Vegas Rockers meld Dance with David Lee Roth kicks
From chicagoinnerviewstory by Chris Castaneda
photo by Jelle Wagenaar
"I wasn't raised by wolves or anything," says Killers drummer Ronnie Vannucci about his childhood, during a ride from New York to Providence, Rhode Island, en route a recent show. As a kid, Vannucci spent more time turning every object in his household into instruments of percussion than actual time with boyhood friends. "I'd lock myself in the garage and beat on the washer and dryer and fridge; out in the garage, just for hours on end," says Vannucci. "I would do that in lieu of riding bikes with friends or something."
Today, Vannucci finds himself and his fellow bandmates - Brandon Flowers, David Keuning, and Mark Stoermer - riding in full gear with the critical buzz surrounding their debut album, Hot Fuss. The Las Vegas-based band (yes, Sin City, Wayne Newton) is one of the many bands (Franz Ferdinand, The Sounds, Interpol) emerging into the mainstream consciousness as part of this "new wave revival". An aspect of that sound that a lot of these bands share, especially the Killers, is dance. Rock bands are getting people dancing again, rather than standing around nodding their heads to the beat. "We're definitely not responsible for introducing dance music," jokes Vannucci. "Believe me, I'd like to take credit, but not so much."
After showering praise from the U.K. press, a rarity for any American band, the Killers steamrolled through two of the industry's most notable music conferences - known for being the grand stage for bands on the rise - the College Media Journal conference (CMJ) in New York and the South by Southwest Music and Media conference (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. "It's just amazing to us," marvels Vannucci. "It just reaffirms that we're doing something right. We always believed in ourselves, but it's nice to have that reinforcement."
For the Killers, it all began almost two years ago with an ad in the local paper placed by guitarist David Keuning that attracted the eye of singer/keyboardist Brandon Flowers, who had been left by his former band, Blush Response. Bassist Mark Stoermer and Vannucci would later fall into the fold and thus a band was formed.
A band's first album is always the trickiest. It can be the one that can never be topped no matter how many follow-up albums are made, or the one that just completely flops and destroys a band. Vannucci is optimistic that Hot Fuss contains enough ideas working in the songs that it will allow the band to venture into new directions come the next album. And it's these big ideas that create some big songs with flare and style, like "All These Things That I've Done" with a gospel choir or the album's opener, "Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine." The album breathes with a lot of excitement that can be heard with each track. "I think it's one of the reasons why the record is so great. It's got this continuity to it, but it also has a lot of variety for a first record which will kind of enable us to do more, or have the opportunity to do more, for the second record and branch out," says Vannucci. "I feel good that we've laid that groundwork where there are some dance songs and there are some, maybe some more, I don't know if I want to call them cerebral, but maybe more complex songs like 'Believe Me Natalie.'"
Having had a year of playing together before entering the studio, Vannucci admits that any first album jitters had less to do with how they would go over in the studio and more to do with how the album would look in record stores. "The hardest part was deciding artwork."
It's too easy to say the Killers are trying to be Depeche Mode mixed with the Cure or Blondie. But it's definitely a case where the music of their youth has caught up to them and their instruments. Call it regurgitating the past or giving a fresh stamp on a style of music that most listeners today, born after 1985, can find on compilation albums. "We share the same brain when it comes to making songs and things like that," says Vannucci. "There's so much to share, and we have a real wide variety of music that we all like and love. We take the best parts. We love David Bowie. We take some of the things we like best about the Ziggy Stardust album. We incorporated that. It wasn't a concerted effort to do that. It wasn't like we got around a table and decided to do that."
It's game on from here on out for the Killers, on stage and into the next album. It's a blessing and a curse being the "buzz" band. Where the Killers go next is anybody's guess. What's for certain is they've started out on the right foot. But Vannucci realizes there's always room for improvement. "Brandon hasn't gotten the David Lee Roth kicks down yet," he notes. "We're working on it."