The Killers: Virtual Sessions

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, unless it’s The Killers’ much-anticipated new album Day & Age. Positive pre-release buzz on the album, relentless touring by the band and a devoted international fan base pretty much guaranteed that Day & Age would not drop quietly into the world.

But long before Day & Age was released, it was already regularly leaving Las Vegas in digital bits and pieces as the band — Brandon Flowers, vocals and keyboards; Dave Keuning on guitar; Mark Stoermer on bass; and Ronnie Vannucci on drums — emailed Logic files of song ideas for the album to producer Stuart Price in London.

This digital round-tripping between Las Vegas and London was devised by producer Price, a longtime Logic user; drummer Vannucci, a recent but devout Logic convert; and the band’s touring musician, Ted Sablay, who began sending The Killers’ GarageBand sessions to Price via iDisk before they settled on Logic for their remote demoing workflow.

The Killers
Killers guitarist Dave Keuning lays it down. Photo credit: Torey Mundkowsky.

“Once we decided to work together, we had this sort of initial geographical problem of them being in Vegas and me being in London,” says Price. “Plus every time I’d speak to them, they’d either be in Panama or Hawaii or South America.”

When Price suggested that they work together remotely to write the songs for the album, he also brought an idea of how they might do it: “There’s a mixture of people in the band — some really technically minded, others really musically minded. So what we needed was a common platform that was as easy to use as it was capable. For the past seven years, I’ve been a Logic user, so I just said, ‘Let’s use Logic’.”

Basement Moments

Price says that the band thrived using the remote songwriting workflow: “The only way to achieve what we wanted was by having this Logic-based workflow. If somebody had even half an idea, a melody or part of a song, they could send to me. I’d sometimes rework it or embellish it at my studio and just try and send it back the same night. So we had this kind of spontaneous thing going that was close to being in the same room. That’s how many of the songwriting ideas were created for the record.”

Together apart sounds like a precarious creative orientation, but Vannucci says it suited The Killers perfectly. “Sometimes when you’re in the room with four different people, you might not be feeling like you’re ready to connect or ready to be creative,” he says. “Sometimes it happens at three in the morning when you’re by yourself down in the basement.”

If night time was the right time for writing Day & Age, it represented a radical departure from how the band wrote and recorded their first album, Hot Fuss, which had come together in six-day-a-week, after-work practice sessions in Vannucci’s stifling Las Vegas garage. So eagerly embracing the new digital workflow (and not missing Vannucci’s garage), the band started demoing in February 2008, soon after coming off the tour for their second album, Sam’s Town. For six months, they wrote, shared and re-wrote. Each band member would record his ideas in Logic, then share them via email and iDisk with each other and Price, who added drum loops, keyboard lines and other effects to the songs he liked best before sending them back.

For his part, Price kept it simple. “I was quite aware early on in the project that if I started working too much out of the box, that was just going to create problems because I was going to be forever bouncing down parts and stems of mixes and sending them to them,” he says. “So early on, I’d use software instruments to put down ideas so that sessions opened up and played back exactly the same without any reliance on external mixing. That really continued right up until we actually went into the studio.”

In Studio

Long-distance songwriting worked so well that by the time The Killers and Price went into their new custom Las Vegas studio to record, they already had a very solid and iterated idea of where they were going with the album.

“It was a really efficient way to work because, inevitably, time gets wasted when you’re in a room together,” says Vannucci. “We all knew what it’s like to sort of sit in a studio when you’ve got four or five great songs waiting for the rest of the album. But when we finally did get in a room together, we actually had 40 different song ideas that everybody had come in with.”

In producing the final cuts for the album, The Killers and Price followed two general rules: to keep alive in the final mix the spontaneous quality of the demos and to limit their studio sessions strictly by the clock.