Music: The Killers

Dec 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Heather Johnson



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By late summer, they were ready to take the best of those ideas and turn them into songs. With Vannucci manning an Apple MacBook Pro equipped with Logic Pro 8, the band recorded rough versions of the songs and sent them to Price, who edited, rearranged and otherwise manipulated the tracks from his London studio. “Sometimes these demos would be re-arranged three or four times until we felt like we got it right,” says Vannucci.

“There are four prolific writers in the band, and sometimes all the song needed was someone to say, ‘What you've got in that verse is really exciting; maybe we can expand on that with this chorus idea,’” adds Price. “And from my studio I could be very objective because there was no one over my shoulder. I could work very honestly. And when I sent songs back to Ronnie or Brandon, they could be really objective, as well, about what was coming back. Somewhere in that international Internet language we found a way for the songs to evolve.”

The demo recordings evolved so well that about half of what you hear on Day & Age came from those sessions. By high-end recording standards, the tracks shouldn't have worked. The band recorded in either their rehearsal space or their unfinished studio using only a Logic system and “budget” mics. Oftentimes Flowers would intend to record scratch vocals in the Battle Born control room with a Shure SM58, but they sounded too good to replace. The quality of the music transcended any perceived limitations of recording equipment and technique.

“Stu really liked the sounds that we were coming up with,” says Vannucci. “A lot of it couldn't be duplicated — but we tried! There was no pressure, and sometimes it ended up sounding better than something more thought out or contrived. The tracks had this breath to them that was very easy, free and effortless.”

One- or two-take moments happened frequently, including on “Losing Touch,” where Keuning nailed a guitar solo. “Dave plugged in about eight bars before the solo came in,” says Vannucci. “I miked his cabinet with an SM57 and recorded a separate line out just from his guitar. I also had a dry signal where I would mess around with plug-ins. Dave had a pitch-shifting pedal that had kind of a '70s harmony, and I was also getting that harmony on the dry signal. I ran the dry signal through an amp send and it sounded perfect for that song. So we ended up using it.”

The epic “Good Night Travel Well” features an on-the-spot drum pattern from Vannucci. “I caught a particular drum pattern and I wasn't thinking about it; I was just letting it come out,” he says. “I listened back, and thought ‘Wow, this isn't half bad, and it sounds good, too!’ I forwarded it to Stuart, and he loved the drum sound. When we got into the studio, we tried to go back and re-do those ideas, and it just didn't work out the same.”

From his well-appointed London studio, Price fleshed out the arrangements and added parts of his own, including keyboards and other embellishments. His Apogee Symphony system with Logic Pro 8 includes an assortment of Universal Audio and VST plug-ins, which he uses with a vintage Neve Melbourne console, GML and Pultec EQs, UREI 1176 compressors, and Avalon and Neve mic pre's, among other items.

For music creation, Price turned to his extensive analog synth collection, which he used liberally on the album's lead single, “Human.” “The pads on that song came from an ARP Chroma [analog synth],” says Price. “We also used the Korg MS-20 and Nord Lead 3 quite a lot. A lot of the drums were processed through the external filter of the Korg MS20 because the old transistor distortion of that filter unit is very characteristic.”

Price also used the Korg SQ-10 analog sequencer — triggered by Vannucci's kick drum — which would activate certain sounds from the MS-20. “On ‘Human,’ the rhythm is very rigid,” says Price. “I wanted Ronnie's drums to sound like a machine, but I didn't want to replace him with a machine because that would defeat the purpose of working with a band.”

Charging Ahead at Battle Born

By the time the band got into the studio — their studio — to track the album with Price and engineer Robert Root, they had a solid foundation. “When we first started rolling, we'd say, ‘Okay, what do we want to build off first?’” says Root. “Then we would get the next piece of the puzzle laid down. We decided on a song-by-song basis who was going to play and in what order. So it was similar to overdubbing rather than straight tracking, mostly because the demos had already been heard and manipulated in some way by Stuart before he came to town.”

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