Dave Keuning (guitar) met Brandon Flowers (vocals, keyboards) in Las Veags in 2001, bonding over their love of The Smiths, New Order, The Pet Shop Boys and Oasis. Dave and Brandon recruited Mark Stoermer and Ronnie Vannucci to play bass and drums respectively, thus completing the current line up in 2002. The band took their name from the fictional band that appeared in the New Order video for Crystal. The band signed to Lizard King Records in 2003 and the rest is history.
Lets rewind to 2001, when Brandon Flowers was abandoned by his first band, a synthpop trio known as Blush Response, after he declined to move with them to Los Angeles. After seeing Oasis play at the Hard Rock Hotel during The Tour of Brotherly Love, Flowers realized his calling was to be in a rock band and began searching for a guitar player. He eventually came across an ad posted in a Las Vegas newspaper by Dave Keuning, who shared similar musical influences. The pair began writing songs together in Keuning’s apartment. And by the end of 2001, they had recorded a demo tape at Killing of The Messenger Studio in Henderson, Nevada, the demo featured four tracks including early versions of “Mr. Brightside” and “Under the Gun”. Local drummer Matt Norcross played drums on the demo while Dell Neal who was Keuning’s room mate at the time covered bass on two of the tracks.
Keuning and Flowers played their first live show together at an open mic night at the Cafe Espresso Roma in Las Vegas in January 2002. The pair joined by Neal and Norcross began playing numerous venues around Las Vegas where they would also hand out free copies of their demo. The Killers brought a unique style to the small Vegas music scene which was predominately filled with punk, nu metal and rap bands, one local reviewer stated “The Killers, thankfully, don’t come across like any other band in town.” and described their sound as a mix between the “pop styles of British music and the lo-fi fuzz of modern indie rock.”. However, The Killers early live sound was also described as being erratic and by the summer of 2002 the band had fired drummer Matt Norcross, he was briefly replaced with Brian Havens, who was also eventually fired. Bassist Dell Neal later left the band due to personal reasons.
By August 2002, drummer Ronnie Vannucci, Jr. had joined the band; bass player Mark Stoermer completed the band’s line up soon after. Both Vannucci and Stoermer befriended Keuning and Flowers while playing with other bands on the live circuit in Las Vegas. The band initially practiced in Vannucci’s garage as he was the only member who owned a house. The band would sneak into the band room of UNLV (where Vannucci was studying percussion) at night to practice. The band claimed that they wrote much of the debut album Hot Fuss during these sessions including the hit single “Somebody Told Me”.
Initially, The Killers played at small clubs in Las Vegas, where the band built up a small but loyal following. Talent scout Braden Merrick spotted the band after hearing one of their demos on a local Vegas music website, after seeing them perform live he offered to become the band’s manager.
He took the band to Berkeley, California to record demos with Jeff Saltzman and Mark Needham, they then sent the demo tapes to major record labels in the US; most of the record labels turned them down but they were invited to perform at a showcase for Warner Bros. Though Warner passed on the band they did catch the eye of Alex Gilbert, a British representative for the label, Gilbert took the demo back with him, showing it to friend Ben Durling, who worked at UK indie label Lizard King Records. When label head Martin Heath was asked in an interview with HitQuarters what appealed to him about the band he said, “Great and interesting, original sounding songs. When we met Brandon Flowers for the first time it was very clear to me that he was a major star. He had huge charisma. He completely believed in what he was doing. He just stood out and carried the music.” The Killers signed with the British label in July 2003.
On the August 19, 2003, “Mr. Brightside” premiered on DJ Zane Lowe’s BBC Radio 1 show in the UK. The Killers then travelled to London and began to play shows in bars and clubs, the crowds grew every night through word of mouth and critical reviews were extremely positive, on September 29, 2003 they released Mr. Brightside on a limited number of CDs and vinyl records in the UK. As a result of the buzz from the UK, upon returning to the US they were invited to play at the ASCAP CMJ Music Marathon in New York City many labels were keen to sign the band afterwards and they eventually agreed to sign with Island Def Jam in early 2004.