Inside the Killers' new album Wonderful Wonderful: 'It's the closest thing we've done to Sam's Town'
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It’s been five years since the Killers last released an album, and nobody’s been more eager to end that drought than the band itself. In late 2015, frontman Brandon Flowers cut short the promotional commitments for his second solo LP, The Desired Effect, to begin work on the group’s follow-up to Battle Born. “I looked at the date and realized, ‘We have to get going on this next thing!’ ” he says.
But choosing to make an album is one thing — actually doing it is another. Drummer Ronnie Vannucci says the band’s fifth effort, Wonderful Wonderful, due in September, “might have been the slowest” to take shape. That’s partly because Flowers, Vannucci, guitarist Dave Keuning, and bassist Mark Stoermer, who formed the band in Las Vegas, live in different states these days. And the foursome also struggled at first with how to keep things fresh without losing their identity — that is, as Vannucci says, “How do we make a rock record and make it honest and true and have passion but make it different?”
They found a guide in producer Jacknife Lee (U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, Taylor Swift’s Red), who worked with them in studios in Vegas and Los Angeles. “We have a lot of similar influences, but he’s also really aware of what’s happening now,” Flowers says. “He’s constantly buying records and applying things to our music that we haven’t done before.” The disco-tinged lead single, “The Man” (out now), was originally written around a Kool & the Gang sample that the band later re-created using old-school techniques. For the dramatic, slow-burning title track, Lee recorded Vannucci drumming along to old hip-hop and funk records with a boom box, then spliced those tracks into the song’s rhythm section. “There was a lot of experimentation,” Vannucci says.
While the band was trying to push their sound forward, they also started looking back. In the fall of 2016, they celebrated the 10th anniversary of their second album, Sam’s Town, with a pair of shows. “Playing those gigs, I realized how cohesive an idea [Sam’s Town] was,” Flowers says. “That reminded us that we really want to make a record here, not just slap a bunch of songs together…. I think we’ve done it again on this album. It’s the closest thing we’ve done to Sam’s Town.”
Lyrically, the new songs grapple with what it means to be a man. “In your head it’s about being tough and bringing home the bacon, but what I’ve come to find is it’s really more about empathy and compassion,” says Flowers, now 36. So on the pulse-spiking “Tyson vs. Douglas,” named for the 1990 boxing match that saw then-champion Mike Tyson lose to Buster Douglas in a shocking upset, Flowers explores what it’s like to watch a hero fall. As the father of three boys, it’s a subject that hits close to home. “Right now,” he says, “to a 9-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 6-year-old at home, I’m Mike Tyson — and I don’t want to go down.”
As the band puts the finishing touches on the album, they’re gearing up for another challenge: learning to play the new songs live for festival dates later this year. Compared with the tricky task of writing an album, it’s one they’re looking forward to. “You make these songs, you work on them, you get them right, and when you go out and do them?” Vannucci says. “It’s a celebration.”
Below, Flowers and Vannucci preview a few songs from Wonderful Wonderful.
“Run for Cover”
The band first wrote this track nine years ago before reworking it for Wonderful Wonderful. “My brother once a year will send it to me,” Flowers says. “He loves it. It’s just a gentle reminder that this song exists, and he wants it to be heard.” The song has evolved significantly since its first incarnation. “It was slower, sweeter, and busier,” Vannucci says. “We had to get rid of the weeds, if you will.”
“Life to Come”
The band started this track with producer Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic, Adele, Beyoncé) before finishing it with Jacknife. “We were obviously familiar with some of the bigger stuff that [Tedder] has done,” Flowers says, “But there’s a song he did with U2 on Songs of Innocence called ‘Every Breaking Wave’ that, to me, was the best song on that record. That was one of the reasons we reached out to Ryan.”
Flowers says the title track has “some of the coolest production on the record.” No idea was too weird or out-of-the-box in Jacknife’s studio. “It looked like a kid’s playroom with Legos everywhere, except instead of Legos it was pedals and wires and a lot of experimentation,” Vannucci says.
Flowers describes the album’s swaggering lead single as something of a response to the more delicate songs on the album, like the moving “Rut” and the dreamy synth-pop number “Some Kind of Love.” “Those songs came and it was like, ‘These are more tender or contemplative than we’ve ever been, how did we get to this point?'” Flowers says. “Reflecting on that was where ‘The Man’ came from.”