Interview Ronnie Vannucci: ‘I’m A Big Boy, I Know The Game’

Being a frontman, ‘running’ a record label and, erm, trying on different hats.

Most people would probably be a bit nervous about releasing their debut solo album after spending the last decade in a band as successful as The Killers. But not Ronnie Vannucci. We spoke to The Killers’ drummer and the most laid-back man in rock just before the release of his debut solo album to get his thoughts on being a frontman, ‘running’ a record label and, erm, trying on different hats…

When did you decide to start working on Big Talk?
Basically it was a couple of weeks after we got home, a couple of weeks after we decided as a band to take a break. When you do something for so long you get used to it, so it was just me not wanting to try to quit cold turkey. So I started to mess around with making a record.

You play more or less all of the instruments on ‘Big Talk’, have you enjoyed being in complete control of it?
There are a couple of songs where Taylor [Milne] plays a lot of lead guitar, and there’s a couple of guest bass players on a couple of songs, but yeah, it was a lot of fun actually. I’ve never really thought of it like that but it was a nice challenge, it’s always a nice challenge to step into different shoes, y’know? I had a lot of fun with it - it’s not like it’s going to be a mandatory thing in the future but it was fun to, y’know… put different hats on.

You can be a bit of a powerhouse behind the kit - do you subject every instrument to the same level of brute force?
(Laughs) Um, well I try to do what’s appropriate for the song and for the situation, but I think it’s also important to have your personality come through. Whatever instrument you decide to take up, I think half of it is trying to breathe life into whatever part you’re playing and make it personal. If that means being a powerhouse then hopefully it works for the song. Was it important for me to let my personality shine through on this record? Yeah. I think that’s important on whatever record you do.

How did you go about recording this album?
I basically started doing these demos, mostly in my little studio here at home and also in our proper recording studio in Vegas, and laid down some stuff. I kinda got to a point where I asked if Taylor wanted to come down and maybe lay a solo down or something, ‘cause he’s one of my best friends, we get along really well and, y’know, he’s a great musician, so he came down and I said ‘Hey, let’s make a record.’ So we started making this record and we took demos that I’d done previously, a lot of stuff that I’d done by myself in the house or in the studio, and we took some bad parts away and added some good parts to them. A few songs still have demo vocals - ‘Getaways’ for instance is just the demo vocals that I did at my house. But basically we kind of embarked on making a record. I’d been asking around for somebody that would be right for this type of project, and I’d been showing my good friend Matt Sharp, who played bass for Weezer, these demos previously, and he mentioned that Joe Chiccarelli would be up my alley, so I showed Joe a few songs and asked if he’d be interested in working with me. And then I kinda took over producing duties when he wasn’t around, ‘cause he’s a busy dude. So, y’know… that’s kind of a ‘Readers’ Digest’ version of what went on.

Have you found being the frontman of your own band a challenge?
Well I like the challenge, y’know? I like to push myself a bit. We have our first show in a week so it’s literally like crunch time, time to get your shit together. But some things come really, really naturally and just kinda instinctively, other things you’ve got to pay attention to. But I mean I’m enjoying it, I’m trying not to freak out about too much, I’m just gonna be in a band and start singing (laughs).

Drummers can sometimes be overlooked as musicians, are you relishing this opportunity to show that you’ve got more than one string to your bow?
Well it’s not so much that, it’s more kinda… it’s more personal. I don’t really think of it in that way, doing this is my own personal goal. If I’m going to be honest the main reason [for doing Big Talk] was boredom, I just really wanted to do some stuff that I felt I needed to do. But I was never looking at my band [The Killers] and wishing I was the frontman or anything like that, one thing just kind of followed the next. I’ve never been a frustrated frontman who’s a drummer. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t going to relish it a little bit, but that’s definitely not the main objective.

You’re not the only member of The Killers to be involved with other projects - is there any competition between you all?
Not with me… I sort of wish I was geared more that way, but I’m not very competitive when it comes to music, I don’t really view music as a sport or competition, for me it’s about expression and having a good time - and sharing that. Sometimes when you get too competitive it makes it harder to share, you know what I mean? You get a different mindset and it’s not about sharing anymore. That’s the way I think of it anyway. I’m sure everybody understands that I don’t want there to be any type of weirdness or anything like that, people gotta understand that The Killers are like a band of brothers and everybody is respectful of what each of us do, and everybody fully supports it. People gotta know that there’s a lot of love there, it’s not a competition, it’s not about whose record is better. We’re all songwriters and we’ve all got some shit to share so I guess it’s just about the outlet, y’know?

People will inevitably compare Big Talk to The Killers - do you feel any pressure from that?
There have been a couple of reviews that were really favourable towards Big Talk because they just like the attitude of it, it’s not taking itself too seriously or whatever. I mean I guess it’s human nature to make comparisons, of course it’s good drama to slam the band [The Killers] a little bit but, y’know, it’s still my band. But for the most part writers keep it cool and they’ve been respectful. There have been a couple of articles that have kinda disrespected The Killers a little bit and that’s kinda rubbed me up the wrong way, but I understand that that’s just a function of the press I guess, and I get it. I’m a big boy, I know the game, y’know?

You helped out with a couple of Brandon’s solo tracks, and you’ve got people that have worked with The Killers in the past on your album too - are you all still quite involved with one another?
Yeah, because a lot of stuff happens, you’re close, so you figure it out. It’s almost like family, y’know? But yeah, when we come back off tour it’s not like we immediately get together and have a barbeque, but we’re on a schedule right now, so we go a month on and then we take a month off. On that month on we get together Monday to Friday, eight hours a day - maybe a little more - and we’re in a room together, so by that nature we eat together every day and argue every day and laugh every day. And on the month off I do Big Talk stuff.

You’re releasing ‘Big Talk’ on your very own Little Oil record label in association with Epitaph - why did you want to put it out on your own label?
Well, I started my own label as a function to put this record out y’know? Of course I know nothing about running a record label, so I decided to ask my friend Brett [Gurewitz] who owns and runs Epitaph Records if he’d be interested and if he wanted to put something out. I played him the songs, he liked it and we said “Let’s get creative.” Then I said “I’m gonna form a record label, why don’t you run it for me?” and he was like, fuck yes! And now my CD is coming out next week. Kinda funny how it all happens. I’m really blessed to be able to work with Epitaph. They’re great fuckin’ people, they’re musicians, and they get it - it’s a good vibe there. There’s a punk rock ethic, it’s more of an organic deal, it’s more of an honest deal.

And finally, are there any plans for UK shows?
Yeah, I was supposed to go there in July but there was just no time… I’ll wait ‘til the record’s out a little bit, until people actually know and give a shit. But if there’s call for it, yeah, I’ll definitely come over.

Big Talk’s self-titled debut album is out now on Little Oil Records in association with Epitaph Records.

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