The Killers talk Morrissey encounters, producer speed-dating, and their 'Wonderful' comeback

The Killers (Photo: Erik Weiss)
The Killers (Photo: Erik Weiss)

It’s a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles when we meet with Killers frontman Brandon Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci at the Sunset Marquis Hotel to discuss Wonderful Wonderful, the band’s new album — their first in five years.

Given the swanky setting, the conversation quickly turns to rock-star encounters at the famous Hollywood property, one of the most iconic hotels in the music industry. Both Flowers and Vannucci have some memorable stories to share.

“I hung out with Morrissey at this hotel,” Flowers starts off. “I came in one night at around 11 and everything was kind of shut down, but there was this one little light in the restaurant. And I grew up just idolizing him. I instantly got excited, obviously, and I ended up getting the courage to introduce myself and stay for a few hours out there with the Moz. It was an incredible experience. I was his bus boy when I was 18 at Spago in Vegas — served him a mushroom pizza and Earl Grey tea, and I totally made an ass of myself: ‘Mushrooms are really cool.’ So I don’t know that I redeemed myself completely with this experience with him, but I tried.”

Vannucci’s Sunset Marquis celebrity encounter also stands out. “One time I ran into [ZZ Top’s] Billy Gibbons. He went straight up to me. He thought I was a guitar player — I play drums — and he came up to me and goes, ‘You owe me, you’re only here because of me.’ And he’s f***ing right, because I grew up on Eliminator. So he’s right.”

So, did Vannucci correct Gibbons? “I don’t think it matters, he’s still right,” he says with a shrug. “If I’m in a rock band, I’m there because of Billy Gibbons.”

Another band that has been very influential for the Killers is Depeche Mode, especially how they’ve changed sonically since 1981.

“We saw Depeche Mode in Spain and they were so good,” Flowers says. “When you look at what they sounded like for the first few records and how they evolved and then after Violator brought in live drums, which you never would have thought would be a thing with Depeche Mode, and now they’ve become this whole other thing. Martin [Gore’s] got a guitar the whole gig, and there’s a live drummer. And Dave [Gahan’s] just on fire. That was inspirational for us, because they’ve been doing it since ’80.”

Vannucci’s fandom of Depeche goes back many years. “When I was in junior high school, it wasn’t cool to like Depeche Mode, but they were my favorite band,” he recalls. “I permed my f***ing hair because of Martin Gore.”

Yes, the drummer did once share that story with Gore, who, according to Vannucci, “had a nice little chuckle over it.”

All of this brings up a very important and unique musical question: What would a cross-section between Depeche Mode and ZZ Top sound like?

“The Killers,” Vannucci answers, without hesitation.

Much like their idols, Wonderful Wonderful finds the Killers stretching both sonically and especially lyrically. And that expansion was necessary, because Flowers and Vannucci both admit there were a lot of struggles in the initial writing of this album.

“It was, like, five or six months, and it was starting to get dark,” Vannucci reveals. “There’s a lot of pressure when you’re making your fifth record and you’re a four-piece rock ‘n’ roll band. Where is another rock band right now that is getting radio play? We felt like we were on a deserted island, and it was nervous.”

That pressure finally eased when the band came up with the song “Rut.”

“It’s the keystone,” Flowers explains. “It’s like you go in, even though we’ve all been doing this for so long, you don’t know what’s going to happen or how long it’s going to take for it to happen when you finally get in a room. And when we got ‘Rut,’ it was like, ‘Oh, something. Thank you.’”

“Rut” is also a lyrical keystone because it finds Flowers opening up for the first time about his personal home life, even though it was not an easy transition. “First, I had a little anxiety about it, because I’d never really gone into this territory. I was kind of protective of my wife and my family and that kind of stuff,” he says. “But there was nothing else I could write about, so it ended up becoming that or nothing. So it really opened some doors for me lyrically on this record. There’s a song called ‘Some Kind of Love,’ and ‘Rut’ I get emotional with. I’ve noticed songs I get emotional about tend to resonate with people.”

Because the band was on their fifth album and had been away from the scene for a few years, they experimented with different producers, according to Vannucci, with some apparently very funny results.

“There was a point there where we were like speed-dating producers before we landed on Jacknife [Lee],” he says. “We’d sort of gotten in the room with some different people to see what it would feel like to have a f***ing smash hit on the radio. It was fun to go down that road for a minute and realize there’s just no way that’s gonna make us feel good or what was gonna happen. You should hear some of these songs.”

The Killers learned a lot from that process, however. “It was good to arrive at a place where we realized this is who we are; this is an honest representation of what’s going on right now,” Flowers says. “And we feel confident enough to release it as we are, rather than put a veneer over it.”