January 23, 2019 Interview – Dave Keuning of The Killers
British Writer and Lay Theologian C. S. Lewis once said, “You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” Growing up in Iowa, as an aspiring guitarist, Dave Keuning dreamt of being in a band. Relocating to Las Vegas in his twenties, he would go on to do just that, co-founding The Killers with Brandon Flowers. A bold check on his bucket list, little did he know that The Killers would become one of the biggest Rock bands of the 21st century selling chart-topping albums and touring the world over to play massive arenas. Accomplishments to be extremely proud of, the endless grind of it all can wear on a person, and as a result, hinder other aspirations such as a home life with family, or even other musical interests.
Compiling a mountain of song ideas over the past two decades a part of The Killers, Keuning made the bold move to step away from touring with the band in order to find a new balance in his life. Still a part of the band, though not currently on the road with them, Keuning has used his time away wisely, completely his debut solo album, Prismism, due out on January 25th. An exciting new endeavor, and a clean slate of potential, the musician recently sat down to chat about the non-stop roller coaster ride of being in The Killers, his decision to finally put out a solo record, plans for the future, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – Involved in music professionally for nearly 2 decades, you have attained a great deal of success a part of The Killers with chart-topping and multi-platinum records. First, briefly tell us, how would you describe your musical journey to this point?
Dave Keuning – It’s been a long road. Because I had a hard time finding a band to stick in Iowa, I moved to Vegas and eventually I met Brandon Flowers. I spent 2 years getting The Killers going, got that record deal, and then the next 7 years of my life were really busy. The first 3 albums of The Killers was touring, recording, touring, recording. They call it ‘the machine’ where it never stops – touring, the recording, promotion, then more touring, then more recording. We did that for 3 albums, then I got a brief break after Day & Age (2008), then did Battle Born (2012), and it was the same thing.
I wouldn’t trade any of that, because there was a lot of great memories. It was a life encompassing solid 7-8 years. I think that’s why I didn’t tour on the last Killers record, because I wasn’t ready to be gone for 1-2 years again. Which leads me to where I’m at now, I used that free time to finally make my own record; something I’ve been thinking about doing for probably over 20 years. I had the time to do it, I’m not getting any younger, so I said, “Well, it’s now or never, let’s do it!” I had all these ideas sitting around that were not getting used. I can confidentially say if I didn’t make this record they would never see the light of day on any other record probably. It meant a lot to me to make this record, I am glad I was finally able to get it out.
Cryptic Rock – It certainly sounds like it has been a very long journey to this point. As you mentioned, you have taken a hiatus from touring with The Killers, but put the time away to go use, preparing to release your debut solo record, Prismism, on Friday, January 25th. A really strong collection of songs, what the writing and recording process like?
Dave Keuning – I had a lot of extra voice memos, so I had to sort through those, just to see if there was any hidden treasures in there or things worth working on. There was some stuff worth working on, but there were ideas that weren’t as obviously great to me, but I worked on them until they turned into something I liked. There wasn’t ever a day that I didn’t have something I could work on – I had a lot of unused old ideas, and I also wrote new ones as well.
I spent a lot of time on keyboard, guitar, or acoustic guitar. Usually, if I am jamming on electric guitar, it will steer the direction of the song a different way then if I’m messing around on keyboard. I might usually find a cool sound I didn’t know about on keyboard and will start hearing chords I want to play and build vocals from there.
Cryptic Rock – Interesting. A lot of these songs could very well be imagined as Killers’ material, but you said you believe they would have never seen the light of day.
Dave Keuning – I don’t think so. They could have fit in, but I just know how the last few records have gone and there is usually a lot to pick from. I’m not going to say, “My ideas should have been on this record or on the next record.” Frankly, it’s just uncomfortable when there are 50 songs. If my songs don’t make it, I’m not going to argue, that’s uncomfortable. Occasionally I did if it was something I really liked though. In all honestly, I respect that there are other guys in the band that have their opinions, and their own songs. I liked some of the other songs that weren’t mine too. It’s not all about fighting for your own songs, there were a lot of songs that Brandon wrote, that I liked, that also didn’t make the record.
It’s just kind of harder for them to make the cut. I kind of know what songs they are looking for. My acoustic songs would not be on there for sure. My keyboard songs would not be on there. It is difficult and I just know. I feel like I could have done this 10 years ago and would have 4 albums out by now because of what you and a lot of people are thinking – “Why didn’t you just do this on The Killers record?” I had that thought process for about 10 years where I would think, “I will try and get my ideas on the next Killers record, and the next Killers record.” There were just too many ideas piling up.
I have plenty of unused ideas for the next Killers record if we need them. I can’t wait until I’m 60 and go, “Alright, you’re not going to use this, I guess I’ll use it now.” I can’t do that.
Cryptic Rock – Understandable from various points of views, especially artistically. Seeing you have amassed so many song ideas over the years, is there enough material still lingering for a potential second solo record in a year or 2?
Dave Keuning – To be honest, I would like to put out 6 solo records in a year if I could, but it’s not designed that way. If you put out too much, people kind of tune it out. I’ve got dozens of acoustic songs I would love to finish. I have hundreds of voice memos I would like to get to, so I have more than enough for another record.
I have started working on demos, I sent some to The Killers to see if anything sticks, and I will continue to do that. In the meantime, I will just keep working, and when the time comes, I look forward to another record.
Now that I’ve crossed this bridge, put out one album, and made the decision to sing, that is probably stopping me to putting out records sooner, because I didn’t want to sing. Now that I’ve done that, I will probably continue to put out solo records for a long time.
Cryptic Rock – That is great to hear. Considering you have devoted so much of your life and time to The Killers, you were working with a band. Working with a band is a different dynamic then working solo. When you first approached it, was it a scary proposition for you? Or did you think you were ready to do this?
Dave Keuning – It’s different. I wasn’t intimidated, it felt very comfortable. I knew being it was my first album, I wanted it to be good. I felt pretty good about the material, and more than anything, I was just having fun. I think with all the analyzation of why I’m doing it and all this stuff, what gets lost is that I’m just having a lot of fun doing this. I enjoy having the freedom to play keyboards, play whatever style I want, and I’m at home playing every instrument. It’s fun for me.
Cryptic Rock – Enjoying yourself is the most important thing, everything else follows. With this record pending release, you have some tour dates lined up as well. What can those coming out expect from these shows?
Dave Keuning – I’ll have a lot of fun, I try and play with a lot of energy. I don’t like seeing a band just stand there, I like to have fun. Just like with recording, live for me is just a party. I’m just there to have fun and hopefully the audience will have fun for one evening if they sacrificed a couple of hours for me.
Cryptic Rock – It should be a great time, especially with your new music. As we have been talking about, you have devoted a lot of time to The Killers, especially on the road away from your family, etc. That in mind, what would you say are some of the most important things you have learned from life on the road?
Dave Keuning – I think the most important lesson is finding a balance you can live with. Some people have to do certain things for money because they have to support their family. Other people make decisions because they want to be happy, and they make less money. That’s different for every person. I’m not going to tell other people how they should live their life, because everyone’s comfortable with a different balance. For me, I needed more balance. It’s such an all or nothing thing – you are either touring for a 1 1/2 years or you’re not touring at all. I felt, I can’t commit to a 1 1/2 to 2 years. That’s not a short amount of time, that’s a long time, and I’ve done it 4 other times.
This side project allows me to set my own schedule. A lot smaller crowds, because I’m starting over with it basically. It’s important to find a balance in your life and do what makes you happy.
Cryptic Rock – There is no question finding balance is essential. At this stage in your career, where you have very much established yourself, it is a new challenge for you.
Dave Keuning – It’s definitely a challenge. It’s humbling playing small places again, even though it’s still fun for me. It’s not a stadium or arena, so it’s starting over for sure. Let’s face it, a lot of people aren’t going to know what Keuning is just by looking at the band name. That’s the most challenging part, to get the name out there so people go, “Oh it’s that guy.” If they don’t like me, that’s fine, but at least if they know what it is, then they can choose. That’s the most challenging thing, to launch something that most people aren’t even aware of.
Cryptic Rock – Right, that is a challenge because people recognize you as a member of The Killers. All that said, you have unique qualities to your style such as your guitar playing and even what you have showed with some of your backing vocals through the years on The Killers records.
Dave Keuning – I appreciate you noticing all those things. I think, in the solo project, I’m excited to have a little more freedom on guitar and so forth.
Cryptic Rock – Seeing that your guitar style is very unique, what were some of your influences growing up?
Dave Keuning – The first giant musical inspiration was Michael Jackson. I was the kid who didn’t like music class, then Michael Jackson came around with “Beat It” and “Thriller,” I was blown away. I thought, “I want to do that.” I really did, I wanted to play those songs and be that big – those were my pipe dreams at the time.
A few years later, I discovered guitar, and that was my true calling. By that time, I was probably 14 years old and into bands such as AC/DC, Metallica, The Rolling Stones, and the Beatles as well. I was definitely into heavier music that drove me to want to learn guitar.
I spent all day trying to figure out songs and riffs. I knew from right then all I wanted to do was be in a band and play guitar. The singing thing came way later. (Laughs) I said, “The only way these songs are ever going to get done is if I sing on them, so okay, I’ll sing.” I’m not as good as Michael Jackson, but I’ll give it a shot.
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Not many are as good. You have to follow your dreams. When you get caught in the machine of touring and recording through the years, you do not have much time to stop and think about it. Although, if you do stop and think, you are getting to live your childhood dreams.
Dave Keuning – That’s exactly what it is. I’m still just having fun with it. I would have been happy with any outcome with the solo album, I just wanted it to be made first and foremost. I just wanted to do it.
Cryptic Rock – And it is! Last question. Beyond music we also cover films, particularly in Horror and Sci-Fi. If you enjoy those genres, do you have any favorites?
Dave Keuning – Of course, I’m a big fan of both genres! I think my favorite might be in Horror, there are a few of them. My favorite Horror film for sure is Misery (1990). I love The Conjuring movies, those are maybe some of the scariest movies I’ve seen in a while. The Exorcist (1973) is maybe the scariest. It’s not my favorite, but the first film never scared me more than in any other time in my entire life. It was a movie I rented behind my parents back. I was around 16 and went to the video store to rent it. I miss video stores! You walk around and see crazy stuff that you wouldn’t normally see. You are not going to run into this stuff on Netflix that you would see at the video store, like Faces of Death (1978) – which I never rented, and I’m glad I didn’t.
I remember finally renting The Exorcist, because I walked by it 100 times. I watched it at around midnight when my parents were asleep. I watched it in my cold basement in Iowa and I was terrified! I could not move. I watched it in a basement that looked like a Horror film already. (Laughs) I was just petrified. That’s my story of the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.
As far as Sci-Fi, of course Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) will always probably be my favorite movie of all time. I liked Contact (1997) quite a bit too.
Cryptic Rock – Good selections. The Exorcist really sticks with you.
Dave Keuning – Yes, I don’t even know if they knew how well of a job they were doing. It really hits you psychologically if you let it. It shakes you to your core.