An Interview with Dave Keuning of The Killers

"I think every journalist would be disappointed if they knew the truth"

When The Killers broke into the mainstream with their debut, Hot Fuss, they brought a retro sound that garnered critical praise almost as quickly as it climbed the charts. Back with their sophomore release, Sam's Town, The Killers have a new set of challenges: a backlash from the press and a grueling tour schedule. Killers guitarist Dave Keuning took a moment to speak to me from San Diego to tell me that all the fuss isn't slowing them down. If anything, he explains, it's revving them up.

You were set to play the Billboard Awards this past Monday but didn't. What happened?

Brandon [The Killers' lead singer] was sick and we had to cancel a couple shows because of his throat.

And now I'm actually in the San Diego airport, flying to San Francisco for a Christmas show.

So, it's been a week off for the band?

Yeah, its been about five days off, which is the longest stretch off we've had since mid-August.

Nice to get a break?

Yeah. We only had it because Brandon was sick -- but I still welcomed it.

So were in you Vegas during your time off?

I live in Las Vegas and San Diego. I have my girlfriend and son in San Diego. As soon as our Atlanta show was cancelled, I went there for the last two days.

And now that Brandon is better, the Sam's Town push continues?

We have about a week and a half left. We've still gotta do San Francisco, LA, Mexico, then we make up the Atlanta show, do New York and Jay Leno, and then we're done. For this year. Then we have a few weeks off for Christmas and then it all starts up again. January to Japan, Australia, back to Europe -- then back to America in April.

Is touring a part of the job you like?

Well, I like traveling, but I mean this last 3 months, it really pushed us. I'm not surprised someone got sick. It was solid, with very few days off, just touring, touring, touring. We went to Europe and back twice. I'm not surprised something came up and we dropped a couple of shows. It wouldn't kill them -- whoever does our scheduling -- to leave a few breaks here and there.

Have you guys been happy with how the album has been doing? It seems to be selling well, but not faring as well critically.

I try and not listen to the critics, they tend to just frustrate me. The review everyone talks about [in Rolling Stone], it's just completely asinine. I can accept that there are gonna be bad reviews no matter how good or bad we are. But he basically said that there were no songs on the album, and I have to disagree with that a little. He's just out to get us and I don't know what Rolling Stone's beef is -- but they love Fergie, a very established artist with a lot of credibility! They're catering to her needs. And that's fine, that's the kind of magazine it is, where Paris Hilton gets the cover and we get a bad review. But Led Zeppelin never got a cover and they never got any good reviews either -- and they turned out pretty good.

The press doesn't seem to be on your good side right now.

I'm not trying to single you out, but I think every journalist would be disappointed if they knew the truth. And the truth is, there is not much of a story in most bands, we're just making music. And they always ask, "What are the back stage stories?" Well, uh, we hung out before we played and then we played.

So Brandon's statement that your new album was a better representation of America than Green Day's American Idiot -- is that just a pseudo-rivalry worked up by the press?

Yeah, I guess so. That's been a little overblown. Brandon has some opinions, but I try to stress to people that it's not an American album and it sure didn't feel that way when we recorded it. We weren't making an American pride album, we were just making the best ten or twelve songs we could. I wasn't thinking about Bruce Springsteen when I was recording it.

[Brandon] took a couple jabs at Green Day that were questionable. I think he thought they were going for the easy vote -- that anyone who rebels against Bush looks like a punk rock hero. But we're not calling ourselves patriots. We try to stay out of the politics, and I think that's sort of the point that Brandon was making. Journalists, of course, they want a rivalry, they want a story. We just try to make good music, that's all.

Have things been harder with the second album, with all the negative press?

It's aggravating. People assume that when someone says some major comment -- Brandon or I -- that it represents the band. But it doesn't. And I even try and speak up for Brandon a little bit because he has different opinions on different days and they'll get one opinion and they'll put it in bold letters and they'll paint him that way. Maybe he was caught up in a moment or the next day changed his mind. But they don't print that part. They don't print the modest part. They make us look like assholes.

I definitely think people want rock stars to be brash -- so when they are it confirms that.

No, it's fine. I think there was a little more pressure this time around. I mean, there was pressure the first time, but because we just wanted to quit our jobs and get some money. This time around we're going for respect and proving that we can do it again. You know, our fans drive us to keep getting better. But all the naysayers are driving us too -- and there are plenty of them. So, we have a lot of motivation and I think we're at a good point right now where we're satisfied making the kind of music we want to. We might sell a few less records, we might sell a few more, it's still early on. We just wanna keep making good albums for several years

Any tracks off the new album you're especially excited about?

My favorite two at the moment are "When We Were Young" and "Read My Mind." "Read My Mind" is one we're really hopeful for. It seems to be everybody's favorite whether they're young or old -- that tends to be a good sign. When my mom and dad like it, it seems that's a good test, because they don't understand a lot of the rock stuff. If there's something in a song that they even like, that says something about it.