THE KILLERS are back – and mean business.
Backstage at Budapest’s Sziget festival, frontman Brandon Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. are joyful, back playing live and having finalised the track list for new album Battle Born two days earlier.
“I can’t wait for people to hear this record,” says Ronnie. “I’m quite excited. And when I say quite I mean we are ready.”
They’ve also been so busy they are trying to remember what day it is? “Well, we got in last night, didn’t we?” asks Brandon, looking leaner than the last time SFTW were in his company.
“No, wait, we didn’t. We got in today and we played Krakow, in Poland, yesterday. Or was that the day before?”
Ronnie chips in: “We don’t know where we are or what day it is. But we’re here and laughing our f****** asses off, as these shows have been so much fun.”
Album … No4 out Monday 17
It’s been a while since we heard from the Las Vegas band — four years, to be precise when they put out third album Day And Age.
That album, like the two before it, went to No1.
Solo albums then followed, including Brandon’s splendid record Flamingo, and Ronnie’s alt-country side project Big Talk.
But now it’s back to their day jobs as The Killers return. “It did take a while to get back together and it was a little strange at first,” says Brandon.
“It had been a long time since we’d written together but everybody knows what their job is in the band so eventually we were back in the swing of things.
“Being in The Killers is like riding a bike — we know how to do it.”
Battle Born is the fourth album from the quartet.
Named after their Las Vegas studio — and a phrase inscribed on the Nevada state flag — it’s a record inspired by Tom Petty, Roxy Music and E.L.O.
Ronnie, peering over Ray-Ban shades, says: “It’s taken us a while to recognise that we have a sound, that we do things a certain way. I guess we are just comfortable with things this time around.”
Brandon adds: “I guess we are more confident, though this was a really hard record to write. It took a while and a lot of stress.”
With production duties shared between five big-name producers — Daniel Lanois, Steve Lillywhite, Brendan O’Brien, Stuart Price and Damian Taylor — the recording process was a lengthy one.
Brandon says: “We learn something new every time from these guys. They are super-talented people and, working with them all, you kinda get inside their brains.”
If it’s to be compared with any of The Killers’ previous albums, Battle Born is most like the second one, 2006 release Sam’s Town — all layered soundscapes and epic synth-rock.
First single Runaways is as grandiose as The Killers’ classic When You Were Young — the song that closes their headline set at Sziget.
Brandon says: “Runaways is definitely a brother to When You Were Young and so that was nice — it’s nice to feel those familiarities and it also gave us an idea of where we were headed on this record because that was one of the early songs.”
Another song, the bluesy Heart Of A Girl, was made with U2 producer Daniel Lanois, who had the band in the studio until 3am getting the track perfect. “We’d never written with anyone like Daniel,” says Brandon. “It was a lot of fun making that track. Five dudes in a room with the microphones on and a tape rolling. That song really captured a moment.”
Both Brandon, 30, and Ronnie, 36, agree Battle Born is their favourite album to date.
Ronnie says: “Because we took so long with it, we were able to sit with 20 or so songs and live with them and recreate them and arrange them until we were satisfied.
“Traditionally our records are made faster and, afterwards, we want to change a song or tempo. This time we’ve really got the message through and were done with it.” Brandon nods and says: “We’re happier with this one than we’ve ever been with any album.”
Another song, Miss Atomic Bomb, was influenced by the odd anti-nuclear testing parties held in Las Vegas in the Fifties.
“It was a real thing in Vegas for about 20 years,” explains Ronnie. “They would make cocktails and have food named after it — and of course there was the beauty pageant.”
Brandon adds: “When the nuclear tests were actually being carried out, the parties would go up to the roofs of the casinos and everybody would be given sunglasses.
'The break has done us good' … The Killers
“You get these great pictures of the washed-out faces, in Fifties style, and everybody just smiling, taking in their radiation!
“And that song is tied in to Mr Brightside lyrically. It is so Las Vegas and so us. We love it, though it came late.
“For a while, it got dismissed by one particular producer — I’ll leave him unnamed but the demo was shut away for three months. Yes, we took that personally, and one day I was at home on the computer going through some demos, came across it again and thought: ‘WHAT are we doing? It could even be a single and be brought to life on film.’ So we resurrected it.”
Judging by the crowd’s reaction to The Killers’ brilliant performance at Sziget, they have been sorely missed — and the band admit they were itching to get back on the road.
Dad-of-three Brandon says: “It gets hard being away from my family and my boys. They’re only five, three and one and I miss them but these last shows have been exciting. It’s fun to be back.” Ronnie adds: “I have a dog so it’s hard being away for me, too, but the break has done us good as we’ve been playing some awesome shows.”
It’s been a decade since The Killers — Brandon, Ronnie, guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer — formed after Dave placed an ad in a Las Vegas weekly newspaper which read: “Seeking musicians for all-original band. Influences: Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins, Bowie, Radiohead.”
In that time, The Killers have become one of the biggest bands in the world, selling more than 16million records.
Ronnie says: “It’s ten years for us but not for you guys yet — that will be in 2014, ten years after we put out our debut album Hot Fuss. And back then I was working at a wedding chapel, taking photos and going to school.”
Brandon adds: “I was working at the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino then — dreaming of all this.”
Although one of today’s most famous frontmen, Brandon says it has taken him a decade to feel comfortable as one. Much quieter off stage than on, it’s a more relaxed Brandon than SFTW has met before. “I am very shy in real life,” he says. “I’ve got more comfortable with all this. I’m still learning, though.
“It’s just the feeling of belonging there which was hard for me. I look up to all these people, from Elvis to Mick Jagger, Morrissey to Noel and Liam Gallagher, then all of a sudden I had the same job as them.
“It’s not easy to slide into that slot and I thought some people were better at it than me at first.
“It took a while for me to feel relaxed about it as I never thought it was ever going to happen. But I feel good on stage now.”