The Killers have become darlings of the film community lately. On September 18, 2012, the rock band teamed with acclaimed film director Werner Herzog, who helmed the Killers’ “American Express Unstaged” concert, which was streamed live on the Web from the Paradise Theatre in New York City’s Bronx borough. In December 2012, the Killers premiered their music video “Here With Me,” which they worked on with “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands” director Tim Burton and “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands” co-star Winona Ryder.
The current members of the Killers — lead singer Brandon Flowers, lead guitarist Dave Keuning, bass player Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. — have been together since 2002 and have been a hit with audiences since their 2004 debut album, “Hot Fuss.” In 2012, the Killers’ fourth studio album, “Battle Born,” was released to critical acclaim and hit sales worldwide. The 2013 leg of the Killers’ “Battle Born” world tour begins January 16 in Sydney. Here’s what Flowers, Vannucci and Herzog said when they did a press conference in New York City before the "American Express Unstaged” event.
Music producer Steve Lillywhite came in to assist with “Flesh and Bone.” How did his influence bring the Motown flavor of production to light?
Flowers: Well, the Motown section wasn’t a Motown section until Steve came. There's a certain way that I sing a couple of the lines in the song that we were talking about are reminiscent of Motown and Detroit, and the way that I sing, “I’m runnin’ out of time,” and things like that. And so I think that that sparked something in Steve and we had the bridge written and he suggested maybe we try it with a different flavor. And it turned out that way and that’s one of the benefits of having a great producer, more ideas.
Speaking of producers, Daniel Lanois seems to have played a significant role, as well, in helping shape the album’s sound. What would you say was Daniel’s most significant contribution?
Flowers: Daniel, because he’s both a great mind and a great musician, he’s able to link up with us in ways that maybe other producers don't. One of the advantages was that we were all in a room together making songs, you know, and incidentally it was the first time we’ve ever collaborated with another person to write songs. I guess that he sort of takes a more organic, more earthy approach. He’s a big proponent of making human sounds with instruments, if that makes any sense, and really helps us tap into a side that we’ve explored a little bit on our own, but never put on an actual record before.
Were there any new challenges in putting this record together that you hadn’t experienced before?
Vannucci: Nope. [He laughs.] We always have the same agenda to go into the studio and write, and do the best that we can.
Werner Herzog used to tell stories about misunderstood or insane people trying to do something special. Do you guys fit that description?
Herzog: No, I'm rumored to be some sort of the wild guy and to obsess with whatever, fact is, I’m clinically sane. I’m trying to find professionals who are, as well, clinically sane as I am. And when I met the band for the first time, I immediately had this connection that I immediately felt, yes, they are good, solid human beings with a strange background, possibly the Strip of Las Vegas, but at the same time, they are absolutely sane and wonderful to work with as professionals. Very, very easy.
Yesterday within an hour, we did a short film written, scripted, filmed and edited in less than an hour. And it will be shown for the people out there for the streaming and Brandon expertly, which is huge. It’s kind of scary. And, so it is five inches away from his face sometimes. It came very easy, in the end. Very, very easy to work with you guys.
Do you guys think you fit that qualification?
Flowers: I don't know.
Herzog: Yes, but you have a very solid bottom and from there you can go pretty wild. And I
like how the band has a kind of exuberance and can go wild as much as get recovered … And the drummer, Ronnie, actually will have one camera, on his body and a camera right on his sternum, on his chest. So you’ll see the arms flailing out, and in the background, the audience.
And so we are trying a couple of funny things, for example, a camera that is surfing the crowd. In fact, point there's a real operator surfing the crowd, but they said there were safety concerns. And I proposed I would do the crowd surfing with the camera, but I can't. Security and safety was very much in the foreground, so we ended up having an independent camera in, like, a box.
So why did you guys want to include the American Express on-stage, live-stream technology as part of the launch of the new album?
Flowers: I have seen a couple. I have seen the Arcade Fire one and I’ve seen the Coldplay one,
and it just seemed… I thought it was a great idea and I wanted to be a part of it. And the fact that you get this freedom to pick a director — and we were so lucky to have Werner say yes. I mean, he was at the top of the list, and everything kind of fell into place.
Herzog: Yeah, in truth I was drawn to the urgency with which the band wanted to have me and I thought, yes, this is completely new terrain for me. But thinking about, I don't know, maybe 10 million people out there around the world, I wanted to do it more interactive. All the other concerts were not really responding that much to the audiences out there, so left and right on the stage we’ll have two screens and fans have sent in their pictures identifying where they are from, and thousands have come in and they are still streaming in.
And while the concert is going on, they will still stream their photos and it will be part of the show, so the audience and the band will see the pictures left and right, and the audience out in the world will see how we are participants. And they look at each other, the live audience in the theater is looking at the faces out there of other fans, and the other way around. So I wanted to have it really interactive.
Vannucci: I think it’s a great idea. It’s so communal. It’s bringing the whole world together. And it makes me feel almost emotional about it when he talks about it, because to think of all these people … We are so in the middle of it, it’s all happened so fast, we don't realize how worldwide it really has become, and it’s just going to be… I'm really excited about it.
Can you share any memories or what it’s like to perform in South America, Latin America?
Flowers: Oh, man. Latin America was a life-changer for us because never before have we met
people who… They're a very passionate people and if they love you they're going to show you. And we’d never been shown that type of, or been a part of, that energy field, that adoration that comes in waves. I don't think we’ve ever had a boring show. It’s always been sort of electric down there. We’re anxious to get back.
In what ways has the band grown and changed from the making of “Hot Fuss” back in 2004 to the band that has created “Battle Born” in 2012?
Flowers: I'm a more concise lyric-writer. No matter how close to your heart you hold that first
record, the lyrics aren’t as fully realized as they are now. I’ve read more books, I’ve grown, we’ve had more experiences. And we’ve played so many live shows that we can't help but be more powerful as a band. So hopefully those things should come through on “Battle Born.”
What's your secret to keep the essence of The Killers in every single record, but not repeating yourselves? How have you done that?
Flowers: Gosh… I think within each one of us, we have this integrity, we have this sort of strong, almost pig-headed, type of non-bending thing about us, the way we do things. And I think it’s just the four of us in combination, not willing to compromise much, which I think sort of leaves us with a good end result or a good yield. I don't know. I've never thought about it really. We’re strong-willed.
Ronnie said he wished Elvis Presley advised the band. What do you think about the hologram, because the company wants to do shows with dead musicians? Do you like that idea?
Vannucci: Well, somebody was asking me if I could get advice. We were talking about in the past, have we gotten advice from musicians or people we look up to. They didn’t have to be alive still; I thought it would be fun to get some advice from The King. I don't know, I love Elvis. Holograms? I don't know. I don't know if you’d get much good advice from a hologram.
Here’s a question for Werner. In what ways will directing tonight’s performance differ from your time spent behind the camera directing films for the big screen? Any expected challenges?
Herzog: It’s all a challenge. I’ve never done it before. I warned the band, by the way, I believe that all the other shows that were done in this Unstaged of American Express were with directors who hadn’t done it before. I mean, the Internet is exploding and it’s going fast, and I tried to respond to what is out there. And it doesn’t matter whether I do something for a narrative film structure or a documentary, this is a very specific challenge I am jumping in to. And I know with the band out there, I can jump out the window and I don't care if there is rock bottom down there or soft water, I’ll just jump with them. And it’s going to be fine.
How do you guys feel about the nomination for Best Rock Artist at the 2012 MTV Europe Music Awards?
Flowers: Feels good. We just found out about that just now. We didn’t know about that.
We’ve been to two EMAs. Right, two? We played in Denmark and we played in Liverpool. And, I don't know, it’s been fun. They're really accommodating and it’s been really fun. It’s always fun to go to those things.
Is it harder or easier to make music after all these years and the success you’ve had?
Flowers: It’s harder to make the records, for some reason. We put a certain amount of pressure on ourselves and we have raised the bar as high as we can physically, you know, these four guys together. And so you want to get there again, you want to get over it. And it’s nerve-wracking, the prospect that you might not get there, that your best days are behind you. [He laughs.] It’s possible. So you're just trying to do it.
Knowing that the show’s going to be live-streamed, does that put any additional pressure on the performance?
Flowers: Yeah, quite a bit of pressure. It seems like we’ve been doing a lot of that lately. It’s almost like old-hat already. We just hope everything goes off without a hitch. There's a lot of technology involved, that’s different for us.
Will tonight’s performance foreshadow what fans can expect when you hit the road, including some dates with Tegan and Sara?
Flowers: There are going to be some elements that are going to continue, but we’re still learning these new… We’re only playing a few new songs right now and we still have a few weeks of rehearsals to incorporate this whole record into our live set, because we really want to play these new songs.
What do you hope fans will get out of this live-stream experience? This is for Werner.
Herzog: Well, for me, get something across that is authentic, that is alive, that brings over the excitement, that brings over the character of the band, and also incorporates the world out there. They are not the receiving end alone; they contribute. And it’s a beautiful challenge and I've accepted it. And, of course, there's no post-production.
You have 18 cameras and you have to make an instantaneous decision: Camera 5, Camera 11, Camera 2. So sometimes, of course, there will be mistakes and the mistakes cannot be corrected. So be it. So I can face it and it still will be alive, maybe even that factor that there may be mistakes in it, inevitably are going to come, doesn’t really worry me. And it doesn’t worry me whether there are 500 people out there or 10 million, you just do it.
Can you describe the main concepts of the album “Battle Born”?
Flowers: No, it’s not a concept album. If we answer that, then, yeah.
For more info: The Killers website