Vegas' the Killers are breaking on two continents at once
Friday, April 30, 2004
Las Vegas Review-Journal
By Doug Elfman
Las Vegas has produced only three big acts in more than a decade of
trying -- the rock band Slaughter, hip-hop's 702 and electronic
music's Crystal Method.
But here come the Killers, a glam-rock, new wave band that has a
single on the radio in England, an album called "Hot Fuss" coming
out on Island Def Jam in June, and two music videos headed for
rotation on MTV or MTV2.
The group has even earned a coveted, if early-afternoon, performance
spot on Sunday's schedule at this year's premier American musical
festival, Coachella, in Indio, Calif. (Coincidentally, Crystal
Method is playing at Coachella a few hours after the Killers go on.)
"It is weird doing Coachella before we even have an album out, but
it's also an honor," says Killers bass player Mark Stoermer.
The Killers are ambitious. They want to be world-famous.
"Yeah, somebody's gotta do it," says singer Brandon Flowers. "We
love bands like the Strokes and things like that, but we want to
take it -- not necessarily just mainstream -- but to a bigger level,
even song-wise. I mean, the Strokes are great, but they don't have
U2 quality, like stadium. And we're not really afraid to say, `I
wouldn't mind playing in a stadium with big songs.' "
The band has the good fortune to have great marketing aspects.
Bandmates have had stereotypical Vegas jobs. Spin magazine referred
to Flowers, 22, as an "ex-Mormon" who "did time as a bellhop at
Vegas' trashy Gold Coast Hotel & Casino." A quote in Radar magazine
has Flowers saying, "If I got a dollar for every time I was
propositioned up to some (sexy mother's) room, I'd be a rich man."
Stoermer, 24, worked as a courier for a medical lab, so the band's
official bio contains this quote: "It was a surreal moment picking
up Mike Tyson's blood-streaked piss for testing."
And the band was discovered on the Internet, Flowers says, while
explaining why it is not important anymore for Vegas bands to move
to Los Angeles or New York.
"We actually were found by a guy at Warner Bros. by hearing our song
on LVlocalmusicscene. He was interested in our name and ended up
listening to `Mr. Brightside,' and calling us up. So it didn't
really matter" what big city the Killers didn't live in, Flowers
says. That Warner Bros. executive took the Killers with him to
The Killers didn't perform in public as much as some other Vegas
bands, which are primarily into punk, hard-core screaming and rock.
Yet, Flowers says, "we were really different from other bands. And
we weren't shunned as much as I thought we would be."
The Killers' debut album, with its old-school keyboards and
post-punk makeup, sounds like a better fit for CBGB in New York. The
band's music sounds ready for a 1980s-style John Cusack film. Bass
lines power over a low strum of rhythm guitar in the vein of New
Order. Flowers' choruses hark back to the Cure's Robert Smith's in a
signature search for melodies that move a lot. If the Killers' song
"Smile Like You Mean It" slightly echoes any song from music
history, it would almost certainly be Echo & The Bunnymen's "The
Killing Moon" from 1984.
The hype is loud. The Sunday Times of London compared the Killers to
T Rex, "Ziggy"-era David Bowie, Duran Duran and the Psychedelic
Furs. NME magazine likened the group to the Smiths, the Strokes and
Flowers says the band got better by not playing live all the time,
but by spending more time practicing and crafting songs.
"A lot of people just want to do and do and do, and play," he says.
"And you might love Metallica or the Beatles or whatever, but you
need to listen to what they're doin' and what's goin' on. You don't
have to steal it, but there are ideas there."
Flowers says writing songs does involve mining influences, but it
shouldn't be thievery: "It's just takin' what you like, and really
just throwing it all together."
His band, even though it was an anomaly in Vegas, isn't all that
strange, he says.
"A lot of kids -- they want to be a little weird and things like
that. And none of us are really like that. I love pop songs," he
says. "You can give me some weird, ugly chord change, and I'll turn
it into a pop song. I can't help it. I just really love that stuff,
and we just try to write the best songs that we can."
The band, he says, tries to perform with a team-minded humbleness.
"We're cautious. It's just a maturity thing that you won't hear in a
lot of local bands. Dave, playing his guitar, has gotta know when
(to say), `I can't play right here, because they want the vocals to
shine right here.' And (it's) knowing when to take vocals out."
Yet, Stoermer's bass does pop out more than David Keuning's guitar.
Stoermer says he's taken it as a compliment to read all the
comparisons the media have made to the band's new wave and glam
rock. But in addition to hearing the Cure and Duran Duran in the
Killers, Stoermer says he was inspired by bass players Paul
McCartney and the Who's John Entwistle, who died in Las Vegas.
The Killers are legitimately Vegas. Three of the four Killers grew
up here. Stoermer and Flowers went to Chaparral High School. Drummer
Ronnie Vannucci went to Clark and Western. Stoermer and Vannucci
played in the UNLV marching band; Stoermer played trumpet and
Vannucci drummed. Keuning is the newbie, having lived in Las Vegas
for four years.
Flowers says he doesn't know if he would be a different kind of
musician if he had grown up elsewhere. But he did have a sort of
musical breakthrough at a show in his hometown.
"A big one for me was seeing Oasis at the Joint (at the Hard Rock
Hotel) when Travis opened up for them," he says. "I got a free
ticket, and I only saw the last few songs. At the time, I was really
big into keyboard music. And they closed with `Don't Look Back In
Anger,' and it just shook me. That made me really want to get a
guitar player. And that basically led me to find Dave, and just
(tone down on the) keyboards."
Stoermer says it has been exciting to break in England, headlining
up to 500-capacity shows, and opening for Stellastar in the States.
But the band's sudden flush has put it the position of having to try
to break big in two nations at once, he says.
"England's kind of taking off, and now we have to develop in America
at the same time. A lot of other bands get to do one at a time," he
Stoermer says the band knows how other music labels signed Vegas
bands over the past several years just to have them wither without
"Everybody told us about that, and so far, it seems like a different
story for us, knock on wood," Stoermer says. "We've gotten pretty
good treatment up to now."
Stoermer hopes the Killers keep taking off and end up doing
"something good for the music scene in Vegas," he says.
"When I was growing up," he says, "I always wanted a band to come
out. And I feel lucky in that we're in it. We're putting out a good
album. I hope other people feel the same."
Flowers says the excitement feels "unreal right now." And there has
been no backlash, so far.