Love them or hate them, The Killers are coming to a city near you
By Pj Perez
Photography by Torey Mundkowsky

Racket Magazine June 2007

The Killers have come to Indian country. But the braves are fighting back.

“They’re giving us some trouble,” says Ronnie Vannucci, drummer for the Las Vegas-birthed modern rock band, at this moment holed up backstage at a Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Fla., on a Seminole reservation. “They won’t let us fire off some confetti cannons for whatever reason. They keep changing the story, so I think they just want to make some extra money.”

Though Sam’s Town, The Killers’ sophomore album, was released last October, the quartet is just now underway on its first major U.S. tour in its support. Certified platinum and with sales of more than two million copies worldwide, Sam’s Town is certainly a commercial success, though critical reviews have been mixed—receiving only two stars (of five) from Rolling Stone and a C grade from Entertainment Weekly while scoring eight out of 10 from NME and four stars (of five) from Blender.

In his Rolling Stone review of Sam’s Town, Rob Sheffield expressed his disdain for the Killers’ move from a fun, tongue-in-cheek, new wave sound to a Bruce Springsteen-wannabe vibe. “No, it’s not a good move,” he wrote. All this was about the same time lead singer Brandon Flowers was boasting that Sam’s Town was going to be “one of the best albums in the past 20 years” to Giant magazine. Though Sheffield complained that, “They seem like they’re trying to make a big statement,” Vannucci refutes such accusations and easy dismissals.

“I think there’s a much more natural evolution to the band than most people see,” he says. “All they see is Hot Fuss [the Killers’ debut album]. They see pink leather jackets, then with Sam’s Town, they see handlebar moustaches. We weren’t trying to make any statement. It wasn’t any type of contrived idea, its just who we grew into in the past four years of being a band.”

On this tour, the Killers are playing significantly larger venues for the most part—cavernous spaces such as Los Angeles’ Staples Center, New York’s Madison Square Garden and Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre—driving to put Sam’s Town into at least the same sales level as Hot Fuss, which sold more than five million copies internationally.

“Especially in America, if you’re not touring, you’re not going to get the sales,” Vannucci says. “Unless you’re pop. Unless you’re Timberlake or something—and even he has to fucking tour to get those fucking record numbers up. Although we’re absolutely not doing bad in the States—especially with a second record—it’s happening more now that we’re playing here.”

With bigger concert halls comes a bigger production, something that has become common again in recent years with theatrical bands such as My Chemical Romance, Panic! At The Disco and Muse. The Killers are taking a similar approach, giving fans more bang for their buck, confetti cannons and all.

“These days, people go to see a show. If you’re going to go see a classical concert, you go see Yo Yo Ma—you’re wowed by his prowess and his musical language and all that,” says Vannucci. “When you go see a rock ‘n’ roll show, you really got to step it up, because anybody can play rock ‘n’ roll. It’s always nice to put a nice visual to something that already has a good audio thing. The whole idea is to take the person out of the venue and just kind of make them feel like they’re somewhere else for two hours. Ticket prices are so fucking inflated, they might as well get a little something for the buck.”

Vannucci is quick to separate his band from both trend-jumpers and those bands that might be using concert theatrics as a crutch.

“I think first and foremost, everybody’s got to have their shit together, musically. It’s got to start there,” he says. “That’s always been most important for us. A lot of bands try to cover it up with live-show gimmicks or something like that. Muse and My Chemical Romance certainly don’t cover anything up because they’re both great bands.”

Another thing that may set the Killers apart from their peers is their close ties to home. When the band is in Las Vegas, its members—with the notable exception of Flowers— often can be found hanging out in the “scene,” taking in shows and spending time with old friends. On the road, the Killers’ tour machine comprises old friends and family. Former Beauty Bar DJ Ryan Pardey has been a road fixture with the band since 2004; Flowers’ brother-in-law, Torey Mundkowsky, is their official photographer; Rob Whited of Vegas-based band Big Bad Zero is Vannucci’s drum tech.

“We try to keep it as close to home as possible,” says Vannucci. “We’re padding ourselves with people we’re familiar with. It helps, rather than having a bunch of old road dogs who you just kind of don’t know. We got some new people too—everybody’s working out.”

One of those on the road with the Killers is Ted Sablay, who essentially has become the band’s fifth member, adding the extra keyboard and guitar portions the quartet alone could not perform. Sablay formerly played with Vannucci in two prominent Vegas-based bands—ska group Attaboy Skip and indie band Expert on October. Up until joining the band last fall, Sablay was attending the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, (as was Vannucci when he joined the band in late 2002) and playing bass as Phil McCracken in the Irish party band, Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

“I think when we were writing, we were just basically doing these demos. I’m like, ‘There’s no way we can pull this off ourselves,’” Vannucci says. “We don’t want to resort to playing to a computer. Plus, we’d always talked about maybe having Ted come on the road with us, anyway. There were a couple other distant choices, but Ted’s our man.”

The family-like atmosphere extends beyond the road crew; it pervades the entire tour. Though the Killers’ confetti-and-light-show concerts and dramatic music might scream “’80s rock ‘n’ roll,” their behavior on the road is quite the opposite.

“These days, we’re not partying as much,” says Vannucci. “We have more fun making songs, so we’re getting beer and stuff for the bus, and we all have different quadrants that are designated, like, “Don’t fuck with my shit” areas, “I’m working here” areas. It’s more fun than having a bunch of chicks on the bus showing their boobs. That stuff has so been done before. I think we’re into making music; that’s more important. Especially if you’re married, it’s more important. Picked a fine time to get married, didn’t we?”

Not that Vannucci minds his marital status. In fact, he seems to embrace the domestic lifestyle. During one of the band’s breaks during the U.S. tour, he flew home to for a few days to spend time with his wife. And his plans for the band’s mini-vacation after they return to play at the Hard Rock Hotel’s Theatre Under the Stars in Vegas on June 1?

“I think I’m just going to spend it at home,” Vannucci says. “Maybe do a little work around the house, go down to Arizona, shoot some guns, you know. I just want to relax. I’m just going to chill out with the wife. Go out on dates and shit.”