Before he was a Killer, he was a kid, and that’s when it all began.
Dave Keuning had yet to own a guitar or hit puberty, even.
But already he was penning his own tunes, soundtracking his life in song.
“I was like 10 years old, I had a boom box with the cassette recorder, and I’d record little songs,” the Killers guitarist recalls. “It seemed stupid at the time. I didn’t want anyone to hear them. I’d just make up little songs about stuff at school that was happening.”
Thirty years later, Keuning has come full circle, having gone from making home recordings in his bedroom to home recordings in his home studio.
The fidelity has changed, the recording gear seriously evolved, but the genesis of it all has remained the same: “I’ve always liked making songs,” Keuning explains matter-of-factly. “Now I can do it as much as I want.”
And he has.
Hence, “Prismism,” Keuning’s solo debut released last month, which he’ll delve into live locally for the first time at The Bunkhouse Saloon on Friday.
‘Where do I start?’
Keuning began working on the album in earnest after deciding not to tour with The Killers in support of their most recent record, 2017’s “Wonderful Wonderful,” to spend more time with his family, among other things.
“I think it definitely steered me in a certain direction,” Keuning says. “Finally, I had the time to exhale a little bit from touring and go, ‘OK, now I’ve got all these keyboards, a home studio and some time, maybe I’ll start working on a song at a comfortable pace, just by myself, with the freedom to do whatever I want.’ I think having that time to relax and really dive into it did steer me to this point I’m at.”
For years, Keuning had compiled voice memos of song ideas.
Finally, he started listening back to them, piecing them together, all these creative puzzle pieces gradually coming together, taking shape.
“At first it was a little daunting, ‘Where do I start?’ ” Keuning says. “I just started listening to the voice memos, putting the ones aside that were better than others and narrowing them down. And then as I was working on those, I wrote new stuff. It just felt so good to make music at home. I’ve never made music like this before where I kind of just do whatever I want, play whatever instrument I want and have that much freedom. That was a very fun process. And then I wanted to do more and more.”
The result is a 14-song collection of anthemic electro pop (“Stuck Here on Earth”), robo-voiced New Wave revisionism (“I Ruined You”), dashes of acoustic longing (“Gimme Your Heart”) and chiming rock ’n’ roll joy rides (“If You Say So”), with Keuning singing and playing nearly every instrument himself.
It’s an album heavy on the hooks and pulsating analog snyth lines, an uninhibited chase of Keuning’s shape-shifting artistic muse around the recording studio.
‘A whole other thing’
It’s been a long time coming, really.
In the back of his mind, Keuning knew that he’d probably release a solo record one day.
He was less sure about taking the mic, though.
“I always knew I would do something like this at some point. I guess the big hurdle for me is that I had never sang before,” he acknowledges. “I had to make that leap. All the other Killers did solo albums and they all sang. I didn’t necessarily really want to do that. I just wanted to play guitar, and I started piling up ideas that weren’t getting used. There’s just only so many Killers albums to get ideas on anyway. This gives me a whole other thing to get my ideas out, and I can control the fate of the song.”
Still, it isn’t hard to imagine plenty of the material on “Prismism” making it onto a Killers record, which is both a reflection of Keuning’s songwriting presence in the band as well as the group’s increasingly diffuse repertoire.
For Keuning, it’s simple: He writes what he writes, then tries to find a home for it later.
“It’s interchangeable,” he says of the song ideas he has for The Killers and for himself, “but I try and bring some ideas that I think they might like or I think that maybe is something that they’re looking for. There’s just some ideas that I don’t think they would to use — my acoustic ones usually work for me better. It’s hard for to predict what they’ll want to use. I’ll show them stuff I think might work, and then I’ll see if anything sticks.”
This process is more streamlined when making songs on his own: Anything can stick if he wants it to.
The thrill, then, isn’t so much the planting of all these artistic seeds, but being surprised by what those seeds blossom into.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction as to what these ideas became,” Keuning says. “I can be like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it turned into that when it was just this one voice memo.’ ‘Boat Accident’ is a voice memo that I almost threw away.
“Those are the moments I like,” he adds, “knowing that it almost didn’t happen at all.”