"Every step of the way, it was, 'You're just a drummer and now you think you can sing and play guitar?'" Ronnie Vannucci, of Las Vegas rockers the Killers, tells SPIN of his debut solo effort Big Talk, out July 12. "My closest friends and colleagues, and even our record label said, 'Why are you doing this?'"
He did it to prove to himself that he could and the project was cathartic and established his confidence as a songwriter.
In winter of 2010, after a tour of Australia and New Zealand, the Killers went on hiatus -- "We had been going nine years straight, totally up each other's asses," the 35-year-old rocker explains. "It was time for a little break." Vannucci, who thought he'd relish his time re-acclimating to life at home in Las Vegas with his wife, "started to get restless." He headed down to his basement studio and revisited demos that he'd tracked over the past few years -- "50 or 60 pretty solid ideas," he says, "some of which I had shown the Killers."
He phoned his old pal Taylor Milne, a bandmate from his late-'90s indie rock group Expert On October, and they started working on the material together. "Taylor helped validate my whole direction," Vannucci says of his insecurity over his material. "He encouraged me to see these songs through."
Another old friend, Weezer founder and bassist Matt Sharp, also pushed Vannucci to record and release the tracks. "Matt was one of the first people I played the demos for," he says. "He kept encouraging me, saying 'This doesn't suck as bad as you think it sucks.'"
Meanwhile, Vannucci was finishing his degree in music from UNLV, which expanded his skills and ideas on music, and urged him to move forward with the project.
"I got this bug... and my confidence grew and grew," says Vannucci. "I was on a bit of a tear."
Last fall, Big Talk started tracking the LP in the Killers' Las Vegas studio with help from producer Joe Chicarelli (the Strokes, My Morning Jacket). Sharp also dropped by to play bass on two tracks ("Katzenjammer" and "Under Water").
Big Talk's sound is a hyper-catchy and melodic brand of pop and rock with synths, barbed anthemic guitars, and upbeat rhythms. Vannucci says it's influenced by the bands he grew up listening to in the '80s, like Joe Jackson, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Cars, Talking Heads, and Boston.
Lyrically, the album's cohesive threads are drunken fringe characters and "love songs that go wrong," he explains. "That stuff is more interesting than boy meets girl, they fall in love and have a great life together -- I like the contrast of a happy sound with a dark message."
"Deadeye," says Vannucci, is written "from the perspective of a guy who doesn't give a shit, who has a problem with the bottle and trouble with a girl. It's one of those drunkard tales." And "No Whiskey" (listen below) is a dark country-folk jam with a rippin' solo that nods to his drink of choice. "We were drinking a bottle of whiskey in the studio," Vannucci says of recording the song. "When I stepped up to sing, for the first time I felt a certain energy coming out. It felt good."
These days Vannucci is back in the studio with the Killers, "his real band," where he sees how the process of writing and recording Big Talk has changed his mindset as a musician. "There were moments where I didn't know if I was going to show anybody these songs," he says. "I never really thought I had anything to say. But I do."
Big Talk Tracklist:
3. "Under Water"
4. "The Next One Living"
6. "No Whiskey"
7. "Girl At Sunrise"
8. "A Fine Time To Need Me"
9. "White Dove"?
10. "Living In Pictures"
?11. "Hunting Season"?
12. "Big Eye"