling into place for the Killers within months. By late 2002, the group's early rhythm section had been replaced by current bassist Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci, who proved to be more compatible with the songs filling the group's set lists.
The Killers also began to make noise outside of Vegas—far outside of the city. Around summer 2003, they landed a deal with indie Brit label Lizard King. An initial round of United Kingdom tour dates and the release of "Mr. Brightside" as a limited-edition single came next.
"We were showcasing for Warner Bros. in LA and there was an English representative from Warner Bros. UK there," Flowers says. "He loved [the demo] and took it to his boss at Warner Bros. in England, and they didn't like it. So he took it to his friend, and his friend runs Lizard King."
By fall 2003, the Killers' first shows in Britain had prompted glowing reviews in the country's famously hyperbolic music magazines, and this was enough to get the attention of the American record industry.
After a showcase at the 2003 CMJ Music Conference in New York City, the Killers were signed by Island/Def Jam Records.
Now, some 18 months later, the buzz that began in Britain has reached wall-shaking volume. Even before the release last June of the band's full-length debut, Hot Fuss, magazines like Spin, Alternative Weekly and Rolling Stone were touting the Killers as one of rock's hottest new bands.
Radio and rock fans agree. Hot Fuss spawned two top-five hits: "Mr. Brightside" and "Somebody Told Me." The momentum is still building, as Hot Fuss entered Billboard's top 10 this week.
It's easy to understand the Killers' appeal. They've created a sound that stands out from the modern-rock pack. Flowers' keyboard lines and the danceable rhythms created by Vannucci and Stoermer give the band some of the synth-pop sound Flowers first pursued. But the band's songs also have a decidedly punchy guitar-rock element courtesy of Keuning, giving the music a much-needed edge and modern sensibility.
For a city like Vegas that's known for entertainment and plays host to most of the major music acts in every genre, the lack of success by homegrown bands seems surprising at times. Flowers cites the obstacles to developing as a band in his home city.
"There are quite a few bands, actually. There are just not many places to play, just a couple of bars outside of the Strip," he says. "They need to really open some all-ages clubs, just a couple of places and it would be set. Really one or two places that would stay open would help a lot."
Despite most of the city's action being confined to the tourist-filled casinos, clubs and restaurants on the Strip, Flowers says he's pleased the Killers have shown that a band can launch a career from Las Vegas.
"We definitely didn't get tourists to shows. And I mean, why would you? The Strip is pretty amazing," Flowers says, "so you just have to deal with what you've got. We did it. We played as much as we could, and we put our songs on the Internet and that was it."