Photo credit: Danny North
June 22, 2018 9:00am
The Killers: ‘We’re on a wave right now and we don’t want to get off’
As The Killers head to Isle Of Wight ahead of a summer of festivals and stadium shows, Andrew Trendell talks to Brandon Flowers and Ronnie Vannucci Jr about celebrating their past and charging into a bold new future – with or without their fellow bandmates.
This weekend sees The Killers return to UK shores to headline Isle Of Wight Festival alongside their teenage idols Depeche Mode and fellow noughties indie survivors Kasabian. Their summer also sees headline spots at TRNSMT and Latitude, big dates across Europe and Asia and even a curious booking in Bolton. Yes, Bolton. Having just re-released all of their albums in one big and beautiful vinyl box, you can safely call this a victory lap.
After five long years punctuated by some celebrated solo records, a greatest hits release and what felt like an eternity, they re-emerged last year with the glam stomp of ‘The Man’ preceding their fifth consecutive number one album ‘Wonderful Wonderful’. However, they’re a very different animal now to the foppish indie dancefloor kings you knew on ‘Mr Brightside’ or the cowboys of pomp from ‘Sam’s Town’.
After admittingly losing their way on 2012’s ‘Battle Born’, they grew up a lot and found their conviction, but lost two members from their day-to-day business. While the band insisted that bassist Mark Stoermer and guitarist Dave Keuning are still at the core of The Killers and what they make, they’re both still on a hiatus from touring. That leaves frontman Brandon Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr as the beating heart of the band – and by all accounts, they’re having an absolute blast playing some of the best shows of their career and seeming like two pals on a permanent vacation.
As this evolved, streamlined and unstoppable version of The Killers prepare to turn the page once again, we meet as a band celebrating their story yet hungry for the next chapter – regardless of which characters are involved…
“The reason why I made solo records was to give Mark and Dave a break. Now that they just don’t tour, I don’t see a reason in making another solo record, you know?’”
– Brandon Flowers
Photo credit: Danny North
Killers’ fans are very possessive over certain records and eras. What kind of life do you feel like ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ has taken on since its release?
Brandon: “I think it’s definitely carving out it’s own space. It’s a grown up record and we were aware of that going into it. Nobody wants to hear the word ‘adult’, but it’s reality. Some of the guys in the band are 42-years-old, I have three kids. I think the artists that get into that territory and embrace what’s happening to you in your life and still hold onto what shapes you – they are the bands and the artists that have succeeded into this next phase. We tried our hand at it and took the plunge.”
Ronnie: “People love it. It’s certainly been a real tell at the shows of how it’s doing. I feel like it’s in a good spot in everybody’s hearts”
So which of your records mean the most to you?
Brandon: “It’s tough to say because with every record, there was no hesitance or reluctance. We were very much behind every record but I gravitate towards ‘Sam’s Town’ because of what we were up against. There’s only been a handful of bands that have had a record like ‘Hot Fuss’ coming out of the gates, and to follow it up with something special like ‘Sam’s Town’, because I really think it is, it’s just a remarkable thing to be a part of.”
Ronnie: “Well, this one [‘Wonderful Wonderful’] means quite a bit to me. It was tough but also a completely enjoyable record to make, but I liked it because we haven’t experimented in that way before. Also, there were a lot of personal changes going on in my life so it was really cool to go through those changes whilst working on a record. I think I’ll always look back at this record as a new chapter for me.”
Photo credit: Rob Loud
Are there any certain singles that have that same feeling for you?
Brandon: “I love different sounds for different reasons, but if I can have one song that means the most to me it would be ‘Read My Mind’. I can’t explain it, it’s just the room changes when we play it and it’s an incredible thing. It reminds me of when I’m at a U2 concert and they play ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, or something like that. You tap into the universe, you don’t know how you did it or why you did it but you did and it’s incredible.”
Ronnie: “Maybe ‘Some Kind Of Love’, for this record.”
Have you guys had any discussions about what you’ll do for your next record?
Brandon: “I don’t know, man. It’s just all evolution and you learn from each record. It’s funny, I’ve found that I wait for it to present itself to me. I don’t necessarily say ‘I’m going in and this is the record I’m going to make’. I don’t think you can force it because whether you like it or not, things that you’ve absorbed in the last couple of years since are going to expose themselves and it’s going to be different to what you had planned.”
Ronnie: “I do. I’m constantly messing around with things and I see a lot online with people who are working with experimental sounds – with either electronic synthesisers and things like that or even a straight-out jazz record. There’s a lot of great stuff going on underneath our feet and maybe the pop world will finally catch up to it 20 or 30 years later. I’d like to sort of tap into it a little bit. I don’t want to totally lose anybody but there’s still a lot to be discovered and I think keeping with the tradition of always trying something new with a record might be something for us to look into.”
“I’ve always had a strong belief in Razorlight, and I’m sad to see how that went away. It was an exciting time to be in a band in the early 2000s, for sure”
– Brandon Flowers
Photo credit: Rob Loud
So, it won’t be a five year wait for a new album this time?
Ronnie: “No, I doubt that. We’re already thinking about bringing our recording rigs with us and we’ve been messing around backstage with ideas. It’s in our minds and I think we want to get to it right away. I don’t want to take anymore time and I think we’re ready.””
How do you feel about getting back into a room with Dave and Mark? Are they on board?
Ronnie: “I think they are, I haven’t had too much of a conversation with them about it. I’m of the thinking in that if they are ready and willing, then let’s do this. In the end, if they’re not then you know, I’ll reluctantly keep on and do it without them. I don’t mean to sound fiery but I’m on a wave right now and I don’t want to get off it.”
Brandon: “We haven’t really gotten into that territory yet, I mean me and Ronnie are getting along, and there’s not really a lot of contact with the other two.”
What’s been inspiring you lately? Is the political landscape in America shaping the next album?
Brandon: “Everything from the music I grew up listening to the events that are happening in my country – you can’t help but be affected by it. I recently moved back to Utah and it’s powerful and nostalgic because I hear songs that I heard at 13 when I was falling in love with music. Whilst I’m in the same geography, the mountains are the same, the weather is the same, the combination is powerful for me. I just remember hearing these experiences of ‘Louder Than Bombs’ and it’s like a double whammy. It’s not just, ‘Oh I remember that song’, there are more senses that are activated. It’s been powerful for me in reminding me of the music that I first fell in love with so that’s been nice.”
Ronnie: “I’ve been going down a little bit of a jazz bunny hop. There’s a great drummer who played on David Bowie’s last record [‘Blackstar’] called Mark Guilianahe. He’s so young you don’t really believe it. We’ve been looking at new ideas for our next record and there’s a lot of things that are going on in that world that people won’t catch up to for at least another 20 years. I don’t think it sounds like pop music but I’m looking at what people are doing with electronics, song forms, and things like that so listening to these guys give me some ideas for our next endeavour.”
Would you say you’re the kind of band where each record is a knee-jerk reaction against the previous one?
Brandon:“Well, that’s been the case. ‘Sam’s Town’ was a reaction to being called ‘The ‘best British band from America’ and we said ‘Hey, what are they talking about?’ and started taking a look at our roots and embracing that change. People started saying ‘who does this guy think he is? Writing songs that sound like that? Then later I wrote ‘Human’, because I felt like I wasn’t allowed to write American Rock n’ Roll songs.”
Brandon, you’ve said that you’d also like to make another solo record, right?
Brandon: “Well the reason why I made solo records was to give Mark and Dave a break so now that they just don’t tour, I don’t see a reason in necessarily making a solo record, you know? I’m really proud of those two records but if we can get back at it then there’s no point in making another one. I’m not saying the solo stuff is over, I only got to tour with that for two months and I was having fun, so I’ll take it as it comes.”
“I think about songs as souls or orbs because there’s something about a good song that almost feels like a world is being formed from another place. That’s the real special part”
– Ronnie Vannucci
Photo Credit: Rob Loud
Along with Arctic Monkeys and Kings Of Leon, you’re one of the few bands to survive the wave of noughties indie that found you fame in, and yet now be thought of something a little more timeless and universal. Why do you think that is?
Brandon: “It’s hard work. I’m not saying the other people are lazy, but it’s hard work and it’s a little bit of luck… or maybe a lot of luck and a lot of hard work. When you join a band you imagine not having to show up to a 9 to 5 and not having to punch in and out, and that’s partially right but if you really want to do it, you have to get your hands dirty and work. The reason why I feel like there’s nothing dirty about it is that music has done so much for me. I want to repay the favour.”
Ronnie: “There’s always going to be other reasons, but I think it just comes down to having the songs. I always think about songs as souls or orbs because there’s something about a good song that almost feels like a world is being formed from another place. That’s the real special part.”
Did you feel any kind of fraternity or connection with the bands you rose up with at that time?
Brandon: “Yeah, there are a few bands where you’re always anticipating what their next move is going to be or what they’re going to do and the thing is. I’ve always had a strong belief in Razorlight, and I’m sad to see what happened there and how that went away. It was an exciting time to be in a band in the early 2000s, for sure.”
Ronnie: “I don’t feel fraternity any more than I would with any other musician. We’re all writers in the same boat and I’ve made some friends along the way, but when it comes to just their music and timing, I don’t feel too much of a connection to them. We’ll be at the same shows or festivals and we establish friendships. I’ve been friends with people in bands for years now and it feels good keeping in touch with very organic friendships, but nothing just because they’re in the Arctic Monkeys. We’re not going to have a barbeque together just because of that.”
Do you feel any kind of inspiration or competition from the growth and evolution of a band like Arctic Monkeys or Arcade Fire?
Brandon: “Sure. Whenever somebody takes a risk I think it’s admirable, and they definitely have. I think we have too. There aren’t any rules really so it’s exciting to see what people come up with.”
You’ve headlined Wembley Stadium and Glastonbury. What remains on The Killers’ bucketlist?
Brandon: “Well, we’re still growing. We have done a lot of things and encompassed a lot of things that I never thought I have a chance or any business in doing. It’s been incredible so far but it just kind of keeps coming. So, I don’t know. I don’t have a list of things in my pocket of things that I’d like to check off, but a lot of things have happened that have been kind of miraculous. Watch this space.”