writer, musician and author of The Killers: Destiny Is Calling Me
Back in the day, Jarret Keene found himself teaching part-time at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It was in one of his classes that he would meet Michael Valentine; through Valentine, he would meet Ronnie Vannucci, the future drummer of The Killers. They joined together to create a band, Romance Fantasy, which would later dissolve. Keene and Vannucci would play together in another band, before Ronnie decided to take his place as the Killers’ drummer.
With their recent success with their follow-up album, Sam’s Town, the Killers are one of the hottest rock bands out there. I had the chance to talk with Keene and ask him what was his motivation for writing the book.
First of all, I have to ask. Why write a tell-all book on the band?
I’ve seen them perform in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace, playing in front of people from Microsoft and Bill Gates; I had seen them play in transexual night clubs. So I said to myself “That’s quite a story” It’s quite a rollercoaster. Someone has to tell the story from point A to point B. I figured I have the insight… it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Their story can inspire people. Theirs is a success story based on drive and determination.
I read in the book that you used to play in a band with the drummer, Ronnie, correct?
Yes, I played in two bands with Ronnie. I’m really just blown away by their success.
Would you say that their story is a “rags-to-riches” kinds of story?
Well, I mean maybe. It would be more like scarves-to-Chanel kind of story [laughs]. They’ve always had good taste.
What do you think about the new album, Sam’s Town ?
The new record is straight up rock. You can hear some of their influences — the Boss, Queen, a little Bowie. The band have changed their sound and look. They’re a kind of band like U2. They strive for a different sound with each album.
Hot Fuss was a bit more dance. They might lose a few fans with the new approach, but who knows? They might come back. It’s exciting to experiment with different sounds and fashions.
Where did you find all the information for the book? Who did you talk to?
It was somewhat impossible to find some dirt on them — it was hard to find something juicy. No one said any bad things about them. I did talk to their ex-manager on the phone.
You also use some quote from Las Vegas “scensters.” How did you find them for the information?
Back then, the scene was nothing. It was definitely smaller than Orlando [Florida]. The last big band to take off was back in the ’80s. That’s a long time. Now, with the Killers’ success, we also have bands like Panic! At The Disco and two bands that recently signed to Epitaph Records.
It’s incredible to watch. With such a small scene, the people around here were eager to talk about it, in a way to kind of make sure the whole thing isn’t a dream.
In the last chapter of the book, you mention the controversy between Brandon and The Bravery. You also briefly mention about Pete Wentz, but you say that Brandon avoided the situation. The two did argue though with one another recently, though (after the book went to publication). What are your thoughts on that?
You know… some journalists know how tempting it is, and how some are ready to lash out at their rivals. Honestly, I wonder if its pre-meditated to keep the Killers in the headlines. Brandon is a sweet guy. If you were to see him somewhere in Vegas, he’s very approachable. I really suspect it’s to keep the band in the headlines. There’s a good chance it’s pre-meditated.
Do you think that those arguments with bands like the Bravery, Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco could have lost some fans for the Killers?
It could have hurt with some younger fans. I remember when I was younger, the argument between Morrissey and Robert Smith of the Cure. Honestly, I don’t see Panic! At The Disco fans comparing Brandon to Lucifer. I don’t see the whole rivalry thing hurting the band; in fact, I can see it selling more records.
Panic! At The Disco are another band to make it big out of Vegas. Do you think that could be reason for the rivalry?
You know, Panic! At The Disco never played a live show in Vegas before they were signed, which is completely unheard of. It’s the new Myspace phenomenon. In my opinion, the Killers are more known. Their tunes are more accessible. You can hear their music blasting out of a soccer mom’s minivan. Panic! At the Disco’s music — not so much. Honestly, if you put on bands like Panic! At The Disco, My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy — for me, they’re hard to tell one from the other.
You mentioned the band’s determination and how they were the first Vegas band to make it since the ’80s. Why do you think they were the ones to break out and not some other band?
Their whole story is inspirational. The fact that they broke into UNLA to practice just shows their determination. Maybe they have a bit more ego; they played it smarter than others. They had offers from labels, but Brandon wasn’t going to let some record company mutilate the band. That’s why they waited for the right record deal. The record companies kept hearing about the band and the labels kept coming back to check them out.
You had mentioned in the book that there were other Vegas bands who had been picked up by various record labels, but later were silently dropped…Why do you think that was?
I think it’s because other bands allowed the record companies to tamper with them. When the record company formula didn’t work and albums weren’t selling, they were dropped. With the Killers, they stuck with it and made their impression.
So you know the band… how did they feel about you writing a book like this on them?
They weren’t happy with it… I think because they couldn’t control it. You know, like I said before, Brandon is a sweetheart. He’ll sign whatever body part fans want, but you don’t mess with their music. They can’t control what the press writes about their albums. With this book, I attempted to capture those magical years before they hit it big.
What’s the Vegas scene like now?
The scene is a lot better. I mentioned that two bands were recently picked up by Epitaph — they’re young. It’s only a matter of time. Panic! At The Disco transformed the way bands do things. Some bands around here are still trying to make music that sounds like Papa Roach, but overall it’s becoming a bit more like New York, L.A. and Seattle.
You mention about how Panic! changed the way some bands do things, regarding the internet. How has that affected the Killers?
They’re riding the crest of the Myspace wave. If you type in Brandon’s name, there’s like 1,000 pages devoted to him — it’s obscene. [Laughs.] Myspace is going to be crucial to them for at least the next five years. It’s transformed everything.
Have the band members read your book?
Ronnie told me point blank that he didn’t have the time to read it. It’s totally understandable. I mean, they’re shooting videos with Tim Burton, touring, etc. I’m sure their lawyer read it though. Since the book was published, I’ve been in the same room with them, but we haven’t talked about it.
Why should people pick up this book and read it?
It illuminates a lot of the myths. They’ve been an inspiration from the beginning. Even the best bands have problems. If anything, their story shows that with perseverance, a band can be a great band. It’s very inspirational.
What’s next for you?
I have a burning desire to write about the forgotten shows of the Strip. So many shows open there and are just shut down. Hundreds of the shows are just forgotten. I want to research these shows, find out what was involved and hopefully be able to explain what happened to them.
Thanks so much for your time, Jarret!
If you’re ever in Vegas, call me. I’ll be sure to get you into trouble (laughs).
Jarret Keene: www.jarretkeene.com