Panic! at the Disco
What Were Once Vices Are Now Virtues
By Jay S. Jacobs
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 finds themselves.
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 Brent Wilson.
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 Walker.
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 Walker 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 music?
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 wanted 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.
You 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 everything friendly?
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.
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Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 15, 2011.