So, I’m on the phone with Ronnie Vannucci, drummer and founding member of alt-rock/synth-pop superstars The Killers, and we’re chatting about the subtle evolutions the band has made and experienced over the years — not the least of which is now being big enough to headline the likes of Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The first time I saw The Killers live, I tell him, they were touring on their second album, “Sam’s Town,” and playing at the 4,600-capacity Great Saltair in Magna. It was the second concert my wife and I ever took our then-young son to, and he was unequivocally transfixed.
Vannucci’s ears prick up at this, though his excitement soon gives way to sheepish embarrassment.
“I remember that show, because there was this lady who just kept flashing her boobs the entire time!” Vannucci exclaims. “Oh man, I hope your son didn’t see the boobs!”
After I assure him that the progeny seems to have come away without undue mental anguish, Vannucci jokingly assumes a mock-fatherly tone: “Son, this is a rock ’n’ roll show!”
And it still is. Despite all that has changed about The Killers over the years — be it everyone moving away from their home base in Las Vegas, the touring lineup no longer matching the recording one, the sonic variance between then and now — the crowd at The Viv this coming Tuesday can certainly count on a rock ’n’ roll show.
Of course, it’s not as if Utahns have ever had to dig deep for reasons to love the band. There’s been an affection from the outset, considering that frontman Brandon Flowers spent some of his youth growing up in Nephi and Payson and is a practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After many years of residing in Vegas, Flowers brought his Beehive State ties full circle when he, his wife, Tana, and their three sons relocated to Park City last year.
And while he admitted in an interview with Paste Magazine that leaving Las Vegas was hard, even that could not compare with the difficulty of crafting a new record.
Though The Killers’ fifth studio album, 2017’s “Wonderful Wonderful,” was released to critical acclaim, it was something of a laborious process bringing it into existence. It finally came out five years after the band’s previous studio effort, “Battle Born,” which Vannucci acknowledged “is a long time.”
Part of that time was spent touring on “
And so, time passed … and just kind of sneaked up on everybody.
“It’s not like we were sitting on our hands, by any means. We were just sort of largely listening to Mark and Dave needing a bigger break in between touring — with raising a family or doing whatever. Taking care of the family, I should say — ‘raising’ sounds a bit ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ ” Vannucci said. “People were just doing things. Brandon and I were both doing solo things. And we called each other and we were talking about the next record, and we were like, ‘S---! It’s 2015! It’s gonna be 2017 before we get a record out, if we even do then. Let’s get in there.’ It takes a little while to sort of wrangle everybody, circle the horses and get everybody on board to do a record. It’s just like we were trying to make everybody’s life easy and schedule things out and accommodate where we could. That’s kind of why it took so long.”
Which is not to say everything was smooth sailing after simply getting everyone to agree they were, at last, ready to proceed.
There were several false starts as the band members wrestled with what The Killers ought to be more than a decade after they burst on the scene with new-new-wave hits like “Somebody Told Me,” “Mr. Brightside” and “All These Things That I’ve Done.”
Vannucci said that for “the better part of a year,” the band was “sort of speed-dating producers” and “trying things out with them that didn’t work out.” But Garret “Jacknife” Lee — who’s worked with the likes of U2, R.E.M. and Taylor Swift — proved the person able to help them find the clarity that had been so elusive.
“I think we were searching for something, but we didn’t know what, exactly. We needed advice, we needed somebody to help us get perspective for a little bit — more of a view of the band at 30,000 feet rather than being in the band. Sometimes when you’re in the fishbowl, that’s all you see,” Vannucci said. “That’s where Jacknife really came in handy. He knew the history of the band, he knew that we were a rock ’n’ roll band, but he also knew that it was 2017 and we needed to do something that was different enough. And we were struggling with that at first, like, ‘What do we do? How do we sound? What does a four-piece rock ’n’ roll band sound like in 2017?’ And before we found Jacknife, we did try some funny things out and just couldn’t really tip over that line of doing something that wasn’t us. So we just had to sit back and say, ‘OK, who are we?’ And we just found ourselves being comfortable in our own skin again, in a way.”
Indeed, beneath all the layers of bombast and sheen, The Killers have always had an underlying core component of emotion and sensitivity in their music. Vannucci cited the track “Some Kind of Love” as an example of that continuing trend, even if he doubted his ability to articulate exactly how and why.
“It’s just pure, it’s honest. It’s such a simple-sounding song — or a simply constructed song,” he said. “I don’t know. … I [expletive] hate doing this sometimes! I sound like a used-car salesman!”
Even so, the band’s résumé requires no slick talk or obfuscation. The Killers have somehow managed the mean feat of changing, yet staying the same, in all the ways that matter most. “Wonderful Wonderful” bears no particular resemblance to “Hot Fuss” or “Sam’s Town,” and yet is unmistakably born of that ineffable Killers DNA.
“I think we’re always evolving — I don’t think any of our records really sound alike,” Vannucci said. “But it sounds like us. That’s what I like about us.”
With Amanda Brown, Albert Hammond
When • Tuesday; doors at 6 p.m.; Amanda Brown at 7 p.m.; Albert Hammond at 7:55 p.m.; The Killers at 9 p.m.
Where • Vivint Smart Home Arena, 301 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $42-$92; Ticketmaster