For The Killers, ‘Battle Born’ really does feel like a second wind. With every member having disappeared into their own world of spin off albums, solo records, running labels or even producing, their fourth full-length sees the Vegas stars return refreshed. For drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr., in fact, the time expanding his horizons as part of the duo ‘Big Talk’ has been an important experience. After all, The Killers have become so used to the stadium show circuit that musical roots are something of a change.
Back in his usual saddle, though, Vannucci is an engaging character. Sat backstage at his band’s Phoenix Park headline show, the drummer pauses and contemplates between each of our questions, slowly articulating recent events between asides on his love of AC/DC and seemingly genuine disappointment that his night won’t end with a lock in and a few pints out in Dublin. He comes across as a man enjoying his day job, settled in his role and soaking up the moments it delivers.
After ‘Big Talk, after all, returning to his more traditional role is a laid back experience for Vannucci. “For Big Talk I had to sort of man all the bases”, he recalls. “I wasn’t used to doing things myself. It was incredibly freeing, a lot of fun. I had a lot more input. I’m looking forward to doing it again, if it makes sense. I’ve got some stuff ready, it just depends on what we end up doing, if we take a break after this or we keep writing. We have a pile of Killers stuff, then there’s a pile of game show music and a pile of Big Talk stuff. I show everything to the guys, and whatever sort of sticks, we use.”
And that pile of Killers stuff? “The time apart hasn’t changed what The Killers are”, he explains. “Instead, it’s helped us realise what we are. Going away and coming back gave us a chance to think about what we do and how we do it. For the first time I realized what other people talk about. We do have a ‘style’. But we still never think about it, we just do it.”
Perhaps it’s easier looking through the window from the garden, but for most of us the Killers style has long been apparent. A vein running through that debut has extended itself, always at its peak in huge, boisterous sing-along choruses. Subconsciously, perhaps, Vannucci saw that too. Even before the release of Hot Fuss, the drummer leapt on an early smashes’ scale-able potential. “I said I can see ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’ being played in stadiums. I might have said Wembley. Or any big stadium. It just felt like a stadium song at the time! In some ways you craft songs with the mindset of ‘what’s our crowd going to be like’. We didn’t do that then, it’s just how the song was, but it does mean the stadium aspect comes into it now, as that’s basically what we do.”
That’s not to say the band are above a return to the clubs. When The Killers did come back together to record the latest, Vannucci in particular would have played pretty much anywhere just to get back on that tour bus. “I’ll play a seven eleven”, he jokes. “There was an offer, too. I don’t think the rest of the guys were into it, but I’d have played for slurpees. It’s a kind of band joke that comes from another band, a pop band. I overheard someone saying ‘yeah, well they’d play a seven eleven opening’. You just heard this band everywhere. I won’t say who it is, just this pop band. I just thought it kind of sounds fun. Don’t knock it, there’s a free slurpee in it!”
It’s certainly buried beneath the surface, but perhaps there’s a little frustration with the production of The Killers most recent release. From the outside, Battle Born’s production seemed a touch shambolic. Planned late, it ended with five separate producers, an entirely new concept for The Killers, and if they’re honest, probably not their first choice. “The five producers on Battle Born was basically the product of a scheduling nightmare. We asked too late, and those guys are sought after dudes. We just said okay, we’ll take you for two weeks, five days, whatever you can do to help us out with this. I still think it’s a coherent album. We’re the type of band that have a lot of diversity in the songs. Whatever vehicle the song wants to run with, that seems to work with the song.”
Still, even if things have at times come together late, The Killers are still very much in demand. Both of America’s previous presidential candidates have approached the band, despite a concerted attempt to stay out of politics. “Both Obama and Romney did approach us, but very, very seperately. Michelle asked us if we’d play their fourth of July party on the White House Lawn a couple of years ago, really just to celebrate the troops. We’re really careful not to make any sort of political statements. We’re not that grown up yet! Now we just want to be a good band, maybe when we get older we can be more of a voice. It’s kind of hard to be the band that says ‘Somebody told me that you had a boyfriend that looks like a girlfriend’, and by the way vote for this guy. We all have our individual stances on politics, I think it’s really important that we don’t use our band as a political thing. But if someone asks us to play a patriotic event we’ll play, you know?”
Stick that patriotism alongside the smoothie story, and what’s undeniably clear is that Vannucci loves to play live. With records increasingly floundering as ways of making money, it makes sense in numerous ways. The drummer also suggest that there’s an increasingly limited space for mainstream rock, however. “It’s too bad, that bands have to be ‘weird’ to be signed now. Rock came from the blues, and the blues came from slave songs. Do you know what I mean? You evolve. I’m not saying I don’t want to see shit evolve, I just think it would be nice to see a bit more realness happening in today’s artificial world. There’s such vanity. We’re guilty of it too, I’m not saying we’re free and clear. But it’s sickening sometimes. Sometimes I just want to hear a straight up rock band.”
Even so, M83 have already been roped in for a quick session, destination as yet uncertain. “We did some stuff with Anthony from M83. Who knows what will happen, we’re still working on it down in the studio, horsing around. We were sort of at odds with this one song, we didn’t really know where to go with it. We did it Anthony’s way, stripped it all back and he sort of gave us another perspective. It sounds really cool. I’m up for taking chances, it’s fun to experiment, and it’s very much an experiment. We’ve toured together before, and it’s something fun to do. It’s organic.”
Straight up rock band, then, or further dancey interludes, remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome – and whether it’s more of The Killers or more of the side projects isn’t entirely clear just yet – Vannucci and co. are still spreading roots. Vannucci still refers to the band’s “Vegas underbelly” yet tours are global events, evoking nerves and still have complex dynamic, and crowd interactions the drummer refers to as “trust falls”. The Killers are no longer the trend band that stormed through a summer of unstoppable hype ten years ago. Where they are now – self-aware, worldly wise and set up for stadiums – fits every bit as well.