Interview: The Killers & Werner Herzog Discuss ‘Battle Born’ & Amex Unstaged

Brandon & Ronnie from The Killers sit down for a chat, alongside acclaimed director Werner Herzog.

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud


The Killers' sold-out show at the Bronx's Paradise Theater this week was the latest installment in the 'American Express: Unstaged' series, which pairs musicians with directors and live-streams the concert in partnership with YouTube and VEVO. After Jack White's fantastic performance with Gary Oldman manning the controls, The Killers had their work cut out for them – and certainly rose to the challenge with a tremendous performance that you can watch now.

The American Express Unstaged live-stream event, in which famed filmmaker Werner Herzog directed the band onstage, was preceded by an interview just prior to the show. CraveOnline took part in a conference-call interview with The Killers and Herzog, wherein the band and director spoke on Battle Born, the new Killers album, as well as their American Express Unstaged performance.

We were honored that Werner Herzog, Brandon Flowers, and Ronnie Vannucci Jr. from The Killers could join us for the pre-show session. 


Steve Lillywhite came in to assist with “Flesh and Bone”. How did his influence bring the Motown flavor to light?

Brandon Flowers: Well, the Motown section wasn’t a Motown section until Steve came. I guess that was… There's a certain way that I sing a couple of the lines in the song that we were talking about are reminiscent of Motown and Detroit, and the way that I sing, “I’m runnin’ out of time,” and things like that. And so I think that that sparked something in Steve and we had the bridge written and he suggested maybe we try it with a different flavor. And it turned out that way and that’s one of the benefits of having a great producer, more ideas.


Speaking of producers, Daniel Lanois seems to have played a significant role, as well, in helping shape the album’s sound. What would you say was Daniel’s most significant contribution?

Brandon Flowers: Daniel, because he’s both a great mind and a great musician, he’s able to link up with us in ways that maybe other producers don't. One of the advantages was that we were all in a room together making songs, you know, and incidentally it was the first time we’ve ever collaborated with another person to write songs. I guess that he sort of takes a more organic, more earthy approach. He’s a big proponent of making human sounds with instruments, if that makes any sense, and really helps us tap into a side that we’ve explored a little bit on our own, but never put on an actual record before.


Were there any new challenges in putting this record together that you hadn’t experienced before?

Ronnie Vannucci Jr: Nope. [Chuckles] We always have the same agenda to go into the studio and write, and do the best that we can.


Werner Herzog used to tell stories about misunderstood or insane people trying to do something special. Do you guys fit that description?

Brandon Flowers:(Laughing) I don't know.

Werner Herzog: No, I'm rumored to be some sort of the wild guy and to… whatever, fact is, I’m clinically sane. I’m trying to find professionals who are, as well, clinically sane as I am. And when I met the band for the first time, I immediately had this connection that I immediately felt, yes, they're good, solid human beings with a strange background, but at the same time, they are absolutely sane and wonderful to work with as professionals. Very, very easy. Yesterday within an hour, we did a short film with them, written, scripted, filmed and edited in less than an hour. And it will be shown for the people out there for the streaming. It’s kind of scary. It came very easy, in the end. Very, very easy to work with you guys.


Why did you guys want to include the American Express on-stage, live-stream technology as part of the launch of the new album?

Brandon Flowers: I have seen a couple… I have seen the Arcade Fire one and I’ve seen the Coldplay one, and it just seemed… I thought it was a great idea and I wanted to be a part of it. And the fact that you get this freedom to pick a director—and we were so lucky to have Werner say yes, I mean, he was at the top of the list, and everything kind of fell into place.

Werner Herzog: Yeah, in truth I was drawn to the urgency with which the band wanted to have me and I thought, yes, this is completely new terrain for me. But thinking about, I don't know, maybe 10 million people out there around the world, I wanted to do it more interactive. All the other concerts were not really responding that much to the audiences out there, so left and right on the stage we’ll have two screens and fans have sent in their pictures identifying where they are from, and thousands have come in and they are still streaming in. And while the concert is going on, they will still stream their photos and it will be part of the show, so the audience and the band will see the pictures left and right, and the audience out in the world will see how we are participants. And they look at each other, the live audience in the theater is looking at the faces out there of other fans, and the other way around. So I wanted to have it really interactive.

Ronnie Vannucci Jr: I think it’s a great idea. It’s so communal. It’s bringing the whole world together. And it makes me feel almost emotional about it when he talks about it, because to think of all these people… We are so in the middle of it, it’s all happened so fast, we don't realize how worldwide it really has become, and it’s just going to be… I'm really excited about it.


In what ways has the band grown and changed from the making of Hot Fuss back in 2004 to the band that has created Battle Born in 2012?

Brandon Flowers: I'm a more concise lyric-writer. No matter how close to your heart you hold that first record, the lyrics aren’t as fully realized as they are now. I’ve read more books, I’ve grown, we’ve had more experiences. And we’ve played so many live shows that we can't help but be more powerful as a band. So hopefully those things should come through on Battle Born.


What's your secret to keep the essence of The Killers in every single record, but not repeating yourselves? How have you done that?

Brandon Flowers: Gosh… I think within each one of us, we have this integrity, we have this sort of strong, almost pig-headed, type of non-bending thing about us, the way we do things. And I think it’s just the four of us in combination, not willing to compromise much, which I think sort of leaves us with a good end result or a good yield. I don't know. I've never thought about it really. We’re strong-willed.


Ronnie said he wished Elvis Presley advised the band. What do you think about the hologram, the companies who want to do shows with dead musicians? Do you like that idea?

Ronnie Vannucci Jr: Well, somebody was asking me if I could get advice—we were talking about in the past, have we gotten advice from musicians or people we look up to. They didn’t have to be alive still; I thought it would be fun to get some advice from The King. I don't know, I love Elvis. Holograms? I don't know. I don't know if you’d get much good advice from a hologram.


Here’s a question for Werner. In what ways will directing tonight’s performance differ from your time spent behind the camera directing films for the big screen? Any expected challenges?

Werner Herzog: It’s all a challenge. I’ve never done it before. I warned the band, by the way, I believe that all the other shows that were done in this Unstaged of American Express were with directors who hadn’t done it before. I mean, the internet is exploding and it’s going fast, and I tried to respond to what is out there. And it doesn’t matter whether I do something for a narrative film structure or a documentary, this is a very specific challenge I am jumping in to. And I know with the band out there, I can jump out the window and I don't care if there is rock bottom down there or soft water, I’ll just jump with them. And it’s going to be fine.


Is it harder or easier to make music after all these years and the success you’ve had?

Brandon Flowers: It’s harder to make the records, for some reason. We put a certain amount of pressure on ourselves and we have raised the bar as high as we can physically, you know, these four guys together. And so you want to get there again, you want to get over it. And it’s nerve-wracking, the prospect that you might not get there, that your best days are behind you. [Chuckles] It’s possible. So you're just trying to do it.


Knowing that the show’s going to be live-streamed tonight, does that put any additional pressure on the performance?

Brandon Flowers: Yeah, quite a bit of pressure. It seems like we’ve been doing a lot of that lately. It’s almost like old-hat already. We just hope everything goes off without a hitch. There's a lot of technology involved, that’s different for us.


Will tonight’s performance foreshadow what fans can expect when you hit the road, including some dates with Tegan and Sara?

Brandon Flowers: There are going to be some elements that are going to continue, but we’re still learning these new… We’re only playing a few new songs right now and we still have a few weeks of rehearsals to incorporate this whole record into our live set, because we really want to play these new songs.


What do you hope fans will get out of this live-stream experience? This is for Werner, first.

Werner Herzog: Well, for me, get something across that is authentic, that is alive, that brings over the excitement, that brings over the character of the band, and also incorporates the world out there. They are not the receiving end alone; they contribute. And it’s a beautiful challenge and I've accepted it. And, of course, there's no post-production. You have 18 cameras and you have to make an instantaneous decision: Camera 5, Camera 11, Camera 2. So sometimes, of course, there will be mistakes and the mistakes cannot be corrected. So be it. So I can face it and it still will be alive, maybe even that factor that there may be mistakes in it, inevitably are going to come, doesn’t really worry me. And it doesn’t worry me whether there are 5 hundred people out there or 10 million, you just do it.


Photo by Donald Bowers/Getty Images for American Express