Las Vegas natives The Killers return to town with less to prove

They’re the biggest band to ever herald from Las Vegas, which, to borrow a line from comedian Doug Stanhope, is kind of like being named the world’s prettiest Denny’s waitress: not exactly the most esteemed designation, considering the hit or miss history of rock ‘n’ roll in this town.

The Killers drummer Ronnie Vannucci knows this all too well.

"I think when people think of Vegas, they think of roofies and fake boobs. I don’t think they think of great rock ‘n’ roll," he says. "But if we do kind of partner up with Vegas in that way, I think it’s cool. I guess I’ve always kind of wanted to run a city. It might help my standing as mayor of Las Vegas some day."

Vannucci’s pretty quick with a punch line, and as his band eyes a return to Vegas on its current tour, he’s steeling himself for the hometown mania that will inevitably engulf the band this weekend.

"They come out of the woodwork, your ‘friends’ and your ‘family’, like my grandma," Vannucci says jokingly of playing Vegas. "I mean, I haven’t heard from her in years and she’s claiming she knows me?

"No, it’s a lot of fun," he continues. "I feel the fun more than the pressure, probably because all the people that I know (who are going to be at the show) I’ve either played with in bands or we’ve spent the night in jail together. We’re close enough to where it’s kind of like a giant living room party."

This hasn’t always been the case.

"Earlier, it was like, ‘OK, hotshots, show us what you can do, you major label band you,’ and we’d go and kick their asses and they’d shut up," Vannucci says of local skeptics of the band. "That’s kind of gone away, and people have accepted it. Now, they’re just there to have a good time, which is the point, isn’t it?

"I try not to get too reflective about it," he adds. "It kind of takes you out of your zone, in a way. You can do a small amount of reflecting, like, I’m sure we’ll be doing the huddle before we go out onstage and it’ll cross my mind to say something like, ‘OK guys, we started here, we played the tranny clubs and now we’re at the Mandalay Bay. Let’s go get room service afterward.’ I guess I’ll save my reflecting for when I’m in my armchair."

Vannucci sounds pretty at ease with himself as he speaks. And in a way, you’d think that some of the pressure would have abated a bit when it comes to The Killers. After selling more than 3 million copies of their 2004 debut, "Hot Fuss," in the United States alone, expectations were high for the band’s sophomore record, 2006’s "Sam’s Town," which went platinum and solidified the band as a solid road draw.

These days, The Killers don’t rack up huge sales in America, their latest disc, "Day & Age," has gone gold, but it’s enough for the group to maintain a sizable fan base and still play arenas in some markets.

As such, there’s a more relaxed air about the band on "Day & Age," a diffuse, occasionally tropical sounding disc that is easily the band’s most playful album. To hear Vannucci tell it, the more loose atmosphere surrounding the record was at least partly attributable to where and how it was made.

"We bought a studio in town, we kind of made it our own, and it was like our clubhouse," he says, speaking of the band’s Battle Born Studios. "We had a lot of preproduction time where we all spent time both apart and together doing these demos, so we had it together when we went into the studio. The little creative elements and things like that were fun and free, more than, ‘Oh, how does this really affect the song?’ It was just fun, and that’s the way I like to make records."

Still, it can all be a grind, as Vannucci readily admits. At this point in their career, The Killers have to balance the rigors of being in the kind of act that’s gotten big enough to employ a staff of dozens, while at the same time trying to maintain the creative, freewheeling spirit that made them want to be a band to begin with.

They may have dreamed of being stars back in the day, but they never knew they were going to inhabit a galaxy like this.

"From the very beginning, we didn’t know what the hell we were getting into, and so it took some adjusting," Vannucci says of the band’s success. "It’s much more dynamic than just getting up onstage and melting faces and throwing jellybeans at groupies. We look after 35 people; it’s kind of like a little minicompany. It’s not something that any one of us really wants to think about, and sometimes it can be a real pain in the ass, to be honest with you. You’re just like, ‘I just want to write songs. I just want to play.’

"On the other hand, it just becomes so commonplace, you get used to it," he adds. "The payroll people become kind of an extended family. You spend more time with these people than you do with your own mom and dad. You create this whole universe. It makes for an interesting world."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ or 702-383-0476.

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