THE RISE OF THE KILLERS

In the last five years, the Vegas based foursome have literally come from the middle of nowhere to the very forefront of rock music. Kim Taylor Bennett explores just how.

It was the backend of 2003 when I first laid eyes on the Las Vegas foursome. In a crappy Camden eatery I sat down with drummer Ronnie Vannucci and singer Brandon Flowers, whose face was so youthful you could still see the peach fuzz on 23-years-young cheeks.

For thirty minutes Ronnie was the cheeky joker, a buoyant foil to Flowers thoughtful answers. It felt like Flowers wanted to communicate more, but didn’t yet have the tools to do so. Either that or my questions were not piquing his interest and when we finished he looked distinctly deflated.

To think of Flowers then - inconspicuously dressed and shy - it’s hard to believe he’s morphed into a gold lame wearing, arena rocking front man, who sneezes controversial pull quotes.

But even then Flowers seemingly unsinkable swagger was simmering beneath the surface and you could hear it where it mattered: in the music.

Unleashed in June 2004 Hot Fuss was the perfect antidote to The Strokes leather clad insouciance and The Libertines shambolic soap opera. It was redolent in Sin City drama (Jenny Was A Friend of Mine), sexual ambiguity (Somebody Told Me), poised melancholy (Smile Like You Mean It), plus it was packed with anthems to spare (All These Things That I’ve Done, Mr. Brightside).

Throw in a salmon pink suit, sexy synth lines, hundreds of incendiary live shows and some well applied guyliner and you’ve got 5 million album sold. But crucially, The Killers have attracted rabid following that perfectly spans the gulf between mainstream pop consumer and considered muso.

Of course it helped that The Killers back-story was better than fiction. Incredibly it was a newspaper ad name-checking Oasis as an influence that initially brought together Flowers, a Mormon bellhop, and Dave Keuning, who had moved to Vegas from Pella, Iowa after a depressing few months working in a factory. Through mutual friends the pair then hooked up with a Vegas wedding chapel photographer (Vannucci) and a 6”5 medical lab courier (Mark Steormer, bass).

From the moment they wrote Mr Brightside their ascent has been inexorable: they went from ruling the stages of the Barfly’s dingiest clubs to winning Brits and commanding arenas in just three years. Meanwhile, the once reticent Flowers found himself filling column inches.
In the past he’s declared war on emo (“there's a creature inside me that wants to beat all those [emo] bands to death”), cussed out Fall Out Boy, The Bravery and Green Day, setting message boards to meltdown before taking it all back, (“These people are just doing what they want to do, just like I am...I'm actually a nice person and I love people. I just am opinionated, and sometimes jealous. It's not something I'm proud of.") What’s better than a gobby frontman? One who’s got the tunes to back it up.

Fastforward to June 2006, The Killers are at Flood and Alan Moulder’s (U2, Smashing Pumpkins, Depeche Mode), North London studio listening to a few cuts from their then un-titled second record Sam’s Town. Flowers (replete with his newly sprouted facial hair) sits with his foot tapping furiously, as we listen to the unmastered, unfinished versions of Bones and the hypnotic Uncle Jonny. He looks excited and proud.

As well he should, every song sounds massive. Where their first record owed a debt to Morrissey and The Cure, their latest opus turned to the dusty, wide open roads of America for inspiration. Songs like Bling (Confession Of A King) and fist pumping When We Were Young conjure up a world in widescreen.

It seems along time ago that they were dancing down Brick Lane in London with their fans for the All These Things That I’ve done promo. Longer still since Vannucci could shake his tush at an indie club like Afterskool without getting mobbed.

These days they’ve got Tim Burton directing their music videos and U2 singing their praises, but all of this is, of course, incidental, because nothing will make your skin prickle or your nipples harden like hearing 35,000 people sing, “We’re burning up the highway skyline / On the back of a hurricane / That started turning when you were young.” And if you weren’t lucky enough to catch them at Wembley Arena or V2005, you can join the chorus this year.

"People ask me if we were trying to be funny with this record because it's big and exciting and confident. And my answer is, 'I don't think Beethoven was trying to be funny,’” said Flowers recently. “We're taking it seriously — we can laugh at ourselves, of course — but rock ‘n’roll used to be about not having limits, not having your box, and that's disappeared somewhere along the way. We're trying to bring it back."

 

 

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