It’s weird to be a bit of a
grizzled veteran of the music wars when you’re still in your
mid-twenties, but that is sort of where the band Panic!
at the Disco
Just seven years ago, the members
of Panic! at the Disco were a bunch of recent high school grads in
Las Vegas who dreamed of having a band. They started out as a
Blink-182 cover band featuring friends Spencer Smith (drums) and
Ryan Ross (guitars). Deciding to work on some original material,
the buddies recruited singer/guitarist Brendan Urie and bassist
After becoming the first group
signed to Fall Out Boy member Pete Wentz’s Decaydance/Fueled By
Ramen label, the band exploded out of obscurity in late 2005 and
scored huge hits with the single “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies” and
the album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.
Soon after that, Wilson left the band and was replaced by Jon
Unfairly lumped in with the emo
bands that were popular at the time, PATD regrouped and
significantly changed their sound on the follow-up album Pretty.
Odd. which was more wide-reaching and experimental. The album
debuted at the top of the pop charts, but did not yield any hits as
big as their first.
Soon after the tour promoting the
second album, due to musical differences, the band essentially split
in two. In what was a mostly amicable parting, Ross and
decided to start a new band called The Young Veins while the other
two members decided to continue on with the original band name.
Two years later, the fruits of the
new, streamlined Panic! are finally reaching the fans. (The duo did
preview the lineup in 2009 with the release of the single “New
Perspectives” from the soundtrack to the movie Jennifer’s Body.)
The first single “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” – a bit of a flashback to
the sound of the debut album – was released in early February, with
the third PATD album set for release on March 22.
A month before the release of
Vices and Virtues, original band member Spencer Smith gave us a
call to discuss the recent release of the new single “The Ballad of
Mona Lisa” and the upcoming album.
How did you first get into
I remember being in middle school
and I had never been in band in school. I was probably like
thirteen-fourteen years old and that’s right when you start figuring
out what kind of music you love. You’ve got your favorite bands and
you discover what you’re into. From that time, I remember Blink-182
was a huge band. My best friend and I then were like, “We should
really get a guitar and a drum kit and try to do this.” I joined a
jazz band at school, because in jazz band you can play the full drum
kit, as opposed to marching drums in regular band. I started there
and did that for about a year. At that point my parents got me my
first drum kit for Christmas. We used their garage to rehearse.
There were a couple of years of pretty bad practicing there, but
ultimately we spent that time trying to learn how to write our own
songs. It all started from there.
PATD was the first band signed
to Pete Wentz’s Decaydance/Fueled by Ramen
label. How did he find out about you?
We did our first couple of demos
ourselves in our practice rehearsal space in Vegas. We just
recorded them on a laptop in Garage Band. We had a couple of songs
and right around that time was when there were a lot of websites
popping up where you could post your own music. So, we spent time
going on all of our favorite bands’ websites and their message
boards and posting links to our music – hoping that some of their
fans would maybe check it out. Tried to do our own little marketing
ourselves. Anyway, we posted something on Fall Out Boy’s website
and at that time Pete was wanting to start his own label, so her was
listening to any demos of bands he could get his hands on. Luckily
enough for us, he clicked on ours and listened to it and liked it
and sought out how to contact us. First we just talked online. He
was in LA and said that he’d love to come and check out a
rehearsal. About a week later he was in our rehearsal space and we
played the three songs we had at that time. On the way back to the
hotel, he told us he wanted to go ahead with everything and sign us.
We had four months to write a record.
guys were barely out of high school when “I Write Sins Not
Tragedies” became a huge hit. How surreal was it to suddenly have
the band all over the radio and MTV and stuff?
It was pretty surreal. For us,
all the bands that we looked up to and really liked put out a few
records before they really gained any notoriety. They were older.
They were four or five years older than we were. That first album,
we’d written four or five songs before and then everything from that
point made the album, so those were like song number five to fifteen
for the four of us. So it’s really early on and we never thought
that that many people would hear those songs. That was the one
thing looking back – it would have been nice to have a little more
time to develop. But obviously, we can’t complain. It was pretty
amazing. The first time we heard it on the radio, driving the car,
it was pretty surreal.
Pretty. Odd. actually showed a
real musical growth for the band – branching out into more
psychedelic Beatle-ish pop. What was it that made you guys want to
experiment in styles so much?
Yeah it was. That’s the kind of
music that we grew up listening to from our parents. When they were
our age at that time, that’s the music they were listening to. It’s
all stuff we were familiar with. That time around we had a little
more time, a little more money to spend in the studio and get a
chance to kind of… on the first album; we had the same guitar amp
for every song. We used just a couple of guitars. For Pretty.
Odd. we were able to get a lot of new instruments that we had
never had the chance to use. It was a lot of fun. We were really
proud of that record.
In the time since, the band has
had a lot of turnover, it sort of split in half. I saw an interview
with Ryan where he said that the idea to move on was really very
amicable. How did the split come about? Were you able to keep
Yeah. Like I was saying, a lot of
the bands that we loved are our age now before they really had any
success. I think that a lot of times people going from 18 to 22,
23, you change a lot. You’re changing all the time. You want to do
one thing musically, and then you get into a new style of music the
next month that you’re really excited about. It takes a little
while to figure out what your sound is. For us, we just happened to
have the first stuff get somewhat popular, so we had Pete Wentz and
the band watching what we were doing while these changes were
happening. Whether we had the fan base that we did or not, this
changed what happened, because in that time, Ryan really grew as a
songwriter. He was writing a lot of the lyrics that Brendan was
singing. After four or five years of doing that, he wanted to sing
some of the lyrics, which we understood and we told him, “You should
do the songs how you want them to be if you’re writing the lyrics.”
So I think there was mutual understanding of why things were
happening. Although we still loved and had a lot of the same
influences, we just had a difference of opinion of where we wanted
our music to go. So, Ryan and Jon went and did their record.
Honestly, I liked the record and they’ve been supportive of what
we’ve been doing. There was a couple of months around that time
that we split that we weren’t talking as much, but in the past six
months we’ve really become good friends again. I’m glad, because
Ryan and I are friends for like ten years before the band became
popular. That really had an effect over our friendship, because it
became our job. Now to be able to get back to [normal] is awesome.
I was reading that The Young
Veins have recently gone on hiatus. Do you think that Ryan and Jon
will ever come back to play with the band?
I don’t know. I’ve heard that as
well. Since we’ve been so busy I haven’t really had a chance to
talk to him about that. I guess anything is a possibility. But
right now I think Ryan still wants to continue doing his own thing.
We’ll see what happens.
“The Ballad of Mona Lisa” feels
a lot like the songs from the first album. Were you trying to look
backwards a bit with the song or the album?
Yeah. There are a couple of songs
– that song being one of them – that I think people will hear that
it has some similar sounds to some to the songs on the first album.
That’s why Brendan and I continued as Panic! – because what we
wanted to do was a little more in line with where the band had come
from. At the same time, there is a good amount of the rest of the
record where I do not think you would get that vibe from. There are
some songs that you can tell came from some of the influences on
Pretty. Odd., then some new stuff, just new bands that we’ve
listened to in the past few years and new inspirations. That song
is one of the first songs we wrote for the record. Actually, it
came from a demo that Brendan had done a couple of years ago. We
just hadn’t ever been able to figure out how to put the song
together. We had a verse and a chorus and we hadn’t finished it.
So, it kind of makes sense, since it is an older idea, that it feels
that way. Once you hear the rest of the record it is somewhat of a
mix of the two albums and then some new inspiration.
Unfortunately, the only song
they had for me to hear in from Vices & Virtues was the single. What else can we expect from the
album? Can you tell me about some of the other songs?
We took a while. We wrote a lot
of songs. Honestly, on the other two records we hardly had any
extra b-sides and things like that. For this album, there was a
lot. The newest thing you write is always your favorite, because
you’ve heard the other ones over and over and over working on them
in the studio. We did a lot of writing a new song and having to
kick one of the older ones off and saying, “Oh, God, this new song
has to be on the record.” It’s good, because we can do deluxe
editions with all the extra songs. A couple of the newest songs
that we wrote that we’re the most excited [about], there’s a song
called “Ready to Go” which is a sort of 80s, this kind of cool synth
line at the beginning. It’s uptempo, just a good pop-rock song.
We’re really excited to play that live. We actually had a show last
night where we played three new songs. Another song called “Kill
Tonight” and it’s great. The guy who produced our second record did
the string chart for it. It’s cool. It’s a really fun song. It’s
got some electronic drums at the beginning, but then it sort of
builds into this more orchestral song. We’re just excited to let
our fans hear the new songs and start playing them live.
How is the recording process
different as a duo rather than a group?
Well, Brendan had to play a lot
more stuff. He’s an amazing musician. He played bass, guitar and
the keyboard stuff on the record. It was a lot more time spent by
us working on the record. It took a little bit longer and there was
less down time than on the previous records. There were also fewer
opinions to go through. Brendan and I were on a fairly similar page
most of the time with what we wanted to do. There wasn’t as much
arguing about where a song should go as there was in the past, which
was nice. We did track some stuff live, which was how we recorded a
lot of Pretty. Odd. Then we also did take advantage of some
of the newer technology and techniques you can use with recording
music digitally. I think we found a good balance – the best of both
worlds – using a lot of vintage analog equipment, but also some of
the new technology that allows you to make things go a little bit
quicker than they could do in the past.
In honor of the album title,
what are some of your vices and some of your virtues?
(laughs) Well, vices,
let’s see… There are a lot of those. I’m always running. I’m
always procrastinating and thinking I have time to do things. Now
that we’re traveling it’s not good, because we’ll have lobby call
and I’m like, well, I’ll just wake up and pack in the morning and
then I’m always the last one down and everybody’s mad at me because
I’m making us late for the airport and stuff. Also, during the
recording of the album we’d always say, “Oh, yeah, we’ll go home and
work on some of these lyrics” and say that we would go home and work
on the songs and we’d just end up playing online video games for
like three hours. (laughs again) That’s definitely one of
our vices. Virtues, I think we sound like we have gained a lot of
confidence, just coming from the four of us and being a little
unsure about how things were going to play out with just the two of
us writing for the record. We are really proud of it, although
pride can also be thought of as good and bad. I think in our case
it’s not like a cocky thing, it’s just we’ve found a lot of pride in
what we can do and we’re just proud of what we have done in the past
couple of years.
I heard that the video of the
song was sort of supposed to be a sequel of “I Write Sins.” Was
that the plan and was it fun to do?
Yeah, we did it with the same
director, Shane Drake. We talked about having just a little
homage at the beginning to “Sins.” It was fun to do that. The
actual story that plays out isn’t really related. The feel of it is
somewhat, the tone of it is kind of similar. But it’s really just
the beginning of the video, you’re kind of scrolling past the pews
and the aisle that are in the first video. You see cobwebs like
it’s been sitting there. It was fun to do that. I think the fans
will like it and it was something that was fun to do for this video,
being the first. I think it’s something our fans will dig.
You mentioned earlier, you did
a show last night at the Bowery Ballroom last night. How was it to
get back out there? What kind of response did the new music get?
Oh, man, it was so fun. It was
one of the best shows we’ve played. Partly, it’s always fun to play
a smaller venue. It’s a little more edgy. You’re a lot closer to
the people singing along than if you’re playing some big arena type
of venue. We played three new songs and a lot of the fans already
knew “Mona Lisa,” which was awesome. They seemed to like the other
two. It was also a chance – being in New York – for some of the
people at the label that have been working on the project for
getting ready to roll out the album, to really see the songs being
performed live and also the way that we have kind of dressed the
stage with as much production as we could do. It was nice to show
everybody our vision of what we want it all to look like. Also, all
the fans there were really big fans of the band. There were a lot
of fan club people, so to have really hardcore fans of the band
making up most of the audience just made it really great.
I saw you have a couple of
shows in Europe in the next week or so, but do you have any plans
for a US tour with the new album’s release?
Yeah, yeah. We’re working on it.
We’re going to do a couple of weeks over in the UK and Europe in
April and then in May – in the middle of May we want to get out and
do a US tour. It’s been too long, so we’re excited to get back out.
PANIC! AT THE DISCO'S NEW VIDEO "THE BALLAD OF MONA