The Killers have never been shy about their local roots, but on their latest album, they flaunt them. Named for the motto on the Nevada state flag (and sharing its title with the band’s Las Vegas recording studio), Battle Born is firmly grounded in the geography of desert highways, neon lights and fading motels. As the Killers were finishing their fourth studio album in New York this summer, Vegas Seven sat down with drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. to talk about their hometown, musical influences and what’s next.
You’ve had references to Las Vegas scattered throughout your other records, but the tribute feels more overt in this one.
That’s got a lot to do with Brandon [Flowers], who writes the lyrics. He’s at a stage in his life—he’s got kids, family now—where it’s his turn to take pride [in] where he’s from and what he’s about. … You either carry the torch or you don’t carry the torch, and we’re torch-carrying motherfuckers. Somebody’s got to. Vegas is a really special place, and at least to us, it feels like there hasn’t been a real sense of something that represents Las Vegas from our perspective, from a rock band.
Battle Born seems to be heavily influenced by Bruce Springsteen.
People are saying that. I don’t know if that’s media running wild with a great last name and an icon.
You don’t see it as much?
I guess I don’t. But at the same time, you could be compared to a lot worse. He’s great! And there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not something that we went out and tried to do. I hear a lot of other influences.
Who do you hear?
We’re huge fans of great American bands, the Talking Heads and the Cars and the Heartbreakers … [David] Bowie and T. Rex, ELO [Electric Light Orchestra], The Beatles. The shit we used to listen to while driving around with our dads in the truck in Las Vegas is now starting to come through us.
Describe the Vegas rock scene.
It doesn’t have enough of a dynamic there to really sustain any type of scene easily. Perhaps it’s because we’re in such close proximity to a place like L.A. “I’m not gonna struggle here, I’m gonna go to L.A. and play Spaceland, where people actually give a shit about music and Capitol Records is across the street.” But I think there are great musicians in Vegas, and some really good songwriters, and you can do it from there, especially in this day and age with, you know, Tweet a song or Facebook.
How does Vegas inspire you?
I think any place where you have hope and hopelessness, somewhere in the middle lies inspiration. If you’re sort of an observer, which Brandon definitely is, lyrically it’s good fodder for songs.
What’s next for the Killers?
Gosh, there’s a couple ideas floating around. I bring a recording rig on the road. Like a back-room mobile Abbey Road. It’s got everything you need to make a record. And I always sort of fantasize about making a record on the road, and about the road, almost like an audio diary, something like that. So who knows? Right now we’re just getting the album out there and celebrating it.
Killers’ vocalist and Las Vegas native Brandon Flowers was unavailable for live interviews, but he answered a few questions via e-mail:
First music venue: Café Roma open-mic night.
First casino job: Busser at Spago in Caesars Palace.
Rockstar lifestyle: “I never kicked up too much dust.”
“Miss Atomic Bomb”: A companion to “Mr. Brightside.” “I’m thankful for this town’s well that I am able to continually draw from.”
Vegas favorites: The excitement of the service industry, the neon lights, Lake Mead, the smell of the creosote when it rains.
Vegas roots: “During the depression, my grandpa used to fish in Lake Mead and sell the fish on Boulder Highway. My grandma worked at the Golden Nugget in its heyday.”