Interview: Hot Press Meets Ronnie Vannucci From The Killers
The old drummer jokes don’t really apply to The Killers’ Ronnie Vannucci, as he’s far from your average sticksmith. Watch clips of him on YouTube and you get the distinct impression that he’s ripping the absolute piss out of most interviewers with his slightly surreal sense of humour. Intelligent and erudite, he eschews the vapid and facile nature of celebrity culture. During The Killers’ hiatus in 2011, following the Day And Age Tour, Vannucci completed a BA, with a focus on percussion, at the University of Nevada, giving lie to the notion that drummers are dumb.
“No, I’m still pretty dumb,” he guffaws. “I had, like, two classes to finish. When I left school, I was basically done, but I had to complete some courses, which I did. But I made the mistake of keeping taking classes, so maybe next year, I’ll have another degree. We’ll see what happens. I just do it because it’s something to do to keep busy. I’m pretty lazy. But when it comes to doing things to keep the brain warm on music, I like to keep that muscle flexing.”
During the same time period, he managed to release an album under the moniker Big Talk, on which Ronnie sang, played guitar and pretty much everything else. So he didn’t really take time off at all, it would seem.
“I got a nice two weeks in there,” he grins. “And really, making the Big Talk record was pretty fucking leisurely because I didn’t go in there with any big expectation or even the thought of making a record. I was just exercising. I was in there learning how to sing, play guitar and make songs to completion. With this band [The Killers], I make songs but they’re not always complete because I like the idea of what everybody else will do to these ideas that I have and make them into these bigger beasts. With the Big Talk thing, it was nice because I was able to see them through and it was a fun experience.”
How much fun was it 10 years ago when Ronnie was working as a wedding photographer in a Vegas quickie wedding chapel?
“I was going to school full-time and needed a flexible schedule. The family of an old childhood friend of my wife owned a chapel on the strip and they originally wanted me to be an Elvis impersonator because I had black hair and could grow sideburns,” he grins.
Eventually, they settled on the photo department, and when one day their regular photographer didn’t show up, Ronnie found himself upgraded to snapper supreme.
“I wasn’t that good, but I was good enough for weddings,” he laughs. “I did it for about two-and-a-half years. That was my last job. It was fun.”
When he snapped his last bride and groom, Ronnie had no way of knowing that his life was about to change irrevocably, as songs like ‘Somebody Told Me’ and especially ‘Mr. Brightside’ propelled him and his bandmates into superstardom as things took off on a massive scale. It just went through the roof.
“Well, we went through the roof because we were on this nightmare schedule of being everywhere at the same time, or at least that’s what it felt like. We were being pulled around and it was crazy. As a band, we were still getting to know each other, and we were tossed in this centrifuge where we didn’t know which end was up and were just trying to get along. We were being introduced to our idols. There were all these girls. There was drugs. It was like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’”
It must have been a buzz, though?
“Yeah, it’s good. You grow up pretty fast. As long as you have your head screwed on straight, it can be a nice experience, but I can see how a lot of people lose their shit and just totally go off because they don’t have a good foundation or they’re just naturally wayward. I’m carefully wayward,” he smiles.
None of The Killers have ever made a secret of their ambition to be a huge U2-style stadium band.
“Everybody holds different levels of ambition and that’s nice, because you don’t want to be a bunch of hyper idiots and that’s what makes our band good, because we have that dynamic,” he avows.
Motivation, it would seem, is not a problem.
“There’s a lot to be motivated for. There’s a lot of people out there who live this sorta bland life. I know that I’m blessed to have such an exciting life. That’s motivation in itself, to stay above water. You’re given this whole opportunity: why not take advantage of it? Honestly, I should be taking advantage of it more.”
In what way?
“I think, after dinner I should probably fucking hit my pad for at least two hours or play the guitar and try to write three verses before 8:30, even if they’re shitty, just try to get them out. I’ve been trying to get a little more of that going. What else am I going to do? Drink? Get fucked up for the next gig? That feels terrible: I don’t want to do that.”
That’s called getting old, dude.
“Am I getting old?” he laughs. “Fuck!”
The mind is still willing but the body less so?
“Hey, as soon as we’re born, we start dying!”
What a lovely morose, thought. Seeing as we’re in reflective form, I wondered if he thinks people’s perception of The Killers has changed, by virtue of the fact that they’re now four albums and almost a decade in. Are they now seen as a career band?
“I hope so,” he says. “I don’t live by that though, because in this day and age, who knows what’s going to happen? Nobody’s selling records any more. It’s nice that we’re still selling-out arenas but I don’t rest on those laurels, because then you might get lazy. You might think, ‘It’s cool. We’re a career band. Take six months off.’ People, in today’s attention deficit disorder age, if you’re not on, you’re off. It wasn’t like that in the ‘70s or even the ‘80s where you make a big splash and everyone knows you for 10 years, but you haven’t done shit in nine. You can’t do that anymore. At least, I would never do that. I would be scared of becoming obsolete.”
Was he worried this time, having taken four years between Day & Age and current hit-monster, Battle Born?
“I was,” he admits. “That definitely was in my consciousness. It was part of the impetus of getting in as early as we did. We could have taken longer off. It seems that 10 or 15 years ago, there was this barrage of great music. People were writing really great songs. I’m not talking about hair-dos or looks, but people were productive. People were churning out the tunes. Today, it’s like, fuck man, it’s falling flat. There’s really not shit out there. At least in public consciousness, there’s only this fucking pop music and then everything else. And then you’ve got Spotify and iTunes and everything, so you’re totally diluting everything. Everything is becoming so disseminated that it’s really frustrating and hard to find music.
“But it’s also sort of cool, because you’ve got this treasure hunt. You know there’s great music out there that you’ve never heard of and all you have to do is get on your computer and, I dunno, see what some asshole in Brooklyn is listening to,” he smiles. “And you will eventually find there’s a band in Martha’s Vineyard doing some great shit or a band out of Bakersfield again. So, it’s a double-edged sword. It’s a different cat that we need to learn how to skin. So, all we can do is be a really fucking great band, a great live band and make great fucking songs. We can’t do anything else. That’s up to the other assholes.”