Las Vegas City Life November 2008

It's evolution, baby

Day & Age deviates from previous Killers albums, but the Las Vegas band says its artistic progression is natural

We have to give bassist Mark Stoermer the benefit of the doubt when he says he doesn't listen to modern dance music. If there's one American top 40 band that's most oriented for -- or most likely to have been born from -- the dance floor, it's his band, The Killers. And as part of the foursome's rhythm section, Stoermer ostensibly has as much influence on the songs' groove and hip-shaking mojo as anyone. So, naturally, he's familiar with the sounds of nightclubs and dance festivals, right?

"I listen to music that's danceable sometimes, but I wouldn't say it's electronic or dance," says Stoermer via phone, doing press in New York for The Killers' just-released album, Day & Age. "I listen to a little bit of everything, but for the most part [I listen] for songs. If there's a good song or band that plays something danceable, that's good. Something like Depeche Mode is danceable, but it's not club music."

Then it's a credit to the band's versatility that it sounds the way it does, and nowhere is that sonic dexterity better revealed than on Day & Age, the band's third studio album, and third release in three years. It is not an obvious progression from 2006's Sam's Town, an album that sounded more like a Britpop stab at American rock and less like the 2004 debut, Hot Fuss. But The Killers, perhaps emboldened by how well their minor experimentations were embraced on that album, decided to veer even more sharply off the road of well-trod revisionist New Wave everyone expected them to cruise at least for the first few records. And none of its elements are more pronounced than its rhythms, nearly as important as the melodies and spiced up to evoke flavors outside America and England.

One might be quick to credit producer Stuart Price -- the man responsible for two of the best Killers remixes to date, for "Mr. Brightside" and "When You Were Young," and who was the main shapeshifter on Madonna's Confessions On a Dance Floor-- for the album's emphasis on tempo and throb. Not so, says Stoermer.

"He comes in at the middle to end of the idea that's already kind of there. I would say everyone in the band probably contributed the experimentation with the songs in general, and also the rhythms. It's probably the result of playing our other songs for years and wanting to try something new. Again it wasn't really planned, but we all like a lot of different things, and you want to try something new because it's fun or exciting. That doesn't mean we don't stick to what works. There's some straight up and down rock songs still on this record, but something like 'I Can't Stay' has the added percussion and the tropicalia vibe. It was something new to do and fun."

Equally unconscious was the taming of familiar guitar parts. Dave Keuning's soaring, chimey, chunky riffs are present here and there, but many of his contributions are more evenly mixed into the often dense compositions or disguised via pedals and digital effects, moving far away from the traditional axework in either American modern rock or The Killers' own back catalog.

"The guitar definitely has more of a complementary role than usual, and there are less big chords, where there's melody in the background," says Stoermer. "But it's not just about big heavy guitar chords, where on the first two records that's a little more present. No one ever talked about it, Stuart or the band. We take things on a song-by-song basis ... I think that's just the guitar parts he came up with, that matched the songs. Maybe it's some kind of evolution to try something new, but it was pretty natural."

Day & Age hasn't come with any world-conquering declarations, the sort singer Brandon Flowers delivered prior to the release of Sam's Town. But some random quotes from him and others in The Killers' camp certainly don't downplay the pressure around it. And not helping matters is Island/Def Jam's strategic, pre-holiday release on a Monday -- Nov. 24, alongside new albums by Kanye West and Ludacris, no less. The more grounded Stoermer doesn't echo those sentiments, nor does he bemoan the label's decision to load that week's schedule with other releases that will make a potential (and first) Killers' No. 1 debut much more difficult. But that doesn't mean it means any less in the development of the musicians' still-budding artistry or careers.

"Every album's important," he says. "Everything's riding on the first album and if it's not good you won't have a career. And the second one is backing up the first one, showing you have more than one album in you. Maybe this one is an extension of that, in the sense that this record is proving ourselves once again. To some degree, every band has to prove themselves over and over again, especially in the beginning stages of their career."

After 14 million in sales worldwide -- five million from American cash registers -- you'd think The Killers wouldn't have much left to prove. First single "Human" is scaling the radio charts, and Day & Age is already garnering early positive reviews. But for some, the band remains as shallow and fabricated as the city from which they emerged, the tag "the quintessential Las Vegas band" the ultimate backhanded compliment. For those naysayers, musicians from a city such as Las Vegas could never be taken seriously. But like most underdogs -- a tag for any Las Vegas band thrust in the international spotlight -- The Killers work best with their backs against the wall.

"It's about the music at the end of the day," says Stoermer. "It shouldn't matter where we came from. Obviously the people outside of Vegas that don't know we have real people living here, that enjoy music and play music ... like any other city. The people that come out of Vegas are a unique breed. It's hard to put your finger on what is a Las Vegan or whatever, but it's definitely different. I don't think The Killers would have come out of any other city."

Thanks to Sam for the flashing K