Big Talk Bio
First things first.
No, the fact that Ronnie Vannucci has made a solo album does not mean the end of his day job. Yes, all is well with The Killers, the band he’s played with for ten years now. And yes, the man can sing, and play guitar, and piano.
And for sure he can write songs. Vannucci has always contributed to the songs that have made the four-piece one of the biggest bands in the world. Equally, he’s long written songs on his own, away from The Killers. When, in 2010, he took stock of his personal inventory, he found that he had, over the years, crafted “50 or 60” ideas that merited further investigation. With the band on hiatus after completion of the world tour in support of their third album, Vannucci realized that his long-held ambition could finally have its moment in the sun…
On the evidence presented by Big Talk, the drummer with Las Vegas’ brightest sons can write a genius song. A big, glorious, genius rock’n’roll’n’pop song with hooks you can hang your hat on. Remember the revelation when Dave Grohl unveiled Foo Fighters, his secret, under-the-radar project? Prepare to be astonished all over again: the radio-friendly, rock club-shaped soundtrack to the summer is on its way.
Ronnie Vannucci is Big Talk, which is the name of his band, the name of his album, and in, a way, both what his record is about and also not what his record is about.
“The phrase ‘Big Talk’ is kind of a comment on all the bullshit that’s constantly being thrust at us from politics and the economy and the record industry,” says Vannucci as he busies himself in Assault & Battery on a glorious spring day. In the northwest London studio, longstanding Killers compadre Alan Moulder is mixing the songs Vannucci wrote and demoed in his Las Vegas basement, then recorded and produced – with help from Joe Chiccarelli (The Strokes) – in the band’s Battle Born studio between November ’10 and January ’11.
“The title is sorta tongue-in-cheek,” he adds, pointing out that it feels fitting that he’s releasing the album on his own start-up label, Little Oil (“what’s the antithesis of the big machine? Little oil…”) and in collaboration with Californian punk indie Epitaph.
“Later on I realized the name was also, by accident, a nod to some of my favorite music: Big Star, Talking Heads, Big Time by Tom Waits.”
A few of Vannucci’s other favorite things: Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, whose guitarist Mike Campbell is one of his musical heroes. That squealy slide guitar on Katzenjammer, the “big, dumb rock’nroll song” that Vannucci thinks will be a “good stoney opening” to the album? It’s “a tipping of the hat” to Campbell. “There’s also a lot of The Who in there,” he continues, which seems appropriate for a song named after the idiomatic German term for a hangover (“cat’s wail”).
He also digs The Cars, whose zippy, punchy New Wave reminds Vannucci of his late Seventies/early Eighties youth, and whose iconic lead singer Ric Ocasek his vocals recall on Getaways. The latter was written for a pair of friends going through a divorce – dark material for a bright, irresistible song. The Cars’ way with a killer, punchy chorus is also in evidence in Replica, one of Vannucci’s personal favorites.
“I’ve always written songs,” says The Killers’ most outgoing, gregarious member. “I really like collaboration. That’s one of the ways The Killers write – we each do demos and show each other stuff, and if it piques anyone’s interest, we go for it. A lot of our songs are born out of us just jamming, everybody in their corner, contributing on a spontaneous level – ‘yeah, that sounds good, let’s keep going on that...’ Those are the really fun songs. When You Were Young was written like that.”
When the band came off the road last February after pretty much nine years of back-to-back albums and touring, the idea was for everyone to take time off. Singer Brandon Flowers quickly got bored – he released his solo album Flamingo late last summer. After a scant three weeks Vannucci, a musician to his very core, developed itchy feet and fingers too.
“I’ve always tinkered around with other instruments. And I found myself wanting to just play. So I started to develop songs from these 50, 60 ideas that I had. But ironically everything – except for one song from the 15 that I ended up focusing on – was new. It felt like all these other things I had laying around were pre-cursors – practice runs almost. I just thought, fuck, if I’m gonna get this idea down I might as well give it a good shot...
“So I needed to do this album. And now having done it, it feels like the right thing to do. It all feels very natural."
He recruited an old college buddy, Taylor Milne, to help him flesh out some of the songs. They’ve known each other since 1998, and were in a band together, Expert On October. “I felt an immediate bond with Taylor,” remembers Vannucci, “like he was a long-lost sibling.” They’ve always kept in touch, and when he realized he needed a wingman for Big Talk, Milne was the obvious contender.
“Taylor really attacks things at a different angle,” he says, highlighting the guitarist’s J. Mascis/Thurston Moore style of playing. “All these really cool leads that you’ll hear on the songs are Taylor. We work on it together, but it’s his take, so it’s very different. It sounds fresh to me.”
Aside from Milne’s role as the only other full-time member, Big Talk will take the stage with a full band. “I thought it would be much better as a band. I didn’t really see it as singer-songwriter. It sounds like a band.”
And this album, bristling with statement rock songs, feel and sounds bigger, more fun, more impactful than singer-songwriter. Even the more acoustic numbers, such as the one-take/two-bottles alco-lament No Whiskey, which evokes Nick Drake and On The Beach-era Neil Young.
“Everything I’ve written is more or less written with the live aspect in mind. Maybe that’s from being a member of live band. It’s just what I do. I’m not thinking size, I’m thinking whites of people’s eyes, their faces. What would really make me smile if I saw a show? So there’s an element of everything I like in this record. The only thing that pulls it back is my skill set as a songwriter and guitar player,” he says with more modesty than is required, or indeed warranted.
And how is Vannucci – used to a backseat view of one of contemporary rock’s greatest frontmen – approaching his own front-and-center status?
“For me, it’s nerve-wracking but fun. But, hell! You never know until you give it a shot. Aren't most drummers trapped frontmen? So I think it’ll be fun. I don’t know if I’ll be Freddie Mercury. But I’m gonna have a helluva good time.”