It was a rainy evening in Jersey when I rang up Ronnie Vannucci, who, along with Mark Stoermer, Brandon Flowers and David Keuning, has found massive success over the past year and a half under the collective guise of The Killers.
Having a genuine radio smash in “Somebody Told Me” from their Island Records debut, Hot Fuss, the band, who had only formed in 2002, were swept up into becoming a sensation not exactly overnight, but that could hardly be said to have taken any longer than the next afternoon.
Now deer caught in the headlights of rockstardom, Vannucci & Co. are winding down a two year touring cycle in support of Hot Fuss, the synth-pop sexy playfulness of which reminded everyone why they fell under the spell of Duran Duran those many moons ago. When Vannucci and I spoke, the band was on their first extended break in all that time; a solid three weeks.
Tell me about writing a pop song in the 21st century.
For the longest time, you’d always hear hooks on the radio, but they wouldn’t necessarily have songs in them. There’d still be good songs on the radio, but it just seems like people are starting to, over the last few years, really acknowledge a good song rather than just a good hook.
We all kind of grew up in the ’80s, where you had a lot of great music. I hope I’m not pigeonholing myself here, but we heard bands like Blondie or Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, Huey Lewis And The News and all that.
‘The Heart Of Rock & Roll’ is a fucking great song. I think there was a need for that. I know music changes, but I just think we kind of go in and out of needing and wanting a good classic song. I don’t know what goes into it, really, I just think you need to be aware of how a song’s moving, and you take a riff or a line that you make palatable. It’s difficult. How do you write poetry? I don’t know.
Have you found that, since pop music goes in these cycles, audiences can be jaded?
Yeah, sure, especially when you’re dealing with pop music. Popular music. It kind of comes and goes, doesn’t it? I think jaded is kind of a general term, but if we’re talking about how fads and fashion and everything kind of comes and goes, in that way jaded, yeah, people get jaded all the time. People don’t want to look silly if they like Huey Lewis And The News. (laughs)
Certain people just don’t care. There’s so many elements to liking or not liking a rock band. Whether somebody’s got a cute lead singer, or just the general vibe of the band, the concerts they give, or the interviews they give, whatever, there’s so many different things that people cling to. It’s kind of weird, but yeah, people get jaded.
What draws you to a band then? Is it the songwriting?
I think the song is probably the most important element of a band, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a pop song either. Lots of things attract me to a band. I still like bands who seem like one knit unit.
I went out to see a couple bands the other night, and it seemed like everybody was kind of going off in their own direction. And anybody can do that. The Who did that, but they were still this force, on stage they were just one big block of energy. That’s real attractive.
People pick up on that whether it’s real obvious like The Hives, or not so obvious, like The Who. You had the Ox, you had Moon, you had Townshend and Daltrey, and they just kind of all had their own thing, but they were still a force to be reckoned with.
What do you think you guys project when you’re on stage?
I think we’re probably more like The Who than The Hives. I think everybody is really, really different. I think we were all kind of surprised that it got off the ground the way it did, but so many times you go into a band, you go into a situation, you want to try to control it as much as you can, and I don’t think we did that at all. Nothing about the band is contrived.
You can say, ‘Oh yeah, these fuckers, they wear suits on stage,’ but who knows? That’s only for the time being and it suits the music, and I’d be a liar if I said that fashion didn’t matter with rock and roll, or an aesthetic didn’t matter with rock and roll. With us, I was surprised, because again, we’re so different from one another and our tastes vary, but we really come down to one thing, and that’s the urge to write and craft great songs. Big songs. (laughs)
We all came from other bands that fooled around with different types of music, I know I certainly did, and when it came down to it with rock and roll or pop music, my whole direction was wanting to write a big song, something that could be remembered and important, that could be played in a little club or in a stadium, could be played on the radio and all that.
It certainly worked out.
Yeah, for the time being. (laughs)