With ‘Pressure Machine,’ The Killers bring everyone to Utah’s hidden side

The Killers make a deep album that references Utah

Brandon Flowers felt the pressure.

Flowers — the lead singer of The Killers, a band that has been around for nearly two decades — is familiar with releasing music. Like a machine, his band has dropped seven studio albums, one live album, three compilation albums and one video album. He’s dropped a separate pair of solo albums, too. So the singing, the lyrics didn’t make him nervous. No, not that part. Rather, it was the songs. The songs — featured on the album “Pressure Machine,” which was released on Friday, Aug. 13 — made him nervous.

“When you start to write these songs that are austere and have restraint, I did wonder what to do with it or how people would receive it and I was a little nervous, but they just kept coming, the songs kept coming and I’m really proud of it,” he told RadioX in the U.K.

He felt the pressure of returning home.

The Killers released their newest album — “Pressure Machine” — this last weekend, and the album has so many nods and references to Utah. That’s because Flowers made the album a direct nod to Nephi, Utah, where he spent much of his young life.

“I discovered this grief that I hadn’t dealt with,” he told RadioX. “Many memories of my time in Nephi are tender. But the ones tied to fear or great sadness were emotionally charged. I’ve got more understanding now than when we started the band, and hopefully, I was able to do justice to these stories and these lives in this little town that I grew up in.”

Dave Keunig, Brandon Flowers and Ronnie Vannucci of The Killers
Dave Keunig, left, Brandon Flowers and Ronnie Vannucci, all members of The Killers, who released their new album “Pressure Machine” last week. | Danny Clinch

Flowers has not been shy to talk about Utah in the past. The singer is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City. Though he hails from Henderson, Nevada, he also spent much of his younger years in Nephi, in central Utah.

Though The Killers made their mark with references to Las Vegas and Nevada — the band’s sophomore album, “Sam’s Town,” is a direct reference to a rusted, old Nevada town — Utah has become a center point in much of the band’s newer releases. In fact, Flowers seems to be reflecting on his time as a child in the Beehive State.

Specific lyrics in “Pressure Machine” point to the Beehive State, as well as cultural aspects of Utah residents and those of the Latter-day Saint faith. Small little hints at Utah towns, cultural groups and slang all point to the world we find ourselves in. Throughout the album, there’s talk about faith, God and the mountains — three popular symbols of the Beehive State. There’s talk of believing when you don’t think you can believe any longer and holding onto hope when it seems like God has left you (even though he hasn’t).

Specific moments pop up during the narrations that begin before many of the tracks. They sounded like recorded messages from residents of these towns.

In track 6 — titled “Runaway Horses” — the intro to the song talks about the Ute Stampede, Nephi’s annual rodeo, and even mentions a famous Utah slang word — “heck.” These are clear nods to Utah, and you can feel the young boy Flowers living and seeing those horses run.

Oh, my heck, so, yeah, the Ute Stampede, I mean that’s a tradition for sure, um

One year, we wish— it was raining, all, like stampedes and this horse come out

On the 10th track, called “Pressure Machine,” a female recorded voice speaks of Utah — specifically the town of Spanish Fork. The song deals with the idea of a young boy looking to the future, and how life can pass you by. It’s an ode to parents who have to watch their children grow old as well.

We met dragging Main at Spanish Fork

And he wasn’t moving away from here, so it wasn’t really— 

And we could build a house here

And the album’s concluding track — “The Getting By” — talks about something very familiar to Utah residents — the mountains. The song focuses on hope. Even though you’re stuck in a small town, even though there is a struggle, hope remains ahead.

The mountains are just in our backyard

That’s the nice part about it

It’s not surprising Flowers would bring Utah into his lyrics. He’s done it before. You can travel back to the band’s second album, “Sam’s Town,” and the song “This River is Wild,” which Flowered admitted was inspired by Nephi.

View Comments

Years later, with the album “Wonderful Wonderful,” there were little nods to Utah, too. The Killers' sixth studio album — “Imploding the Mirage” — was inspired by Flowers’ decision to move from Las Vegas back to Utah, where he explored a more celebratory lifestyle, as I previously wrote for the Deseret News. And a recent music video from The Killers featuring lyrics from Bruce Springsteen was filmed in Utah. That’s not to mention The Killers’ Christmas album — “Don’t Waste Your Wishes,” which featured Ned Humphrey Hansen — who lives in Salem, Utah — singing a verse on the “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” cover. Hansen taught Flowers in fourth grade at Taylor Elementary School in Payson too, which was revealed on that track.

But “Pressure Machine” pays homage to the little towns of Utah more than any other Killers album. The album has a vibe that radiates of Utah and Nevada. But it’s not about fry sauce or the Utah Jazz. It’s packed with talk of western hills, barbed-wire fences and the farming lifestyle familiar for people who understand Utah and Nevada life. In many ways, the album is a road trip through Nevada and Utah all at once. Empty roads of the freeway. Barbed-wire fences. Lone farmhouses amid vast empty fields.

“Pressure Machine” seems to answer the questions you wonder about what happens in these small towns along the highway, or those little cities tucked away in the mountainside. Are these people trapped by location or trapped by their societal pressures like on “Pressure Machine,” the album’s title track? Are they destined to spend lives there or are they looking for something bigger and more far-reaching like on “Runaway Horses?” Is there something beautiful on the horizon for them if they can just get by?

We only get a fleeting answer to this question when we drive through these towns. We only get a glimpse at their lives. But The Killers give us a full glimpse at the reality that people in these little pockets of Utah experience. So to understand all of Utah — to understand the intricacies of the West — “Pressure Machine” is essential listening. It will show you the world you do not see. It will unveil the truth behind the curtain of a blur on a drive through Spanish Fork. Without any pressure to understand it all, you can see the hidden sadness of the hidden world that you do not normally see.

Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.
Join the Conversation