Interview: Dave Keuning talks Iowa and outer space for the anniversary of Killers’ classic ‘Sam’s Town’
This piece originally appeared in Little Village Magazine.
Dave Keuning is most comfortable in his element, which is neon. He is taller than a county courthouse and the many curls of pale auburn hair on his head deserve to rest on lush leopard patterns. Keuning plays guitar for the Killers in front of festival crowds the size of Thebes in the fourth century. The Killers have received seven Grammy nominations and sold over 20 million albums. The music is glossy rock and roll with a poppy fluorescence fabricated for thousands of sweaty strangers, densely packed. Neon is the fifth most abundant element in the cosmos, but comprises only 0.0018 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. It is, quite literally, rarefied air.
The City of Pella banned neon signs in 1987. Dave Keuning is from Pella, Iowa.
Keuning grew up in the town of 10,000 and played in the Pella High School jazz band. He majored in music at the University of Iowa before dropping out to move to Las Vegas, where he folded shirts at Banana Republic until he was laid off after 9/11. While unemployed, Keuning placed a “musicians wanted” ad in Las Vegas Weekly and wrote a familiar guitar riff in the closet of his apartment.
Brandon Flowers answered the ad, and that guitar riff became “Mr. Brightside,” a song that has since been certified platinum three times in the United States and twice in the United Kingdom.
Keuning and the Killers are currently emerging from the chrysalis of classic rock. No longer green, but golden, the band released a greatest hits album, Direct Hits, in 2013, and the year after marked the 10-year anniversary of Hot Fuss, the debut album that featured “Mr. Brightside.”
The Killers celebrate another 10-year anniversary on Sept. 30, this time for Sam’s Town, the band’s sophomore effort. The “Sam’s Town Decennial Extravaganza” is a legitimate spectacle that features a limited vinyl reissue, back-to-back performances at Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall in Las Vegas, and a bus-tour of iconic places in the band’s history.
Before the festivities, Keuning looked back at the fertile topsoil of Iowa and forward to the only place with a higher concentration of neon than Las Vegas: