For more than a decade, radio icon Dom Harvey has been making the entire country laugh with his quick wit and bravery to push the boundaries. That’s why we thought he’d be the perfect person to chat to about navigating those no-go questions in interviews. Recalling a time where he broke the rules with The Killers’ frontman Brandon Flowers, Dom laughs with us about the funniest encounters of his career and admits that even he still gets a little nervous sometimes.
Talk me through the experience with Brandon Flowers
Well it was a backstage interview at [Auckland’s] Big Day Out in 2006, so my recollection of it is really sketchy. I was potentially wasted at the time. But whenever you do an interview, it often comes with a list of off-limit things. And our job as radio presenters is to try and get something interesting for our audience, and often the interesting things that we wanna ask are the things that are immediately taken off the table. Which can be immensely frustrating at times. So, I don’t know if I was just in a petulant mood this day or what my way of thinking was; but I had been told that I wasn’t allowed to talk about religion, facial hair or Bruce Springsteen. Because the album they were promoting at the time was Sam’s Town, their second album, and it had a Springsteen sort of vibe to it. And it was kind of a weird one, because usually when you get these lists of things that are off limits it’s to do with relationships or recent breakups or whatever, so it was a really random little three-point list. So, I just took it upon myself to come in with an opening question that combined all those things in one. My first question to Brandon Flowers from The Killers was something like “in your opinion, who had better facial hair? Bruce Springsteen or Jesus?” It was a high-risk question that could’ve ended up in a walk-out, but from memory he considered the question and pondered his answer and then gave an answer. And the interview was great!
That’s such a great example of a time where things did go well, but have you had any other instances that didn’t?
They usually go okay. I find it’s kind of like a dance between the publicist and us. The publicist is doing their job and we’re doing ours, and you just sort of have to meet in the middle. But with those interview [off-limit] things, it’s usually about gauging the person and dipping your toes in the water and seeing what you get back. And sometimes it backfires horribly and can get you on a banned list for a while; but other times, like with The Killers, it works well. There was one particularly memorable one with Jared Leto when he was here with his band Thirty Seconds to Mars (2010) and there was a big bunch of s**t that was off limits. I can’t remember what exactly it all was, but I think I said something to him like “hey, not sure if you’re aware of this but prior to this interview we got given a massive list of things that are off limits. Like, the biggest list for any interview I’ve ever had before.” And he came in really hot and said “oh, I suppose you’re gonna be a jacka** now and run through them all.” And I was like “ahh … um … no!” And he just basically explained how it all works. He said “listen, I could talk to you about my drastic weight gain and drastic weight loss or I could talk to you about the Academy Award and this and this, but the bottom line is I’m here with my band and I’ve gotta give them the respect and the support of putting everything I’ve got into this project. So, if I spend half the interview time talking about movies I’ve done, or talking about this and that, it’s kind of unfair on the guys behind me.” And I thought that was a really good explanation.
When you do get the list of no-go questions, how do you prepare for writing questions around them? Or how do you prepare if you want to sort of break the rules?
Well from my perspective, I’m a super preparer when it comes to interviews. I make sure I’m above and beyond on everything that’s gone on with that person or that act’s life and I sort of have the questions in two lists. There might be something in bold font which could be considered risky or potentially dangerous and then just a regular font which are just standard questions. And you generally just sort of gage it. You need to build a rapport with the person and it’s a bit of give and take. Often on the phone it’s more difficult than face to face, because you can’t see mannerisms and things like that. And also, you have time restraints. Like 10-15 minutes maximum, so I just generally sort of gage it. But I don’t think I’m as antagonistic now as I used to be! The Killers thing was probably just me being a bit of a smarta**. But obviously we wanna get the best that we can out of the person that we’re interviewing for our audience, while still respecting the relationships that we’ve got with the labels and what not.
Were you a fan of The Killers at the time?
Oh f**k yeah! Massive fan! Hot Fuss is one of my all-time favourite albums. I’m a massive Springsteen fan as well, so when Sam’s Town came out, it did sort of feel like a hacked-up Springsteen in a way and I was a massive fan of it. Huge fan. But I also wanted to get some good content for our audience. So, as much as I would’ve liked to have sat there for 10 minutes and nerd out with Brandon Flowers about the making of the album and stuff like that, I thought it wouldn’t be that entertaining or interesting for our audience. It was high-risk, I mean he could’ve walked off and thought I was a complete piece of s**t. And if you’re a fan of the band that’s the last thing you want, right?
Have you caught up with Brandon since?
From memory we had a phone interview. It’s funny, face to face is always more memorable than a phone interview. And I feel like it’s probably the same from the artist’s perspective as well because they’re on the phone, they do interview after interview for maybe an hour or three. But I think we had a phone interview just with Brandon when he did his solo project away from The Killers (Flamingo, 2010). But I haven’t seen him in person since. I am still a massive fan of the band though. I love their stuff so much.
In the span of your whole career, have there been any other funny interview moments that stand out?
Umm … Oh god, you’ve put me on the spot. There’s so many …
Or just anyone that wasn’t really who you expected they’d be?
Oh yeah, that happens a lot. Sometimes you go into these interviews expecting very little and people just blow you away. More often than not it’s the other way around where you go in super excited and it ends up just being a flat interview. I find that happens more with the phone ones than the face to face ones, but I suppose it’s just the nature of it. You’ve got someone just sitting in a hotel room on speaker phone just taking call after call for hours on end, and from the artist’s perspective they probably go on autopilot mode because it’s just same s**t, different radio host.
Following on from that, do you still get starstruck by anyone?
Hmm. Not really too much. But in saying that, I don’t know if I’d ever want to interview Bruce Springsteen because I am such a big fan of his. I’d be just heartbroken if he didn’t live up to expectations or if I asked a question and he eye-rolled me or something like that. But I don’t really get starstruck. I still definitely get nervous though, especially if it’s a big guest and you want the interview to go well. I mean, there’s 3 of us on the show and we always bring all that we’ve got and full energy and enthusiasm and full preparation to the interview. You’re just reliant on the phone line being good and the talent on the other end bringing their part as well. A lot of work goes into it from our perspective and we always want it to go well, so you get nerves. I get nervous in that aspect, but otherwise not too bad. But it’s weird; I’ve been doing this a very long time, but you do sort of still get butterflies or a little bit of anxiety, I guess.
Lastly, if you got the chance to chat with Brandon tomorrow, what would you say to him?
I’d probably be like, man put out some more music! We love you, we miss you guys, you’re the greatest band to ever come out of Las Vegas and probably the greatest to ever come out of the United States. Hot Fuss is the greatest debut album of any band ever. Please come back to NZ soon. We love The Killers!