The Killers guitarist and founder member Dave Keuning has tapped into his love of 80s music to craft dazzling solo debut Prismism. Rushonrock Editor Simon Rushworth spoke exclusively to the multi-instrumentalist ahead of this month’s UK headline tour.
ROR: Prismism is inspired by voice memos recorded during the last decade – was there an endgame in sight when you began to compile those clips?
Dave Keuning: First and foremost I always kept them for potential Killers songs. As I started to collect 50, then 100 and then 200 I thought that I might be able to use some of the material to wrote songs for other artists. After a while I guess it just occurred to me that I could sue them to underpin my own project. I had always thought about a solo album but I was hesitant about singing – it was that which always prevented me from doing this sooner. At the same time I was trying to manage my spare time. I didn’t want to go straight from a Killers tour into the studio to make a solo record. I needed a break.
ROR: With a decade of material under your belt how did you condense that into a 14-track album?
DK: I listened to everything. I had to load about four different iPhones into my computer. I just sat back and listed to it all over a couple of days. All in all there was five to six hours’ worth of material. I’d make the ones that I liked a bit better and organised it all. Not everything on Prismism comes from those voice memos because I’m constantly writing new stuff. But if you’re ever short of song ideas you can always go back and see if there’s something you’re missing. Some of the material sounded the worst it could possibly sound because voice memos aren’t the best way of capturing a sound. With a lot of it it was all about being able to see the potential and imagine what an idea could become given some time and work. Some of the basic ideas turned out pretty good and inspired me to write new material. I started thinking of infinite possibilities.
ROR: In retrospect how relieved are you that you took the decision to keep a record of everything over the last 10 years?
DK: I’m glad. Some of the stuff seems very old. Some of the ideas first came to me eight or nine years ago. What tends to happen with other songwriters is that you sit around and noodle on the guitar and have some great ideas and if you don’t record them there and then there’s a chance that you might remember them in a week or two – but there’s a chance that you’ll come up with a new idea and that will take precedence. It was kinda fun to go through everything that I had. You do forget about things that really grabbed you at the time.
ROR: There’s a heavy 80s synth pop influence running right through Prismism – how much does that era and genre mean to you?
DK: It’s kind of in my DNA. I just can’t leave it. It’s what I like and it’s what I know. I’m not apologetic about that. Sometimes I think I’m taking a modern approach to songwriting and then I listen to some of my favourite 80s material and I realise I’m not! But it’s not a conscious decision. People define the 80s as the era of keyboards. And there are a lot of keyboards on Prismism. I would play my guitars over the keyboard parts. But I was just exploding with keyboard ideas on this record. It’s the kind of music that I love. The 80s was one of the best decades for new bands making exciting music. Electronic keyboards were new and exciting at the time and I liked the way bands experimented and pushed the boundaries. I liked the pop of Duran Duran and A-Ha and the electronica of Depeche Mode and New Order. I liked what The Cars and I liked Mötley Crüe. Looking back I don’t think we realised how spoilt we were when it came to the variety and the quality of new music coming out in the 80s. We had no idea that we were living through this great era. You had career-defining rock albums like Hysteria, Appetite For Destruction and Dr Feelgood and at the same time you had Michael Jackson making his very best albums. We don’t have anything as good as any of that this decade. In the 80s we were introduced to the seminal albums of some of the biggest bands in the world. Music was thriving.
ROR: You played the majority of the instruments and contributed the vocals to Prismism – did you feel the pressure?
DK: I welcomed it. It was particularly enjoyable because I’ve never been able to do that with The Killers. I looked forward to playing bass and drums – even though I’m not that great a drummer. It was fun but also out of convenience. Most of the time there was just me, an engineer and the producer. I did call on some friends to finish certain parts. The drums on six or seven songs were played by John JR Robinson and Seth Luloff. He did some amazing stuff. I’m ok with the basisc but that’s about as far as I go with drumming. When it came to the keyboards I just did what the hell I wanted. I scrolled through the keyboard time and time again and it was a fantastic feeling.
ROR: Why was it the right time to record Prismism?
DK: The right time would have been years ago but I didn’t always want to do it while I was in the midst of a hardcore touring schedule with The Killers. I’d have a few months off between major tours and the last thing I wanted to do was head into the studio and work flat out on another record. I needed some downtime. I felt like I got more than enough out of playing on The Killers records – especially in the early days. Now I feel like the last few Killers albums it’s been harder and harder for me to stamp my identity on those records. This is a better way for me to get my ideas down – if I don’t do it now then they will never see the light of day. In the early days with The Killers it felt like I could collaborate a lot better and the circumstances were a bit different. It was the right time to make Prismism because I wasn’t on the last Killers tour.
ROR: How positive was the whole Prismism experience?
DK: As soon as I got started it really lit a fire in me that I hadn’t felt for a while. I enjoyed making a record more than I had in a while. It’s not about calling all the shots. But in a band you do have to compromise. I get that. I don’t want to force the other members of the band to use my songs if they’re not convinced. With Prismism if I liked the song it made the record.
ROR: How important is it for you to tour the new material?
DK: Playing the album live was always going to happen. Touring is tough and I don’t like touring as much as some of the other guys in The Killers. I hope that people will come out and see the shows as I don’t imagine I’ll be doing it that often. It’s expensive to fly all over the place. But I love playing the shows themselves and that’s what I’ve always enjoyed most about playing with The Killers. The funnest part of being in a band is the live show.
ROR: Logistically how will the tour work – how many instruments will you be playing?
DK: If you come to the show you’ll see! I’ll switch around a little. It’s easier to sing with my guitar but I’ll either be paying the guitar or keyboards – I might play bass on one of the songs. I have to play guitar though. It’s what I love. But there are one or two parts that are really hard to play at the same time as singing.
Images By Dana Trippe