Photo by Dana Trippe
If you want to start a rock band, place an ad. The group you form as a result could go on to sell more than 16 million albums worldwide. At least, that was the case for Dave Keuning. The Killers guitarist and co-founder's career has recently opened a new chapter, a solo project simply called Keuning, after 17 years with the Las Vegas band. Those nearly-two decades started with an unfinished demo.
Keuning’s then-incomplete composition, “Mr. Brightside,” was finished with the help of Brandon Flowers, singer, after he responded to Keuning’s ad in 2001. Mark Stoermer, bassist, and Ronnie Vannuci Jr., drummer, would eventually put their imprints on the song, joining the Killers a year later.
The song, which started out as a demo by a man without a band, would go double-platinum, and would launch a group that became one of the most important American rock acts of the 21st century.
After five albums with the Killers (of which he’s still a member, but was not present for the last tour), the Iowa native has announced his first solo record, “Prismism,” releasing on Jan. 25 and currently available for pre-order through PledgeMusic.
Ben Province: From the way it’s being described, it seems important to you that you left the meaning of the new album open for interpretation. Why was that?
Dave Keuning: All lyrics can be interpreted many different ways, mine are certainly no
different. I wouldn't want to ruin one person's take on what the song means to them.
BP: There’s a long history of members of huge bands playing nearly all the instruments on their first solo record: Paul McCartney on “McCartney” and Dave Grohl on the first Foo Fighters album, to name two. That’s what you’ve done here. Does tracking the songs mainly yourself help give you a more personal connection to them?
DK: Yeah, I suppose it does. It was fun to do, but it was mostly about convenience, first and foremost. I was around and no one else was, but I also enjoyed playing instruments I wasn't able to in the past.
BP: The lead single, “Restless Legs,” sounds great, but I read that you were unsure if you wanted to sing on these songs. Why the hesitation?
DK: Singing was a big step for me. I had sung backing vocals in the Killers before, so I had some experience. I am a shy person by nature. Way back in my high school days, I sang one song at one show with my high school band I was in, and I remember being heckled in Iowa. That set back my confidence for a long time. But now I am singing, because these are my songs, and I have more control over the direction of the song and vocal melody and everything that goes with it.
BP: The 14-track album is described as having a theme, despite being written over the course of about a decade. Did you set out to make a concept album?
DK: No, I wouldn't say I set out to make a concept album. If that is what people perceive, [then] that's a happy accident. I had no idea what to write about lyrically, and what's on the record was whatever I was feeling at the time. Musically, I wanted it to be diverse. All my favorite bands are diverse.
BP: How do you determine whether a song is a Keuning track as opposed to something you would do with the Killers?
DK: Some of the ideas were leftovers from Killers albums that were not used, others wouldn't fit on a Killers record. These days, we are all [into] different things.
BP: You're the last member of the band to release a solo album, so it's not unusual for members to take a hiatus from the group. Can you compare the process of doing a record like this, in your own home studio, to recording a Killers record?
DK: I had total freedom on this record to do whatever I wanted. I was at home with all my guitars, keyboards and pedals. Some of it was just me messing around and experimenting with no pressure. I had control over the fate of every song, which is something I only had in a solo project.
BP: There’s also a new Killers album in the works. What can you tell me about that?
DK: It's in the most, very early stages. I am sending some of my demos and we will see if anything sticks. It's way too early for me to predict how involved I will be or what it will sound like.
BP: I think it's inspiring to a band just starting out to know that “Mr. Brightside” started out like any other aspiring songwriter’s demo, but became an enduring smash hit. Looking back, could you have imagined where that song would lead?
DK: I imagined, yes, and dreamed about it being a huge success, but I could never predict it would be what it still is today.
BP: And, finally, there are a lot of incentives for those pre-ordering "Prismism" through PledgeMusic. Is there one you're most excited about?
DK: I will be relieved when people have a chance to hear the whole album, because I don't think there is one song that really represents the album.
For more, visit Keuning's website and follow him on Instagram. And listen to the title track, which premiered today on Billboard.com.
This interview was conducted by email and has been edited for style.