Guitarist keen to show off his own personal work: The Killers' Dave Keuning talks ahead of Birmingham show
When Dave Keuning takes to the stage, it’s usually to headline a show in a colossal arena or at the top of the bill on a festival. Not this time.
When the guitarist from American rockers The Killers hits the stage at Birmingham on March 30, it will be in the intimate surrounds of the O2 Academy 2.
There won’t be a fleet of limos waiting for him after the show, nor a jumbo-sized bank transfer after. Keuning is going back to square one to keep it real on his first solo tour.
The 42-year-old musician founded The Killers with lead singer Brandon Flowers back in 2001, so knows what it is to build a band from the floorboards up. And he’s looking forward to getting his hands dirty as he travels around the UK.
The star is currently on a hiatus from The Killers, having released his solo album, Prismism, under his surname Keuning.
And he’ll be playing just eight dates – including his Birmingham show – on his latest visit to the UK.
Prismism, is a collection of 14 tracks – with all the instruments, save some drum parts, played by Keuning himself – which, like the title says, sees things from all sides, focusing on details without missing the big picture. The album examines our basic relationships and interactions, with family, friends and co-workers, how one can feel trapped by their surroundings, as well as those that rely on them, emotionally and/or professionally. It was inspired by the very thing that brought him here in the first place – the music.
Keuning said: “I’ve had a lot of ideas for five, six, seven years and longer. I think I started doing the song ideas seriously in 2017 then I really just wanted them to be finished, I wanted them to become songs rather than ideas that might not be used. So I started doing it seriously and became really inspired. I just kept going and the album sort of came together. Sometimes you just have to finish the songs – and that’s what I did.”
Prismism marks a departure from Keuning’s usual work with The Killers. And it’s earned him rave reviews.
NME wrote: “Encompassing ‘80s-steeped synth-pop, desert rock, electro-Strokes dynamism and melodic laptop experiments, The Killers guitarist’s solo venture is a triumph.”
The Evening Standard added: “A feel good selection of synth-heavy rock ‘n’ roll.”
He’s relished the opportunity to spread his wings and create new music without having to run it past bandmates – even though that’s a process that he doesn’t begrudge.
“Well, with The Killers, every album is slightly different from the next. So I think for me, I just went into the head space of doing this in my home studio and playing whatever I wanted to do, whatever keyboard sound I wanted and I just did. It was nice for once to be in a position to make all the decisions. It was mostly me making the record, 90 per cent of the time. I welcomed that. It was time for me to do it. It was a healthy thing for me to do.
“I’m very pleased with the reaction I’ve got from the people who have heard it. The hardest part is getting the word out there that I’m doing this at all, let alone getting people listen to it. The people who’ve listened to it have been pleasantly surprised. I’ve got good record reviews too. I’m just so happy that the small group of people who’ve heard it like it.”
Ah yes. When Keuning releases a Killers record, the big machinery kicks in. Marketing budgets are huge, press campaigns are orchestrated, TV companies fawn and everyone from Bogota to Berlin is drowned in the sounds of Killers. The same doesn’t happen for his own work. Keuning has to go back to basics, hitting the road to duke it out with other up-and-coming acts.
“It’s like starting over, pretty much. The band will say ‘you know you’re in The Killers and you have a head start’. And I sort of have a small head start. But I know that it will take years for some people to find out. It took a long time for people to find out about The Killers. Sometimes it takes people a while. But I’m down with that.”
Time is something The Killers needed, after all, when they began their ascent. Hailing from Las Vegas, Flowers recruited Keuning, a then-25-year-old guitarist who had moved to Vegas from Iowa, by placing an ad in a local paper. They bonded over similar musical influences and immediately began writing songs together in Keuning’s apartment. In November 2001, they headed to Kill The Messenger Studio in Henderson, Nevada, along with recently recruited drummer Matt Norcross to begin recording a demo; they recorded two tracks: Mr. Brightside, which was the first song Flowers and Keuning wrote together, and Desperate.
Keuning and Flowers played their first live show together at an open mic night at the Cafe Espresso Roma in Las Vegas in January 2002; the pair, joined by Neal and Norcross, began playing venues around the city where they would also hand out free copies of their demo.
“Yeah, The Killers definitely enjoyed the small rooms back then – but I enjoy the big ones too, the festivals and the stadiums. I cherish those moments. This project is fun for me just because I’ve done a handful of shows, I’ve done a short USA tour, and I can’t believe I’m doing it.
“This was an idea that I thought would be fun. I had to bring it to England because there’s lots of places I want to get to. So even though it’s expensive and complicated, I had to bring it to England. I really hope people have a good time when they come to the shows. I guess I’m lucky because the UK fans have always been amazing. We went to England first with the band in late 2003 early 2004. We were in England nearly every month for about nine months for a show or a whole tour back then and the British fans understood the music quicker than the ones from America.
“They were more interested in the music, period, than America. It’s just a choice they make. I don’t know why. In England, it’s a culture thing. People still want to check out new bands.” And Keuning is hoping that his new band is one that they’ll check out.