The astonishing story behind The Killers’ landmark debut album, ‘Hot Fuss’

The astonishing story behind The Killers’ landmark debut album, ‘Hot Fuss’

Photo: Anton Corbijn
Words by Tom Parker

A tale of rejection and constant persistence.

It was 2001 and Brandon Flowers had been fired from his first-ever band, Las Vegas’ synth pop trio Blush Response, due to his financial stubbornness and inflexibility for band expansion. Meandering aimlessly in search of his musical calling, Flowers attended an Oasis concert at the Hard Rock Hotel — the Gallaghers were his idols and would soon inspire a musical legacy since unrivalled, little did he know.

The Britpop band’s Tour of Brotherly Love show would stimulate Flowers’ concept of rock music. The larger-than-life stage guitars coupled with the charisma and the bravado of the genre was enough to inspire Flowers’ creativity once more. Leaping at a newspaper advertisement by guitarist Dave Keuning in 2001, Flowers would find his musical compeer and, soon enough, The Killers was born.

As the newly-fused bandmates found their feet, accolades were slow. Yet, it was their radiantly varnished brand of hook-laden pop which stood them apart from a Vegas music scene crowded with punk, nu metal and rap imaginations.

At the beginning of 2002, their watershed track ‘Mr Brightside’ was cut to tape — but The Killers’ revolving roster of bandmates slowed the propeller. Perched in the crater of an impending volcano, Flowers and Keuning were ready to erupt but were a few tools short of igniting the blast.

Enter Ronnie Vannucci Jr. and Mark Stoermer. Burgeoning drummer and exciting bassist alike, Vannucci Jr. and Stoermer had the conviction required to push The Killers in the right direction. According to an early promoter of the band, Ryan Pardey, The Killers became a great band when Ronnie and Mark joined. That’s when they became a truly cohesive unit and a live force to be reckoned with.

Finally, The Killers had detailed their blueprint with sturdy walls and an exciting chapter in the studio beckoned. Vannucci’s garage would become the cauldron for creation and during the early months of 2003, the tracks, ‘Somebody Told Me’ and ‘Smile Like You Mean It’ were recorded to join ‘Mr Brightside’ as the glittering A-side of their debut album began to take shape.

As their following grew steadily, The Killers became residents of Vegas transvestite bar Sasha’s, playing Sunday after Sunday to a curious crowd. The work ethic was there but had yet to be vindicated — The Killers deserved the attention of more ears and soon enough, the rush would come.

Yet still, the pessimism of record companies would hamper the band’s growing zeal as a number of US establishments shut the door on the outfit’s early demos. It wasn’t until UK A&R rep, Alex Gilbert, took notice of The Killers that they began experiencing reward for effort. By July 2003, a fervent 22-year-old Flowers had signed his first record deal, courtesy of London independent label, Lizard King.

Arguably the band’s biggest masterstroke was their sole release of bona fide earworm ‘Mr Brightside’ in September of the same year. Suddenly the nascent voice of Flowers was being transmitted across the world and critics couldn’t ignore The Killers’ refreshing synth rock sound. Amazingly, ‘Mr Brightside’ went on to become song with the most weeks in the UK Singles Chart ever — clocking in at a total of 200 weeks.

The Killers filled a hole in the early 21st century rock landscape with a verve and exuberance perfectly compatible to the live stage. What’s more, they had not just a frontman but a showman at the fore capable of wresting every micron of energy out of his bandmembers and the crowd to boot.

The Killers’ debut album, Hot Fuss, was officially unveiled on June 7, 2004. Eleven tracks deep, it was the glitz of the A-side that propelled the band to the top of the charts. Aside from ‘Mr Brightside’, the top boasted three other irresistible singles, each with juxtaposing themes and tempos.

Track three, four and five gave us ‘Smile Like You Mean It’, ‘Somebody Told Me’ and arguably the most epic song in their discography, the five-minute ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’.

Following Hot Fuss, The Killers would establish themselves as rulers of mainstream music without disconcerting listeners more comfortable beneath the surface. There was no sophomore blues for Flowers and his men, Sam’s Town reaffirming them as quintessential pop-rock purveyors with a capability to stride free of monotonousness.

Four more albums and here we are, in 2018, still thrashing the token jewels of Hot Fuss. Some records lose their glean but this debut album does more than invigorate listeners’ nostalgia. Simply put, it’s a potently good album with a moving backstory poised to stilt its legacy for years to come.