Killers

 snmag

"Most music writers are full of crap: Critics try too hard to sound smart. It's very common,''asserts David Keuning, guitarist and cofounder of the Killers. I hear a startled laugh that I quickly identify as my own before David hastily adds, ''But not you, of course.'' I really want to believe him. But in the core of my brain, where some semblance of intelligence stirs, a nagging voice cuts through wishful thinking and silently asserts, ''Dave, maybe you're full of crap.''

It's Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, and I am sitting on the porch of my lodge in Zion National Park, Utah, laptop in my lap, cell phone to my ear. I'm talking to Dave, who is watching college football by himself at his home. In a few weeks, Dave will be touring the States and England for the Nth time, playing to thousands of adoring fans with the rest of his band mates, drummer Ronnie Vannucci, bassist Mark Stoermer, and everyone's favorite Mormon-whodrinks- and-smokes front man, Brandon Flowers.

The Killers come across as both hip and accessible, and they are loved and reviled with equal fervor. Disdain from rock critics, who accuse them of being a ripoff band more obsessed with image than substance, provides the context for Keuning’s acerbic assertion and his use of figurative fecal imagery. “We didn’t try to have mass appeal, but we never claimed or tried to be indie, either. We just wanted to be the best band we could. We’re not a Saddle Creek band, we’re not a noise band, and it turns out that a lot of people like us. It doesn't bother me that [Hot Fuss] has done so well; I feel very fortunate, and I hope this success continues.”

As we know them today, The Killers are largely the product of their hometown Vegas'larger-than-life persona and Britain's music press.''Las Vegas is definitely an influence. Maybe the bigness of our sound is a reflection of the bigness of the casinos. We've always tried to write the biggest songs we can… big songs with big choruses that can be played in front of a lot of people. That’s what we're going for. In Vegas, the shows, performers, and casinos are always trying to be bigger and better than [the competition].'' The gilded glamour and high-gloss sheen, the shameless overkill that defines Vegas, is an innate part of The Killers’ sound, but so is an undeniably exuberant and infectious grandness, a quality that can also be attributed to the British press. “The UK press' favorite thing is to build up a band and tell them that they're great, and after they get big, bash them. That's just their style. They're weird,” Keuning offers matter-of-factly, downplaying the fact that The Killers were embraced by the British music press, an institution both renowned and despised for their hyperbolic praise of the next-hot-things. Then came the bidding wars and headlining tours, the debut full of singles,and for better or for worse, cultural ubiquity.

''Hot Fuss'' became a monster album after its debut in the summer of 2004. It's full of infectious guitar-and-synth-driven singles like ''Somebody Told Me'' and ''Mr. Brightside'' that have made them a staple of MTV and Clear Channel media. These are songs that get requested at hipster clubs and these are songs that some love to hate because they are so damn catchy and yes, admittedly refere-tial. Even after touring for more than a year for Hot Fuss, Keuning finds that playing the same songs night after night still excites him. ''My favorite live is 'Somebody Told Me.' I love the intro; I think it's the best on the album. It gets my blood pumping, and once the audience hears it, they also get crazy. After two years [of touring], our songs are more raw, sometimes faster and louder.”

The band was offered top billing at this year's Glastonbury Festival and, to the shock of periodicals everywhere, they turned it down. Keuning laughs when asked for an explanation. ''You know, I've been asked this question in every interview since we made the decision. We didn’t think this would become such a big deal. We're still playing second-to-last, so it didn't seem like a big deal. Besides we only have one album out, so why not let the White Stripes headline?''

Keuning admits that the constant touring has significantly changed the rhythm of their old lives. ''We're almost never home. I've never been so busy in my whole life. It's a good thing. There are times I wish it would slow down, but it's better to be too busy than not busy at all.” The Killers have started writing and playing new material for their sophomore effort, tentatively slated for a summer 2006 release. ''We've played about four or five songs live that are new, and the crowds have responded to all of them pretty well. I really like ''All the Pretty Faces,''and people seem to like it too. There's definitely pressure, though. I'm not as worried as I could be, but I think we've written a handful of good songs, about six or seven. I know it's going to be a good second album, but one worry is that you can never predict what the public will like.''

Another worry is the now constant public scrutiny. Says Dave, ''Things aren't as private as they used to be. There's a lot of stuff on the Internet now, and maybe half of it is true. People can really say whatever they want, and I wasn’t used to that. I want to say that I don't care, but sometimes it's hard. When we're on tour, we'll go to the beach or the movies, and everyone has camera phones now. People are always taking pictures.''But if you're hoping to catch some decadence on film, this isn't the band to stalk. These are a bunch of good lads with nary a scandal to tarnish their clean-cut image. As for sexual temptations? Forget it. Two of the members are happily married, and the remaining two have steady girlfriends.''We don't have many good stories,'' apologizes Keuning. ''My big indulgence is watching 24.''

In fact, the closest thing The Killers have come to rock star infamy is a running feud with the Bravery. Brandon Flowers publicly accused the New York-based group of copying The Killers’ sound, and to add further insult, he mocked Bravery singer Sam Endicott for once singing in a ska band. Keuning is decidedly more diplomatic about the whole affair. “I definitely can’t speak for [Brandon]. I just don't much care about the Bravery. I think [their first single] ''An Honest Mistake'' is a good song. I found myself humming it after I first heard it. Beyond that, I don’t think they're bad, and I don't think there should be a rivalry. [But] they said some stuff about our bassist that bothered me, so I’m not going to come to their defense.” Fair enough.

The Killers finished their summer with wins at both the MTV Video Music Awards and the World Music Awards. Award shows in general are nothing more than orgies of self-congratulations, but the VMAs in particular seemed to top them all. Nothing reeks more of empty self-promotion than when a network that long ceased to play music videos hosts an awards show celebrating the best music videos of the year. ''It's bad that they don't play music anymore on MTV,''laments Keuning. ''I like MTV2, but now they've dumped Real World on there. It is what it is. I think most of their shows are for twelve year-olds. I hope it doesn't get much worse. I miss the rock, but at least there's Fuse, and even VH1 plays more music now.''

The sun is beginning to fall behind the crimson peaks, and the bug bites are intensifying. Dave has been graciously talking for close to an hour, which means our time is nearly done and my roaming charges will be horrendous. In closing, he talks about the band’s passion for music. ''It’s all about the music. When we first started, we didn't know what sound we wanted to go for. We didn't want to sound like Creed. We hated most of the bands on the radio. But we all loved U2, the Cure, and the Beatles; those are probably our strongest foundation for our album.”

As expected from normal human beings, much less a rock band, longevity and self-preservation remain unwavering goals for the future. Dave says, ''I think I can speak for all of us. We hope to be around for the next 20 years. We want to make strong albums. We try hard not to have any tracks that are sub-par. Like U2, we want to still be playing together, still make good albums, and keep the band together as it is now.'' Love them or hate them, The Killers are riding the crest of popularity with genuine, albeit calculated, verve. Is that wrong? It’s the pretentious music snob and the worshipful fan in us all that causes us to condemn or deify someone based on their music, as if music had ethical implications for its creator based purely on someone else's opinions. I'm not trying to sound smart. But maybe I'm still just full of crap.