This month’s experts RICHARD MACE Y
How do you follow a sold-out show in Hyde Park? By chatting to Rhythm! Ronnie Vannucci Jr lifts the lid on the return of The Killers and recording their mighty new album Wonderful Wonderful in a Las Vegas record shop
Drumming nut Richard headed up the London Drum Show 2017 team, with staunch support from James Folkard and Alex Druce. These guys have been brilliant and Rhythm would like to thank them all for their hard work and unyielding determination to make it work. So let’s hear it for the real stars of LDS!
Rich was busy this month gathering the wise words of the London Drum Show’s brilliant artist line-up, and you can find out what Jimmy Chamberlin, Aaron Spears, Andy Gangadeen, Anika Nilles, Mike Clark, Jim Riley, Mel Gaynor, Kaz Rodriguez and more had to tell him from page 32 this issue!
Another busy month for Rhythm writer David who met and interviewed drum legend Clem Burke, back with a new Blondie album Pollinator (page 48), and spoke to another Rhythm favourite, Ronnie Vannucci – who tells us all about his approach on The Killers’ latest album
It’s the week after The Killers headlined a sold-out show in Hyde Park when Rhythm catches up with Ronnie Vannucci. The band are poised to release their fifth studio album, WonderfulWonderful, after a lengthy hiatus (its predecessor, Battle
Born, came out in 2012) but as the sea of people who flooded into Hyde Park bears ample testimony, they’re back with a bang.
“Oh man, it was crazy,” says Vannucci on the rapturously loud reception they received in London. “That was surprising to us. You never know, when you’ve been gone for a few years and you come back. Do people still care, or have they forgotten about you? We don’t get too high and mighty, too sure of ourselves.”
But Vannucci hasn’t been inactive while The Killers were on their break. He returned to his solo project, Big Talk, for their second album StraightIn
NoKissin’ in 2015. That said, he’s clearly pumped to return to action with The Killers and their new album sees the band join forces with producer Jacknife Lee, who’s worked with some of the biggest rock bands in the world, from U2 to REM, and pop stars Taylor Swift and One Direction.
“Yeah, of course, we need breaks too, it’s fine,” he says about getting the gang back together, “but I don’t know if I need a two-year break. Take a year off, that’s great. That’s enough time, I could finish my Master’s degree in less time, so it feels good to be back.”
Playing a show on the scale of Hyde Park, how fast is your adrenaline racing?
“Yeah, it’s a tricky thing, trying to funnel that adrenaline or fear into focused energy, rather than something that overtakes your body. I’ve been trying to do that over the years.”
Do you adjust your stage production for such a huge crowd?
“A little bit. We try not to do too many gags and things like that but we do want to make it a show. People are paying a lot of money to come and see the band, let’s give them something. Let’s create a universe for them to step into for a couple of hours and really deliver.”
Are they all big shows with The Killers? You’re not doing club gigs anymore?
“We still do some from time to time, like in Japan. We’re not very big there. Last time we went to Japan it was awesome, it was so good, we had a mosh pit, it was crazy, the kids went nuts, man. So who knows, maybe when we go back we’ll play a bigger place.”
With five years between Killers’ albums, what have you been doing?
“That was so weird. We toured BattleBorn for a couple of years – it ended up being about two years, so that puts you at 2014/2015. People wanted a break. Mark [Stoermer, bass] and Dave [Keuning, guitar] enjoy their time off. If it were up to me and Brandon [Flowers, vocals] we’d just make another Killers record but people needed time away, so we got involved in some side project action. Did a little touring, that takes time, right? I remember, it was October 2015, me and Brandon were talking, ‘I could do another run of touring, or we can start writing.’ That was right when I was in an early stage with the Big Talk record. As fun as that is to tour, it’s kind of a pain in the ass. Everybody that was in Big Talk at the time has other bands, it was hard to book a tour... so, let’s start a new record. That’s when we started scheduling some writing time, playing together and doing demos.”
How does the band write? Sending ideas back and forth via email? Jamming together?
“It’s all of it. ‘Hey, I have this idea, what about this?’ Some of it is extemporaneous, just like, ‘Oh, play that again!’ Somebody will play something and back home in the studio everything is miked up and then we’ll record it and maybe listen to stuff the next day, cut out little parts that we think are kernels for song ideas. It jumps off from that point.”
How did you work with Jacknife Lee?
“Before we got into bed with Jacknife we did this speed dating thing with producers, just to try them out and found that a lot of these guys were really good at their corner of expertise, whereas Jacknife got more of the big picture and more of a holistic approach. And he was the most familiar with the band. One of the things that really got me excited was he said, ‘I still believe in rock’n’roll.’ At the same time, he was not under any illusions. Rock’n’roll in the traditional sense is very alive, but he knew as well as we did that a four-piece rock’n’roll band has to do something a little different in 2017. Not everybody can have the luxury of doing the same-same, like AC/DC who are awesome, but we’re not like that. We like to stretch and experiment a little bit, we find that works for us and pleases us. He also had this attraction, this boundless energy that was magnetic, it certainly made me want to experiment more, so there was a lot of trying things out and that was exciting to work with the studio in that way. I got into it a little bit working with the solo records because you do most of the stuff yourself, you’re in the lab tweaking stuff, you can’t help but be like, ‘Oh, what does this button do?’ I was in tweaky mode already so that was fun for me as well.”
Where were you working?
“We started at our place, we have a recording studio, but then we would go to Jacknife’s place in Topanga Canyon, which is basically a converted guest house. A lot of the drums were cut there, though we did the majority of the studio work, guitars and some drums, at this place called 11th Street Records, which is a record store in downtown Vegas with a recording studio in the back, like Sun Records.”
“We needed a change. We needed to get out of our place and Jacknife’s studio was at the top of a windy-ass hill in Topanga outside LA. You needed to rest after going to his place, it was so winding. I remember taking my dog up there and he threw up it was so long.”
What did you track to?
“Sometimes it was live. ‘Rut’ was tracked live. Sometimes it was playing to loops or a rough track. I’d do rough drums, then we’d layer the song over it and I’d re-do the drums with sounds that were more appropriate because we’re changing everything, changing guitar sounds and keyboards and also this drumset isn’t working with these sounds, so we’d re-do and change parts.”
Were you going for full takes?
“Some of it was piece by piece but most of it was full takes because some of the songs were meant to be set in stone, but there is a difference between being rigid and having a loop and playing the same things. Jacknife was insistent that he wanted to get a performance on a lot of these songs. I remember having a bit of a p**sing match with him at one point where he said, ‘No, it’s just not sounding right.’ I said, ‘What’s not right about it?’ He goes, ‘The notes are right, but you’re playing it like you hate it.’ It was a five-minute conversation but the gist of it was, ‘Follow the mood of the song and play it like you
”Not everybody can have the luxury of doing the same-same, like AC/DC who are awesome, but we’re not like that. We like to stretch and experiment”
love it, like you’re giving a performance.’ So it was a really cool learning experience to be able to grasp his conception of what he needed. I remember I hated playing ‘Life To Come’. We tried so many clever beats and heavy beats and at the same time we were like, ‘This song is not working. I don’t know what it is.’ We talked about what it needed but not like, ‘It needs a ‘2’ and a 4’‘ then add a ‘3’ here.’ It wasn’t like that. We were conceptually talking about it. One take, that’s what you hear, we got the performance. There was another one that was similar, ‘Run For Cover’, he was trying to explain to me that I wasn’t selling it. A lot of cool, ‘Ah ha, of course, it’s like that’ moments. He’s a smart guy.”
Do you have to keep your ego in check? Given your success, you could say, ‘Screw you, I’m Ronnie Vannucci!’
“I never take that approach. I try not to get up my own ass with that type of stuff. It doesn’t make you better. I want to be better, I need to be better. I hear myself playing, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, so I don’t ever get off on that thing, because that’s how you grow. I’m guilty of being opinionated about how songs form, how to write and things like that but I never get all up on my drumming. I’ve always liked songs and there are so many different types of songs and so many ways to be expressive with your instrument. That is just a well that you can
”I want to be better, I need to be better. I hear myself playing, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done…”
keep diving down further and further into. There are so many mountains I want to climb to figure that out. There’s still a lot in rock’n’roll and pop music that you can do to keep it interesting. The approach is situational and it’s based on the song, trying to find the best vehicle for the song. I don’t mind using drum machines and making the drums sound like a machine. One of my favourite things to do is to blend Simmons drums with the snare. ‘The Man’ has a lot of Simmons on it.”
That one has a Daft Punk, disco feel going on...
“Yeah. That was a great one to make, just born out of complete fun. It was the second to the last, the penultimate song that we recorded. That came at the end of the day from a recording session in Jacknife’s place. It wasn’t uncommon for us to track some stuff and then hit the record player. He has a huge record collection in this big-ass room, we’re just pulling records out to put on. He had some really crazy albums. There was one record made by pirates from the horn of Africa who stole a bunch of synthesisers and made aboriginal music with them in the ’70s. There are a lot of crazy sounds on our record and that’s basically taking a record and we’d make loops, playing it backwards, or slowing it down or speeding it up. Jacknife said he’d made a loop from this record, I didn’t know it was Kool And The Gang at the time, and that was how ‘The Man’ formed. I played to that loop and in my mind, it was just fun... dancey. He added some Fender Rhodes; a couple of days later we showed it to the dudes, the band loved it. We were working on the first version of ‘The Man’, which was more of a stomp and Brandon took that lyric and those ideas and put them to this new thing. Mark took it home for a week and worked on the chorus and made it into what you hear.”
Is it still important to make albums?
“I don’t think a collection or a body of work as an idea is going to go anywhere. I don’t think that’s going to die. I think people are just trying to adapt to a very interim landscape, very contemporary, everchanging landscape. I know that the idea has been floated around where there are some artists who are only going to release singles now but, in my mind, it’s a temporary thing and it’s situational to what kind of music you play. I don’t think the body of work is going to be for every kind of music. In the hip-hop world, for example, it’s not: ‘This is my hip-hop record.’ It’s: ‘This is my hip-hop jam, this is my track.’ I can see how that makes more sense but I also really honestly believe that rock’n’roll isn’t going anywhere. Show me a hip-hop band that’s 30 years old or even 20 years old or 10 years old that’s still playing shows. It’s very flash in the pan. Had a great song, played some shows, that’s it. I also think an artist, a guy who takes pictures or paints, isn’t going to have a gallery with one painting. ‘Everybody look, it took me 10 years to do that. Nothing else, just that one thing.’ No, they’re going to have a collection of things. The gallery is not going to go anywhere. It’s situational and I think the idea of having a singles-based market or trajectory, that’s just a function of where we’re at.”
Is there a process of figuring out how to perform the new material live?
“Yeah. Some songs are easy but some are a little bit
more challenging. This has definitely been a record where we’ve used the studio more as a tool and had more fun with that space, whereas before, it was pretty standard, get in there, everybody is talking on the headphones. With this experience, not everybody was able to make the sessions all the time. It would be more piecemeal, so just by that nature we had more fun with it, we did things that were unconventional to us. I know that’s a very modern way of making a record, that’s how most people do it actually. ‘Okay, bring the drummer in now, it’s his turn.’ This record is slightly more conceptual this time around. We are interested in playing every single song off this record live. It’s more cohesive, it’s bound together more. There’s a common thread. But we’ll see what really happens.”
Will the songs from Wonderful Wonderful evolve as you play them on tour?
“Yes, absolutely. We saw Depeche Mode in Bilbao, Spain, on a night off. They played the night before us at this festival and you know that song ‘Everything Counts’, it was like a nine-minute jam, every part was good and it became a party. I want to do that. We don’t need to play every track exactly how it is on the record. If people want that, well just go out and buy the record. You get ideas while you’re out on the road that you can fit into the live scenario. Sometimes, it can be as simple as speeding a song up or changing a key so it works well with the song before it or after it. Earlier I was talking about bringing people into this new universe, well, that’s one of the things that really helps to create that.”