Had Brandon Flowers’ car not been stolen when he was in high school, he might have been a golfer instead of the frontman of a group that’s sold more than 2o million albums. When the car was stolen, along with the golf clubs he’d left in the trunk, Flowers had recently begun hanging out with more creative types who got him into playing music. When the car was eventually recovered, the clubs were gone, he tells TIME: "I just decided I wasn’t going to buy another set and I followed the music.”
Now nearly 15 years into his career at the helm of The Killers, Flowers has released his second solo album, The Desired Effect, a follow-up to 2010’s Flamingo. Out May 19 in the U.S., the sound is synth-heavy and ‘80s-throwback, with songs that range from sing-along pop to more introspective fare. Flowers says his collaboration with producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who has worked with acts like Haim, Vampire Weekend and Sky Ferreira, helped him whittle down a prolific batch of demos into a cohesive collection.
Flowers spoke to TIME from London, where he was preparing for a tour that will take him throughout Europe and the U.S. through November.
TIME: What factored into your decision to do a second solo album?
Brandon Flowers: Really similar circumstances to the first. When the Killers go on tour, it’s a very full schedule and it takes up the better part of a year. So Dave [Keuning, guitarist] and Mark [Stoermer, bassist] wanted to take a breather. I try to write as much as I can, so it’s just better for everybody that I get these songs out.
Are the songs you’d include on a solo album different from the songs you’d bring to the band?
No, not this time. I really wanted to just put my best foot forward. It was also a lot easier to choose [songs] because I was working with Ariel Rechtshaid, the producer. He had a specific vision of what he wanted, what Brandon Flowers songs he wanted to go on the record.
What was your collaborative process like with him?
It was a challenge for him because when I make demos, they have a really strong identity. As a producer, when you want to put your mark on something, it’s hard when the demos already sound fully realized. He had to take them and shape them and then we both had our fingers crossed that it turned out. For the most part, it really did.
Are there particular tracks on the album that you hold closest to your heart?
“Between Me and You,” [because it’s] so personal and a song that I just like. Another one would be “Diggin’ Up the Heart.” One of the things I was taught growing up is that people that do bad things are bad people. I have grown out of that tunnel vision and as I’ve gone out into the world, this was me searching for the other side.
One of the songs I keep coming back to is “Lonely Town.” There’s a feeling of desperation but also hopefulness.
It’s sort of a stalker song [laughs]. One of my favorite songs growing up was “Every Breath You Take,” and I love how Sting was able to sort of trick us with that song. I kind of took a page out of Sting’s book, I admit. My experiences in dating when I was younger helped me to start that song, but Sting helped me finish it.
Is your persona as a musician different when you’re performing as Brandon Flowers versus the frontman of The Killers?
I may not go out on the stage with as much confidence as I do with The Killers. We’ve accomplished so much, and the songs have resonated with people and sat with people for so long. So when we go onstage, it’s a lot easier than it is for me to go on by myself where I’m still proving myself as a solo flier.
You’ve had a really big career in the U.K. as well as in the U.S. How do you think American audiences differ from British audiences?
[British audiences] just seem to be a little bit more passionate and more physical. We were really lucky that the doors were opened to [The Killers] in the U.K. first. Every major label in America turned us down. Then we got a deal with an indie record label called Lizard King Records in the U.K., and we came over and did five shows in September of 2003 and got a lot of glowing reviews. We flew back home and everybody that had turned us down were now having bidding wars to sign us.
Who are some of the other artists that you’re excited about right now?
Father John Misty is one of the heavy-hitters. I like Dawes, from California. Sturgill Simpson seems to be as authentic as you can get. It’s exciting to hear these voices and these kind of guys starting to make noise.
In the group you just mentioned there’s a real Americana, country vibe. Is that influencing you these days?
I’ve always been drawn to that kind of music. It’s what my dad listened to. I like that there are young people that are still doing that because country has become a dirty word. But they’re cleaning it up.
Between The Killers, your solo tour and festivals, will you take a breather at some point?
It’s a real blessing that I get to call this my job. I want to keep rolling and evolving. I just like being in the thick of it.