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

Rhythm - - CONTENTS - Words: David West

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 cham­ber­lain

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!

DAVID WEST

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.”

Why there?

“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.”

pho­tos: joby ses­sions

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