Iowa native and his hit Vegas-based band play
By Sean Moeller
PELLA, Iowa- The brick, Pella, Iowa,
house that Killers guitarist Dave Keuning grew up in sits just off the parade
route for this week's 70th annual Tulip Time festival, a celebration to all
things Dutch- the wooden shoes, the windmills, the flowers and the pastries.
He was back for the festival last May after the Las Vegas band completed its
first tour of the United States, one month before the release of its debut album''Hot Fuss,'' which nabbed the group three Grammy nominations and was one of last
year's biggest records. He also returned for holiday dinners with his family at
Thanksgiving and Christmas times this year, stopping in at Pella Music and the
guitar shop just blocks away, on the town square.
When he comes to a sold-out Col Ballroom Monday, he’ll be in his home state two
days after the festival wraps and there will be no time to swing through the
quaint, tulip-happy burg, tucked about 30 miles southeast of Des Moines, for a
Bismarck (a doughnut-like confection filled with buttercream or jelly) at his
favorite bakery, Jaarsma.
''Whenever I'm home, I always go to the bakery, that's for sure. I always get The
Bismarck. I've never tasted anything like it,'' Keuning said Sunday from the
band's bus, leaving the Coachella festival in Indio, Calif. But coming up short
of attending Tulip Time doesn’t have the curly-froed guitarist overly upset,
''I’'ve seen it a billion times. It used to be a big thing. Most of my classmates
have moved away and don't really get back to it anymore.''
Keuning and the rest of The Killers have brokered their way into mainstream
America in short order after taking Europe by storm two years ago, without a
record contract or a reputation, coming out of the American desert where slot
machines provide the night lights.
Its fondness for the mountainous choruses and luscious synth-world of the 1980s,
along with a dynamic frontman in Mormon heartthrob Brandon Flowers, lightning
bolt-charged drummer Ronnie Vannucci and stoic, lynch-pin bassist Mark Stoermer
have led the band to an appreance on ''Saturday Night Live'' and massive approval.
''It's amazing. It's surpassed all the hopes and dreams I've had,'' he said of the
band's success.''We wanted to be big. We talked about it. Brandon and I wanted
to be as big as U2. A lot of people don't allow themselves to think about it.
They just say, ‘Oh, we’re just doing this thing.' Not us. We had a plan and we
set out for world domination.''
Destiny was fuzzy for Keuning, who ran track,
played football and was a member of the jazz band as a high schooler in
Pella. He graduated and went off to Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids
for two years. Academia was not his cup of tea.
''He told me, 'Mom, you're wasting your money. I don't want to do
this,’'' Keuning’s mother Sandy said.
He instead went to the University of Iowa for one semester in the fall of 1998
before leaving there as well, realizing that he didn’t need any of the classes
he was taking to actually be a musician.
''I decided it wasn’'t for me,''he said. ''I guess I was trying to be realistic. I
did end up majoring in music, but I just really hated it. People in turtlenecks,
oh man. Everyone was just real snooty. I thought, 'I don’t want to be a music
professor. I don't want to be a music teacher. So, what am I doing here?'I love
the Hawkeyes, but I hated the school.
“I love Iowa and I think I appreciate it more now that I'm not there, but
curiosity was killing me. I couldn't find anyone to play with. I thought,
'What's the big deal (about moving to Vegas)? If I fail, I'll come
He chose Sin City in lieu of New York or Seattle, for its cheap cost of living.
He found an apartment online and moved, to his parents'skepticism.
''To be honest, yes, we were worried,'' Sandy Keuning said of her son's move west.''But as a parent, you're just doing what's best for child. He's
still our Dave.''
“I took a risk. I bought the apartment over the
Internet. It looked good in the picture,'' the 29-year-old guitarist
said. ''But once you saw anything left of the picture,
you wouldn't have wanted to live there.''
Working at a number of dead-end, stay-afloat jobs to pay the bills, Keuning
still had trouble finding players and went over a year, just playing guitar in
his apartment. When he was fired in August 2001, he decided to put an ad seeking
a band in a local paper. He got five bites. He told his mother that four of the
responders she ''wouldn’t even let them in your door.'' The other was Flowers,
whom he invited over.
''He sounded normal on the phone. He seemed OK,'' Keuning said of rock's newly annointed fashion maven.''He played on my keyboard and I played my guitar. When
he left, I gave him a tape. I had an instrumental of 'Mr. Brightside' that I’d
made and a couple other crappy songs that we didn't use. He came back the next
time with lyrics that I thought were really great. It was just so
fun to play with him and we wrote a lot of good songs right away.
Then we met Ronnie and Mark about a year and a half later.''
Now his mother (a service representative for an investment company) and father
(Chuck, a plumbing and heating technician who sold the family business years
ago) make frequent trips to the Barnes & Noble in Des Moines to pick the
magazine racks for coverage of their son and his smash-hit band.
''I keep a scrapbook. It's pretty good size. I had to get a bigger notebook,''
Sandy said. ''He sent me a couple NME magazines and sometimes he'll just call and
have me go find certain ones because he just doesn’'t have the time to.''
He still calls home a couple of times a week and always on Sundays, checking in
from far-flung destinations while on a tour schedule that's kept them away from
home - other than a short break in April when they wrote four new songs -since
“He didn’t really like to travel very far in a vehicle when he was growing up.
He was not a good traveler. We always had to find things to keep him occupied,''
his mother said. ''And now all he does is travel. We bring that up to him all the
time. He thinks i'ts funny.''