After forming three years ago, The Killers heard it all from record
label executives. Despite a strong following in their hometown, Las
Vegas, the label know-it-alls said that lead singer and keyboardist
Brandon Flowers didn't have a stage presence or wasn't a good enough
front man. They couldn't get a deal to save their souls.
But like so many U.S. acts before it, the band found a following in
England. Lizard King, a small London-based indie label, signed the
quartest in 2003. Their big break came when Morrissey recruited the
Las Vegas rock band to open for him that summer. The label released
a limited edition single of the group's song "Mr. Brightside" in the
fall, and things finally started to happen.
Island/Def Jam Records signed the band, and in June 2004, it
released its debut album, Hot Fuss.
Two months later, Rolling Stone
called The Killers a hot band to watch and later named the album one
of its Top 50 for the year. To date, the CD has sold two million
copes, and the band has become one of the hottest new acts to break
out on the charts. One of the CD's main selling points in The
Killers' retro-New Wave, New York City sound. Oasis, New Order, the
Cure and Duran Duran obviously influence their riffs.
The road to stardom for Flowers began with a group called Blush
Response. He eventually left the band, and responded to a classified
newspaper ad placed by lead guitarist Dave Keuning. After meeting,
Flowers and Keuning's musical relationship developed into a kinship.
Bass guitarist Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci completed
The band started writing material, but realized there was one thing
missing - a name. The group got an inspiration from "Crystal," a
video by New Order. The band saw its future name on the fictional
band's bass drum in the video. The Killers were born.
After the early record label rebuffs, Flowers also decided to do
something about his image. So, he bought some concert movies, such
as, "Ziggy Stardust," "Rattle and Hum" and "Gimme Shelter" for
inspiration. He watched the performances and started wearing makeup
and glitter. He realized that the band needed to have a musical
package that included a look and a sound.
Las Vegas-born drummer Ronnie Vannucci found his calling in the
family garage twenty years ago when he was nine. "I would go out in
the garage and beat on the fridge, washer and dryer and sink," he
says. Later, his parents broke down and bought him a used drum set
and that paved the way for his musical career.
He became The Killers' drummer by accident. One night, his roommate
asked him if he could fill in for her band, Daphne Major. Vannucci
obliged and basically had to wing it, since he did not know the
group's material. "I didn't know the songs or anything. I kind of
made it up as I went along." Daphne Major opened up for The KIllers
at a slimy bar across from the university. After that show, Vannucci
and the other Killers members became friends. "They [The Killers]
like my drumming," he says. "We just kind of hit it off."
Once the group formed, they set a goal. "We just want to be an
important band," says Vannucci. "I think we have the raw materials
and the know-how to do it. We stumble along the way, but I think we
just want to be one of those bands that are important and
recognized. We wanted to be just important enough to have people
recognize that we write great songs and play great music."
But before that happened, Las Vegas-born Vannucci worked as a
photographer at the famed Little Chapel of the Flowers and studied
classical music percussion at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
(He has to do a recital to earn his degree.) "I wouldn't call myself
a photographer," says Vannucci. "I had a good eye, and it worked
The other members had their day jobs, too. Vegas native Flowers was
a bellman at the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino, and Stoermer, also a
Vegas native, was a medical courier. Keuning, who is from Pella,
Iowa, worked at Banana Republic.
Flowers was always listening to music, but he was also an avid
golfer. Then fate stepped in. During his senior year in high school,
his car and golf clubs were stolen. After the incident, he decided
to pursue his musical passion instead.
There was one point in Vannucci's musical career with The Killers
that he knew this was it. The moment occurred after he invited
Flowers over to practice. "I had this upright piano in my house in
the garage. We just played. Dave [Keuning] wasn't able to make it,
but we just started playing together for three hours or something
like that, and it just clicked. I just knew that it was special," he
The Killers didn't think about the debut CD's title until they were
well into recording sessions. "It was when we were making the demos
which essentially became Hot Fuss," says Vannucci. "It's a little
bit of a secret. It made sense at the time and it was perfect."
After the first single, "Somebody Told Me," started receiving
air-play, The Killers became a household name among the twenty
something indie crowd. From a drummer's perspective, Vannucci thinks
two particular Killers songs are exceptional. "I really like 'On
Top.' I like the way that things are phrased around. And 'Jenny was
a Friend of Mine,'" he says.
Besides making music, performing live is just as big of a deal for
Vannucci and the band. The Killers toured the indie circuit last
summer. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in May in
Indio, California was the first showase to kickoff the series. The
band performed on the last day of the festival with the Cure.
Live 8 and Lollapalooza followed. Both concerts were experiences of
a lifetime for the band. "It [Live 8] was a pinnacle in my musical
career. I always said once that after I met Paul McCartney that
would be good enough. I met a Beatle. I can die a happy man now,"
During the two-day Lollapalooza concert, the Killers had to overcome
the rising temperatures in Chicago. "I think it was one of our
hardest working shows in a while," says Vannucci. "It was so hot and
humid. It was really, really tough to be up there."
Although the band never set out to win awards,
Rolling Stone's mention was
an unexpected thrill. "I'm happy to accept that, I guess. I'm not
sure if I agree with it. The biggest new band of the year? Maybe, I
don't know. Fuck, man that's
Rolling Stone. It means something to the music world, our
peers and fans of music really," says Vannucci.
The Killers were nominated for four MTV video music awards for best
group video for its second single "Mr. Brightside." The group
performed and won an award for best new group.
The concept behind the eighteenth century French-themed "Mr.
Brightside" video was taken from the 2001 blockbuster movie "Moulin
Rouge!" "We liked the way it looked and so we blatantly took a lot
of the aesthetic from that," says Vannucci.
Currently, two videos exist for "Mr. Brightside." The Killers also
created a black-and-white performance video rather than a video with
a story line to satisfy the record company and to provide the group
with a promotional tool. Photos durign the shoot were also used with
the Hot Fuss CD. "Our friend
Matt Hartman used to work for Island Records. He's really into
photography. He's just kind of always around. He was taking these
pictures and just being a fly-on-the-wall type of thing and he got
some really good stuff," says Vannucci.
Experiencing a whirlwind of a year and performing for the past
nineteen months, Vannucci has found ways to remain grounded. For
him, his wife is the source of his sanity. "My wife keeps me in
check, man. Nothing phases that chick. Whenever I am even just a
little bit out of line or whenever I try and pipe up, she's just
like, 'What the fuck, who are you?,'" he says. As for the rest of
the band, Vannucci has another opinion. "Oh man, they're fucked!
There's no turning back," he laughs.