set the agenda for 2004
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The Killers' recent single 'Mr Brightside' was a revelation. Deadpan
vocals riding recklessly over a blaze of electro synth-pop,
modulated anguish and smooth guitar noise, it was a sharply crafted
debut with dank roots that dug into those of The Psychedelic Furs
and Interpol. Before the year began it seemed that The Killers would
be one of those to set the agenda for 2004. With a stack of live
dates on the horizon, a new single, 'Somebody Told Me', due for
release in March and an album expected in the summer, this Las Vegas
quartet are, it seems, about to go stellar.
We meet The Killers in December 2003 in the middle of their second
visit to the UK. They had jumped off the 'plane and straight into a
fourteen-night tour, starting in Nottingham and finishing with a
headline show at The Barfly just before Christmas. Our meeting was
somewhere in the middle of all that, and I find them lounging
gloomily against the walls of the venue when we were introduced.
Brooding would be the best description. The sound check was running
forty minutes behind schedule, and they were facing the seriously
hideous prospect of going on stage without dinner. When it finally
came, the sound check was a tense and bitty affair beset by
technical hitches, so vocalist Brandon Flowers was coiled like a
spring when we headed to the downstairs bar for a chat with the rest
of the band.
Despite the inauspicious circumstances, The Killers are surprisingly
easy to hang out with. Quiet and unimposing, they are serious about
their work and committed to their sound; still they manage to be
overwhelmingly cheerful about the tour: "It's been really nice. We
all come from working backgrounds, and it's a luxury to be off and
playing in a different country for different people… we feel really
fortunate to be able to do this sort of thing and to be received as
well as we have been."
They have indeed been well received; drawing big crowds and rave
reviews, The Killers' musical career is becoming a lot more
satisfying than their day jobs (jobs that, incidentally, include
being a body-parts courier for a medical firm and a Las Vegas
wedding chapel photographer). Formed less than two years ago, they
struggled to make a mark on the cliquey Las Vegas scene before being
picked up for an independent deal with Lizard King, on which 'Mr
Brightside' was released last autumn. Island/Def-Jam have now come
on board with a worldwide deal.
The frenetic pace of the last year is not lost on drummer Ronnie
Vanucci: "It's been fast. It's been one thing after another… we knew
what we wanted to do and we all had similar musical backgrounds…
[so] it was very easy to make music." Although they didn't have time
to let the trial of breaking through the relatively homogenous Vegas
music scene get them down, Flowers muses on the difficulties of
developing new music in the States: "The UK assimilates music better
than the US does… or differently, anyway. In the UK, the response
has been appreciative and maybe the US doesn't show that
appreciation, they enjoy music, but it is very much part of the
culture for you guys. New music is exposed here more… in England the
audience is a little more receptive to newer [music]".
The Killers' know their infusion of beguiling pop and a hollow-eyed
rock back bone trumpets some of the better values of the eighties,
and it turns the raw whip of The Strokes and contemporaries on its
head. The question of purpose is obviously something that the band
has thought about before, as they debate the subject at length. "We
want to take what bands are doing, bands that are in our vein, to a
more mainstream level. We have a lot of the same influences as other
bands that are happening now, but we aren't afraid to make a pop
song. Nowadays pop songs are only associated with people like
Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, and the rock crowd is afraid
to be anywhere near that. But ultimately a good song is a good song,
and the word pop is a subjective term…"
It might be a subjective term, but it's about time it stopped being
a dirty word. The Killers' crackling, bolshy, anguished but
ultimately appealing offerings are going a long way towards cleaning
it up. They couldn't have picked a better time to reach our shores.
The Killers are here, bring on the massacre.