The Killers: Backstage with One of the World's Biggest Bands

May 2007
by Timothy Dwenger Chicago Innerview

The Killers have been clawing their way up through the ranks of the modern musical elite for the better part of five years now. Their humble beginnings in Las Vegas have given way to plush tour buses, sold out arenas and invitations to participate in some of the highest profile musical projects of our time. Their up-tempo, hook-driven, melodic style is tailor-made for huge stadium shows and mainstream rock radio. With their sophomore album Sam’s Town having already sold nearly three million copies and their debut Hot Fuss soaring over five million, The Killers are well on their way to realizing their dreams of becoming one of the biggest bands in the world.

The Killers machine may be a musical juggernaut that is rolling downhill at the moment, but it isn’t all champagne and massages for the men who make the music. "We just finished sound check and are scheduled to go on in a couple of hours," said bassist Mark Stoermer in a recent interview from backstage at The Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida. The Florida show is just another night of a seemingly endless road trip. Stoermer has been on the road with bandmates Brandon Flowers (vocals), Dave Keuning (guitar) and Ronnie Vannucci Jr. (drums) for eight months solid — and their schedule shows no signs of easing up, with a slew of shows planned well into the summer.

"I think being stuck together as much as we are would be tough for any group of people," Stoermer admits. "We have our ups and our downs, like a family would. However, if we have a bad day at this point we get over it pretty quickly because we know we are stuck together anyway. It’s rare that an argument or a fight will be a big deal a couple of days later." While all this time on the road is no doubt tough on the individuals involved, it has allowed them to become better as a band. "The shows are better than they were for the first album," Stoermer said. "We are a better live band and we are more comfortable on stage."

The Killers' meteoric rise to fame started just five years ago when Flowers and Keuning would gig on the small dark stage of a transvestite club on the seedier side of Sin City when they weren’t working their day jobs. They were playing with a drummer and bassist, but it was clear the line-up wasn’t gelling as a band and things were about to change.

"Dave and Brandon had a demo floating around Las Vegas and a good friend of mine got hold of it. I immediately thought it was amazing as it had an early version of ‘Mr. Brightside’ on it. It was a really bad version but I could hear the genius in it. I went to see them, became a fan and started hanging out with Dave a lot," Stoermer remembered. "I had told them that I played bass and it wasn’t long before I got a call from Dave telling me they had gotten rid of their bass player and their drummer. They were pretty sure Ronnie was going to join on the drums and I knew that if Ronnie played drums and I played bass, this would be an amazing band."

It turns out that Stoermer was right — he and Vannucci are still side by side, holding down the low end of the sound as "Mr. Brightside" became one of the biggest hits of 2004. Fortunately they have left the seedy side of Vegas in their wake and while most of their Stateside shows are now selling out, the band is even more popular in Europe and other parts of the world.

"We had never to been to Mexico ‘til December of last year when we went down there and played to a sold-out 18,000-seat arena and the crowd was amazing," Stoermer said. "We have crazy crowds in Europe but I think that it was even crazier in Mexico, where everyone was singing every word to every song. It was probably the best crowd reaction we have had anywhere we have played. It was kind of overwhelming to be honest."

Though the Mexico City gig is high on the list, Stoermer said The Killers' invitation to join the bill on the London stage of Live 8 in July of 2005 is on the top of his list of memorable concerts. "Even though it was only one song, we got to share the stage with U2, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, and The Who. To be there with so many of our heroes all in one day was amazing."

Several of the band's other heroes, such as Elton John, David Bowie and Morrissey have showered praise on The Killers — and even Bono has gotten hooked. In November of 2005 he invited Flowers to sing a duet of "In a Little While" with him when U2 played the MGM Grand in The Killers' hometown. More recently, The Killers have been invited by the BBC to participate in a radio special honoring the 40th anniversary of the release of The Beatles classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

While Stoermer admits it is an honor to be included in the project alongside bands such as Oasis, The Kaiser Chiefs and Travis, he is quick to add that The Killers' participation is not yet confirmed. "The people who are organizing this thing haven’t gotten back to us, and we aren’t even sure what it is. We just know there is a radio show involved and we are trying to get more information," Stoermer said. "Out of the songs we were told were left, we were going to try to learn ‘Fixing A Hole’, because all the songs are great and we thought that would suit us the best. So, if we end up doing it, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the one we do, but as I said, it isn’t confirmed yet and it might not happen."

So far in their young career, The Killers have had quite a run and they seem to have the drive, dedication, and devotion to their craft that it will take to succeed in the long term. They may not have the soul of say, Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin, but these young men just might end up soldiering on towards rock and roll greatness