Three minutes and 10 seconds in, there it is, Dave Keuning’s Eddie Van Halen moment.
The song is “No One Is Calling You a Liar,” culled from The Killers guitarist’s second solo record, the tellingly titled “A Mild Case of Everything,” due out June 25.
It’s a stirring, searching fireball with the kind of singalong chorus intended to get listeners reaching for some throat lozenges after lending their voices to the thing.
As the tune works toward its conclusion, Keuning lets loose with a finger-tapping solo, adopting the technique popularized by the aforementioned guitar legend.
“That’s like a lifelong dream, to have a tapping solo on my guitar,” Keuning, 45, acknowledges with a chuckle from his home in San Diego on a recent weekday afternoon. “That’s my first one.”
It’s a small moment, sure, but one indicative of a much bigger picture: the artistic liberty inherent in answering to no one but yourself in the studio, the only feedback coming from your gut.
“It’s not in any way done out of ego,” Keuning explains of making a solo record, “but being able to call all the shots is nice on a creative level, to just kind of do whatever you want.
“If someone else in the band isn’t feeling it, you can’t force them to,” he elaborates on the songwriting process in a group context. “So now, I just put it aside and I’ll explore it later and see where it goes.”
Where has it gone on “A Mild Case of Everything?”
Where hasn’t it?
Grin and ‘Bear’ it
Artistically uninhibited, the 16-song album recorded in Keuning’s home studio feels like an argument on the merits of tunnel-visioning in on one’s creative instincts, from the sun-kissed tropicalia of “We All Go Home” to the borderline Americana strum of “Hangman on the Ocean” to arms-in-the-air anthem “World’s on Fire.”
“I’m singing any song I want / Now I might as well have some fun,” Keuning announces on opening cut “From Stardust,” giving voice to what could be the record’s mission statement.
Perhaps the centerpiece of the album is “Don’t Poke the Bear,” one of the more elaborate songs he’s ever penned, flecked with horns and longing, going from rumbling to ruminative and back again, heavy on texture and sentiment alike.
“I think that one’s my favorite,” Keuning says. “That was one that I had a lot of fun writing. I just kept adding parts. Things were just rolling. I was like, ‘I’ve got another idea and another idea and another idea.’ ”
The song ended up spanning over nine minutes.
“I was like, ‘I’m keeping it this long, even if I’m the only one who likes it,’ ” he says. “It makes me happy that people are actually liking it, because it was always going to be on the record no matter what — even if it was just a guilty pleasure for me.”
Upon releasing his debut solo record, “Prismism,” in early 2019, Keuning played a few shows in support of the album, leading his own band for the first time.
The experience informed “Everything.”
“Some of the songs, I just wanted to have a bigger chorus because it’s fun for me to sing ’em live and hear people sing back,” Keuning explains. “It was definitely valuable to play a little bit live and come back and do a second record. I think that’s why it’s better.”
A return to The Killers
Keuning has plenty on his plate these days.
In addition to promoting “Everything” and hoping to play out with his solo band at some point this year, he’s also rejoined The Killers in the studio after taking a hiatus from the group in 2017 and not playing on its most recent record, last year’s “Imploding the Mirage.”
“I’ve been recording with them and writing with them recently, and it feels really good,” Keuning says. “It is kind of reacclimating myself, and sometimes it’s not exactly how you remembered it and people are slightly different a couple of years later — for the good, I think. I’ve learned a little thing or two.
“I love calling all the shots with my solo thing, but you also feel very alone doing it,” he continues. “This is with three other guys, and then we try and hope that we like each other’s ideas — which is the good thing and the bad thing, I guess. But at least you’ve got someone to bounce ideas off of, and you can see where it lands. I’ve really enjoyed writing again with The Killers.”
Which isn’t to suggest that he’s done writing on his own.
“Even if I were to write all 12 songs on the next Killers record, which I’m sure I won’t, I would still have enough leftover ideas of my own for a solo record,” Keuning says. “Now that I’ve started doing this, I’m sure I’m going to keep doing it. No matter what.”