The LouFest headliners journey to St. Louis to talk music, maturity and making songs that matter.
Alt-rock rebels The Killers are taking no prisoners as they prepare to hit LouFest in early September, headlining alongside Wilco, The National and Alabama Shakes. Still hot off the release of their 2012 “Battle Born” album, The Killers continue to amp up fans across the globe with their signature sound and unforgettable stage performances. Riding high on long-loved songs like “Mr. Brightside” and “When You Were Young,” as well as newer hits like “Runaways,” the Las Vegas-bred group has sold 20 million albums worldwide—and it’s easy to see why.
The Killers’ latest album no doubt showcases the musical talents of singer-keyboardist Brandon Flowers, guitarist-singer Dave Keuning, bassist Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci, Jr., but it also reveals how much the band has matured since forming in 2002 and releasing its unforgettable first album, “Hot Fuss,” in 2004. Through all stages of the band’s development, including the realization of newfound success present in its second album, “Sam’s Town,” and the lighter style of some of 2008’s “Day & Age” songs, the group has continued to progress both in terms of its music choices and themes. With the latest album referencing the group’s home state of Nevada, it seems as if The Killers are returning to their roots…in a metaphorical sense, that is. In reality, they're far from home base, touring the world in support of the new album. Drummer Ronnie Vannucci, Jr., took a quick pause from the rocker life to talk about the band’s musical growth, the most recent album and why we should continue to expect great music from this ever-experimenting rock band.
ALIVE: You recently wrapped up a European tour. How do you decompress when you’re on the road??
Ronnie Vannucci: I like to stay productive musically. I usually bring stuff on the road, including a recording device. So, if we’re holed up on the bus, I can do some demos. A lot of times, if we have a break, we’ll go camping instead of just staying at a hotel. It’s a nice change of pace from being in the cities. We just try to normalize things as much as possible.
ALIVE: This summer, you’re playing in a couple of different festivals—including Lollapalooza and LouFest. What’s the significance of playing at a music festival??
RV: Festivals are just fun all around. They’re even better when they’re well-organized—you know, with running water and actual facilities and things like that. You have a designated time to play, but there are a bunch of bands that you get to see. Usually, you’ll see friends from other bands, and it’s a good time to reconvene and have a couple of oat sodas. We’re fortunate enough to be headliners, too, which is awesome. We are headlining, right? Maroon 5 isn’t showing up or anything?
ALIVE: You guys are definitely headlining!
RV: Oh good. I was worried. Hanson’s getting back together, too, you know. I wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be nipping at our heels.
ALIVE: How do you choose the festivals you’ll play? Had you heard anything about LouFest before you were booked to play it??
RV: Definitely! The shows are offered to us, and we look them over and go over particulars. I’ve always had a great time in St. Louis. I was one of the biggest proponents of playing at LouFest. It makes sense, too, because we haven’t played St. Louis yet on this run.
ALIVE: In terms of musical style, you tend to blend together everything from jazz to classic rock and beyond. How do you marry your sounds together while playing, and what influences you most in your work?
RV: The older I get, the more I appreciate the classics. I find myself listening to some strange stuff. I feel like I still have to be educated more. I woke up one morning and a friend had sent me this track by James Jamerson, one of the greatest bass players ever. I ended up just listening to the bass track. Even though I’m not a bass player, I’m still influenced by the innovation and by people’s brains. I just appreciate a good musical mind.
ALIVE: You started performing on the Las Vegas Strip when you were 8 years old. Were you ever intimidated by those experiences, especially as a little kid?
RV: Well, when you’re a little kid, you just don’t really care that much, you know? There wasn’t much intimidationÛÓjust excitement. That was a lot of fun. I was little and was able to play with all of these older, experienced musicians. You don’t even understand all that they’ve accomplished at the time.
ALIVE: When The Killers took a year-long hiatus, you worked on a project and album called “Big Talk.” What was it like working on that album, especially compared to working with The Killers?
RV: Basically, it was me not wanting to be bored any longer. I thought, well, I’ll make a record that my friends and I can all play blind drunk, and it will still sound okay. I started writing simple rock songs, and it was so much fun. It became strangely introspective. I didn’t even really set out to make a record, but it happened. My buddy Matt (Matt Sharp, former bass player in the band Weezer) wanted to join the group. I bounced demos off him and would ask him what he thought. I had such a good time. I’d probably do it again if it made sense.
ALIVE: You recently finished a degree at UNLV. Do you feel like getting a degree in music gives you any sort of upper hand in the industry?
RV: [Laughs] Like, when we are writing songs, I could say, “Guys, come on! That’s not in the circle of fifths!” No, it’s nice to know the theory and the math behind what we do. But nothing can replace the heart of the music. That’s what’s most important, and that’s what I try to do.
ALIVE: What was the vision behind 2012’s “Battle Born”?
RV: Every time you go in to make a record, you realize different things. You’re at a different age, or there’s something different that’s important in your life… the emotional landscape changes a lot. Even when we are on tour, we’ll ask, “What are we doing here? What’s our objective? What does this mean?” I think “Battle Born” was really part three of us realizing all of the differences from part one of our group. Now, we’re sort of realizing what time we are in and how things are changing exponentially on so many levels.
“Battle Born” probably means something different for everyone in the band, but the title especially is important. It’s on the Nevada state flag, and it’s also the name of our studio. Those words just kept echoing and have started to mean something to us now. You know, we are so lucky to have a guitar player (Dave Keuning) who’s from outer space, Mark Stoermer on the bass and a singer (Brandon Flowers) who also plays instruments and is excellent at using synthesizers and doing unusual stuff. We all grew up in the ’80s, and in a wayÛÓwithout sounding too cheesyÛÓI think this album was a return to form for us.
ALIVE: Looking forward, is there anything over the next few years that The Killers would like to accomplish?
RV: I think most of us in the band are very much into motion, and in a way, I guess that means experimentation. We’re all focused on being a band that writes important songs. You know, in a hundred years, people are going to remember the song, “Hound Dog.” Even though it’s silly, it’s an important song. I want to be a band that, a hundred years from now, will be remembered. Hopefully, we would be proud of the songs that are remembered, and hopefully, those songs would still mean something. I don’t know if we’ve gotten to that point yet, but it would be nice to get there.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Press Here Publicity