Dave Keuning, the guitarist in The Killers, won’t have far to travel when his band headlines the KAABOO Del Mar festival on Sunday. He lives nearby in the Cardiff/Encinitas area of San Diego’s North County. Or, as he puts it: “I couldn’t turn KAABOO down. It’s right in my backyard!” (Ticket information appears below.)
We spoke with Keuning, 39, earlier this week. Here are excerpts from that conversation. Live coverage of KAABOO will be at DiscoverSD.com/KAABOO.
Q: Am I correct that The Killers announced today (Tuesday) that the band is performing a (now sold-out) KAABOO warm-up show Saturday night at Observatory North Park?
A: That is correct. It’s both a warm-up gig, even though we played two other shows (recently), and it’s just a fun gig for us to play at a small place. We probably wouldn’t play a place like North Park if we did a future arena tour. I haven’t even been there (to the Observatory). I see bands at the Belly Up or downtown occasionally.”
Q: Are you anonymous here? That is, can you go to the Belly Up or downtown and not be recognized?
A: I am noticed, occasionally. I don’t mind. Most people that recognize me are other musicians, and I don’t mind talking to another musician. And I’ve got friends here who are musicians. Occasionally, I’ll go to the Belly Up, unnoticed, and go home at the end of the night. It’s kind of sad!
Q: Ray Suen, who grew up in San Diego and was a touring member of The Killers for a few years, told me a great anecdote about when the band performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London. After you came off stage and into an interior corridor, you were greeted by a man wearing an Alice Cooper mask. He took off the mask, and it was Paul McCartney. Ray said you were all baffled. I told him “Killer” was the name of one of Alice Cooper’s best albums.
A: We were just thrown off by a person wearing an Alice Cooper mask; we didn’t know whether to talk to him, or run, because it was really out of place. Then he took the mask off, and that’s definitely on the list of life moments for me.
Q: A lot of KAABOO performers may not be familiar with Del Mar Racetrack and fairgrounds. You, on the other hand, might be as an area resident. Are you?
A: That might be partially accurate. I know what it is. And, being a local now, I know more about it. I’ve never seen the races there, but I’ve been to the fair and know that area really well.
Q: What do you think about KAABOO?
A: I was excited about it since it was offered to us (to perform at). It’s the first year of it, so it doesn’t have a reputation yet. But, hopefully, we’ll get it started on the right foot. I like the bands I’ve seen in the lineup
Q: What is the first festival you attended as a fan?
A: Oh, um, well. My first memory is, it wasn’t technically a festival, but it was a lineup of Metallica, Suicidal Tendencies and Danzig, and it was an outdoor show that was kind of like a festival. It was five hours and outdoors, and it was a big time investment.
Q: Where was this, and how old were you?
A: Des Moines, and I was about 17.
Q: What was the first festival you played at?
A: The first festival we played was Glastonbury in England. We didn’t know anything about the English festivals, or any festivals, and it was a life changing experience for me. So many people were there and it was a good showing for us. I’d never felt that (degree of) actual energy from a crowd like that before. It was pretty cool! A festival is a good atmosphere to be in. And, after the show, if you have time, you can hang out with other bands. That’s my preference. If I was in charge of making our schedule, it would be all festivals.
Q: Aren’t you doing that this year?
A: No, we have a few small shows. But you’re right; most of them are festivals. Out of 6 shows, 4 are festivals.
Q: What are the components that make for a great festival?
A: Well, the No. 1 component is the crowd, because it’s different from place to place, and America, from the rest of the world. And it also changes sometimes, depending on the lineup, and the audience, how much they drank, the weather, and how much music they know. We’ve played hundreds of festivals, and I can’t complain about too many of them.
Q: In 2013, you said you were sick of touring. Now, The Killers are only doing six shows in a year. Have you gone from one extreme to another?
A: Well, there are a variety of reasons for the touring schedule we have now. But it was more to have break by design, and also to let people (in the band) do whatever they wanted to do, whether it was to make a solo album or have time off. We’ve had a year where we didn’t play shows, for one reason or another. Last year we did a Final Four appearance; that was one of a handful of shows we did. This year, I couldn’t turn KAABOO down. It’s right in my backyard! And we were kind of overdue for a San Diego show. The last time we played here, it was part of a radio concert, so it wasn’t our own show. Neither is this festival, but it’s a longer set we’ll be playing.
Q: Killers’ drummer Ronnie Vannucci, Jr., is now leading his own band, in which he plays rhythm guitar. Have you thought about forming your own band and being the drummer in it?
A: (laughs) Sure, I’ve considered it. If only I knew how to drum!
Q: Come on. How hard can it be?
A: Right! I do have a drum set in my house, but I’m not ready to do that. I’m still more interested in guitar than drums. Every time I start working on (new) material, I come to the conclusion I’d rather have it used in The Killers than a solo project probably no one will ever hear. I understand that, sometimes, it’s healthy to do a solo project, even if only 100 people hear it, because you get it out of your system. I do have a backlog of hundreds songs. But I don’t feel any urgency to put out a solo album. Certainly, I’m more excited in making Killers’ music, which we are getting ready to do, by the way. If only one of my ideas gets used on a Killers’ album, that will be heard by many times more people than a solo album. I do have a desire to do solo projects, and I have contributed to friends’ albums over the years, just because I think it’s fun to do that.
Q: How often do you practice?
A: I probably pick up a guitar, at least for a few minutes every day, in front of the TV. And, other days, I go into my basement. Yeah, I have a basement in San Diego! It’s rare. It’s pretty soundproofed down there, and I try and write a few times a week.
Q: Do you ever go surfing, or do something unrelated to music that indirectly inspires you when you make music?
A: I don’t surf. I know a lot of surfers and live in the Cardiff/Encinitas area. I like to get in the ocean. I like to walk by the ocean. I don’t know how to surf, because I grew up in the Midwest. I live by the ocean, so I have a good view of it from my house. It does provide some head-clearing tranquility for me.
Q: Could you compare and contrast working with (Killers’ album producers) Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite?
A: (laughs) Well, they’re quite different. Lanois is a guitar player and he’s more like a hands-on musician. He likes to come up with ideas in the room with you, with the band, and try them and work on it and make comments and suggestions. Because I’m a fan of some of his work - I know he was a part of (U2’s) ‘Achtung Baby’ (album) - I value his input as a guitarist. And he ended up getting a couple of half songwriting credits on our last album. Lillywhite has worked with great people, including the Dave Matthews Band and The Smiths. That’s why we called him up. But it’s harder for me to pinpoint his contribution.
Q: Could you elaborate about getting ready for the next Killers’ album?
A: We’re in the very beginning stages of sharing ideas with each other, and we’ve gotten together for a few days when our schedules work out. In my opinion, it’s already begun, and it’s just a matter getting together and making and creating it.
Q: Do you think The Killers are due to make a left turn, like U2 did with “Achtung Baby” and The Police did with “Synchronicity?”
A: Ah, it’s possible. It’s possible we’ll make a left turn. We’re kind of always looking at the success of the last (album), but also dong what feels right in the present at the same time, and always evolving. It’s kind of a natural evolution, I guess. I can’t say what the next album will sound like; it’s a little too early. But we still have the same ambitions.
Q: How similar or different are those ambitions today than when The Killers was a young new band?
A: Well, that’s a fair question, because you may not ever be able to match the ambition of when you’re trying to quit your day job and quit eating Ramen noodles. But we feel like we’re constantly having to try to prove ourselves and have a friendly competition with all the other artists on the radio and get our song on the radio. Making music is not enough. We want our songs to see the light of day and get on pop or modern-rock radio. So, I don’t know. I’m not going to say it (the band’s ambitions) is less than what it was.
Q: Well, I recall Neil Young saying how, when he was young, when he learned a new chord he’d write three new songs using that new chord.
A: I know exactly what you mean. You almost have an advantage when you’re young and fresh, because everything sounds great with all these new chord changes you’re stumbling on for the first time. As you get older, you try to constantly think out of the box.
KAABOO Del Mar
When: Gates open at 11 a.m. today through Sunday.
Where: Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd, Del Mar
Tickets: $125 daily; $229 (two-day pass);$299 (one-day VIP pass); $579 (two-day VIP pass); $299 (three-day pass); $799 and $2,499 (three-day VIP passes)
Phone: (877) 987-6487
Q: Last question: What do you call a drummer wearing a coat and tie?
Q: The defendant.
A: (laughs) That’s good.
Q: Do you have a joke you’d like to share.
A: What do you call a busload of lawyers going off a cliff at 100 miles an hour?
Q: I don’t know. What?
A: A good start!