THE KILLERS: Vital Signs

Among the old world, late 1800s architecture of New York’s Lower East Side, The Rivington Hotel is a 21-story glass tower that’s a distinctly modern presence in a hip but decaying neighborhood. It’s a fitting spot to sit down for a one on one with The Killers, the Las Vegas-based band that has risen up from rock’s wasteland to become one of the biggest bands in the world, all while carving out its own unique musical identity and staying true to itself.

Photo by Dustin Cohen
Photo by Dustin Cohen

Among the old world, late 1800s architecture of New York’s Lower East Side, The Rivington Hotel is a 21-story glass tower that’s a distinctly modern presence in a hip but decaying neighborhood. It’s a fitting spot to sit down for a one on one with The Killers, the Las Vegas-based band that has risen up from rock’s wasteland to become one of the biggest bands in the world, all while carving out its own unique musical identity and staying true to itself.

The Killers-Brandon Flowers (vocals/keyboards), Dave Keuning (guitars), Mark Stoermer (bass) and Ronnie Vannucci (drums)-have conquered the world in the four short years since their debut album Hot Fuss lived up to its name. Thanks to inventive, pulsating radio anthems like “Somebody Told Me,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” “All These Things That I’ve Done” and “Mr. Brightside,” the hard-touring foursome became a multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated success.

If the band’s fusion of keyboards and guitars winked at modern rock’s first wave while redefining its future, 2006’s Sam’s Town asserted the foursome could sidestep a sophomore slump while expanding its sonic scope and broadening its image.

Paying homage to their Vegas roots, singles like “When You Were Young” and “Bones” again propelled The Killers past a million in U.S. sales. Meanwhile, in the band’s adopted U.K. home-where they first achieved notoriety-the disc outsold its debut, cementing their status as the biggest American rock export.

With the advent of last year’s Sawdust, a compilation of revered B-sides, rarities and new material (including a collaboration with rock legend Lou Reed), The Killers marked their first official pairing with producer Stuart Price for the song “Sweet Talk.” Price-who previously worked with Madonna and Keane, helmed his own projects like Les Rhythmes Digitales and remixed both “Mr. Brightside” and the 2007 Christmas single, “Don’t Shoot Me Santa”-was subsequently brought on board for The Killers’ stunning third album Day and Age.

Although the quirky, beat-driven contagion “Spaceman” could be at home on The Killers’ debut, Day and Age is as much about living up to some expectations as it is about brilliantly defying others. Take the calypso-inspired, acoustic strummed “I Can’t Stay,” which evolved from a skeletal song Flowers wrote into a fully refined means of shattering the group’s artistic boundaries, replete with alto sax.

Elsewhere, the infectious, mid-tempo “Losing Touch” takes the listener in an array of directions, also embracing horns before climaxing in a wall of guitars. “That one came from a traditional jam,” says the impeccably dressed and well-manicured Flowers, 27, from a black modern couch.

“It’s four guys fighting it out and trying to rock,” injects the 32-year-old Keuning, who is very much the Yang to Flowers’ Yin. Long-haired, and outfitted in a white Killers T-shirt with the neck cut out, black jeans and funky striped green socks, Dave is several inches taller than the singer. “We tend to write big things,” he adds. “It’s not much to think about, it’s just what we do.”

Anchored by the uplifting “Are We Human,” which simultaneously evokes similarities to New Order’s finest synth work, guitar lines inspired by The Cure’s epic “Push,” and the aesthetics of Talk Talk’s 1984 classic “It’s My Life,” the song’s fascinating melody and lyrical vital signs are undeniable.

“Close your eyes/Clear your heart/Cut the cord,” sings Flowers, and while he does admit that his and Keuning’s recent forays into fatherhood play into Day and Age’s first single lyrically, he says the idea for the tune “actually came from an interview with Hunter S. Thompson. He said he was afraid that America was raising a generation of dancers. That just turned on a light bulb. So the song is a statement, but it also has an optimism to it that comes from a new life.”

“We sort of knew right away that it should be a single,” says Keuning, matter-of-factly, taking a pull off of his Evian. “It was the first song that we wrote when we started working with Stuart. And I thought, we could put this out right now and people would go crazy.”

Working with Price, an Englishman, much of the pre-production for Day and Age was done through the internet. “It felt really fresh for us,” says Flowers of the innovative approach. “You have this idea, and in a matter of seconds Stuart has it. And he’s halfway across the world. And because of that, the ball was rolling instantly. We’d send our ideas and then we’d run to the computer the next day to see if he liked it or hated it.”

“We took some time off at the end of last year, and for six months or so, we took a much needed break because there wasn’t much of one between Hot Fuss and Sam’s Town,” Keuning says. “But we continued to write and agreed we’d get together at the beginning of April as a foursome for about six weeks. By the time we started, we already had a lot of the ideas that we’d been e-mailing to each other.”

With 40 songs in place, the band took a day with each to separate the keepers from the clunkers. Once the best twenty remained, Price came to Vegas for a more traditional approach. “It was the first time we were hands on with him,” Keuning explains. “He had done a couple of remixes for us from Hot Fuss which we liked. We were also into his work with Les Rythmes Digitales and Zoot Woman. So we decided to give him just a few songs to try on Sawdust and it went really smoothly and it was quick.”

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