He's one quarter of one of the biggest bands on the planet, but you wouldn't guess that talking to Ronnie Vannucci, Jr. As drummer for The Killers, he's part of an outfit that has sold millions of records and performed in huge arenas all around the world - most recently headlining in front of some 45,000 people at Hyde Park for Hard Rock Calling. However away from the drum kit, Vannucci has embarked, with help from lifelong friend Taylor Milne, on a 'solo project' - Big Talk. Initially conceived as something to do during some Killers downtime, it has grown into a band of its own with a host of tour dates now planned to support the eponymous album which came out last month. Vannucci - self-deprecating, humble and chirpy - took our Q&a covering the new album, The Killers, the music biz and his problem with whiskey... Let's talk about Big Talk! The idea of forming came during a break from The Killers, right? "Yeah, I guess. It reared its ugly head around that time!"
You've been in other bands before and you've previously collaborated with Taylor Milne. Why did you look him up for Big Talk? "It feels perfectly natural. I'm glad that we remained friends through the years and I'm glad that we can do this now. I think it's a testament to our friendship. And he's such a good musician, I'm grateful that he can be doing music with me. It makes me sound better!"
How long had it been since you'd last played together? "Well, [their former band] Expert In October put something out in 99, so probably since 2000 or so. It's been quite a few years."
And how have things changed since then? "Oh. Well... I mean, that was a different situation. I was the drummer in that group and I had a different role, so things were different. I didn't know that I could write songs until last year sometime. It was a surprise to both of us. So everything has changed!"
How does it feel to be the frontman now, instead of being behind the kit? "It feels good! It feels... I'll always be a drummer, you know. I don't know how seriously I'm taking this yet. I mean, I'm doing it! It feels natural to be doing this thing. It feels good. The whole thing feels weirdly natural, but I think it's going to have its own break in period, for sure. I'm not saying I'm a natural, I'm saying it feels natural. Maybe that's just an extension of me being a musician, that it feels natural to play anything. It felt natural when I was playing glockenspiel in an 80-piece orchestra."
Do you feel less pressure doing your own thing tham making records with The Killers? "No. I feel more pressure now, because I'm stepping into different shoes. It's a completely different role to what I have been doing."
And you're being judged on songs you've written yourself as opposed to ones as part of a band? "There's a whole expectation there as well, where you've got a level that you have to hold yourself up to. And that's more of a self-imposed thing than anything, but there's also that level of expectation that people attach to The Killers, so I have to work extra hard so I don't put the Killers in a bad light, either. Because, like it or not, and however autonomous this may be, there's still an umbilical cord attached to The Killers beast. And that's important. I think everybody in the band feels that way with our respective projects. They don't want to do something that's going to be shitty. And that was one of my main concerns - I hope this doesn't suck."
Did you feel a need to take a break from The Killers to refresh yourself? You've been doing it for so long, is it nice to take a step back? "It's nice to get some perspective. I'm sort of used to be playing in different groups. That's how I grew up - I was always playing in a couple different outfits - and I always liked that. It's good to keep busy in that way because it keeps my brain moving musically. It's sort of like asking an architect to just work on one house for his whole life. It'd be the baddest ass house, but I'm sure he wants to get into some other buildings. The Killers is my most coveted, my most treasured, my most prized possession, but I think it's good to get the perspective and it forces me to realise how good a band we are, The Killers. When you go out and do other things, you realise how special it is. Maybe not all architects feel that way about their work, but you know..."
Where did the idea of Big Talk - as a name for the project and the album - come from? "Well, I started writing these songs, and I was playing all the instruments, and Taylor was playing guitar as well. When these songs started to come out, they didn't sound like a solo thing. And he really helped me get some of these half-assed ideas out of my head. They sounded like a band. It wasn't just me on an acoustic guitar singing about peace. It was rock'n'roll. And I think I had some fear of this maybe seeming like I was a little too conceited, that self-titling it would be me believing in my own bullshit. It seems that people who go by their first names are deserving of it and I just didn't feel like I was deserving of having a big name, if that makes any sense? I've never done this thing before - to everybody else, I just play the fucking drums, so I didn't want to get out of the gates and be like Yeah! Ronnie Vannucci! Believe this! So, with that line of thinking, I just thought it'd be funny to call it Big Talk, just because it's so bad of a name it's good again! It's one of those things where it's just... the music business has always been superficial, but now it's so up its own ass with people who pride themselves on moving in this fucking fantasy world. Don't get me wrong, I live in my own Goddamn fantasy world, but at least I'm taking it with a grain of salt . It's so easy to believe in your own bullshit in this business when you're surrounded by yes men, and I thought that whole idea was funny, so that's a fraction of the reason why I called it Big Talk. I also just think it's a cool name! Things tend to go better for me if I don't take them so seriously. There's a level of professionalism involved, don't get me wrong. I take this seriously, but I'm not believing in my own hype."
There are a few references to whiskey in these Big Talk songs. Did it play a big part in the making of the album? "Ha! Yeah, it did! I don't have a problem, though. I can quit any time I want to! Basically, the first line of the record, it started out as a joke where we popped open a bottle to do some tracking and some playing, and somebody said, Man, it's 12 noon. And I said That's not too early for whiskey! It became this running joke, and I needed an opening line, and we just kept saying this and it stuck."
Would you say this is almost a record about making a record, and your fears and trepidation about doing so? "I guess so! Lyrically, it's about love, deadbeats, whiskey and women and the occasional love song or love affair gone bad, but underneath that, yeah, it kind of is a record about making a record. It was so fun. It really was. On several levels - the deep introspection and finding out about yourself, the periods of frustration and fear, all wrapped in one. I'm 34 and just finding out about myself. I'm such a late bloomer it's a joke. But it's really fun. We've written some more songs for the next record. I think I've started something, but I don't know. We'll see if people like it, see if I like doing it. We've been rehearsing, and so far it's been really fun but it's been a really busy couple of months. It's been a really busy year, actually. This last month or so has been basically Big Talk rehearsal from 11 in the morning to 5.30 at night, and then writing 6 to 12 with The Killers ."
Have you found your experience with Big Talk is influencing what you're doing in The Killers more? "A little bit. I really think everybody's on the same page with the making of the record, as far as what space we want to be in and the quality of songs and thing like that. This is helping in ways I haven't seen before. I wish I knew what was going to happen, but I don't."
But they're not getting in each other's way at all? "No. If anything, everybody is realising we're a band of superheroes. Mark can see through walls and Brandon can levitate. I don't know what my superpower is yet though. But we're learning how to attack the beast a little better."
Have you got far with new The Killers material? "We've got shitloads of stuff. It's just whittling it down to the best of the best. Lately, what we've been doing - and we have songs and everything - but everybody's more interesting in getting in a room and jamming it out and seeing what falls on our laps. So that's what we've been doing. We've been recording jam sessions and going back and picking up the good parts and expanding on those parts. But that's the ultimate way to write with a band - the ultimate reward and the ultimate pay-off, when you can get in there as a unit and create something that you all like and you all enjoy and was born out of your four brains."
Has Big Talk given you a taste for the limelight? Will you be pushing Brandon Flowers out of the way and taking over? "Fuck no. Are you kidding me? That dude knows how to do it! I'm just fucking around." Mischa Pearlman
Get the current issue of Q, 302 for an exclusive interview with Brandon Flowers on The Killers plans for a new album.