Chatting with Panic! At the Disco’s Brendon Urie

Two-man Disco: Brendon Urie (left) and Spencer Smith hold down the fort.

You and [drummer] Spencer [Smith] don’t live in Vegas these days, right?

Yeah, Spence and I had kind of moved to California, around LA, about two years ago. We weren’t really sure where we wanted to move, so we just spent a year renting a couple places, looking around, trying to figure out where we’d want to settle. Then I ended up getting a place in Santa Monica, and Spencer is still looking around, but right now he’s living in Sherman Oaks. So we’re about 15, 20 minutes from each other.

Do you still think of Panic as a Vegas band?

Yeah, Vegas cannot be denied. It’s so in our blood. It always feels like home whenever we’re there, and whenever we do go to Vegas it’s usually to visit family so it does feel like home. When we’re in California we’re usually working. It just made sense for us to move. It’s good to have more time out there to work on stuff, and we have some connections with people there. But Vegas is still so close to LA that we drive back constantly.

This album [Vices & Virtues, released March 22] took two years to make. How much of that was adjusting to the current two-piece lineup?

It took Spence and I a week or two to figure out if we even wanted to keep the name. We were like, should we keep going or should we start our own thing now? But we decided pretty quickly. And Spence and I were on the same page musically about what we wanted to do with the record. Most of the time was spent figuring out, for me, how the hell am I gonna write lyrics? I’ve never considered myself a lyricist, but I have stuff to say. So just kind of working on that, building up confidence with writing.

[Former guitarist] Ryan [Ross] was typically credited as Panic’s lyricist and chief songwriter. How accurate is that?

We all worked on the music. Ryan did the majority of the lyrics. He’d have all these lyrics … I’d have to come up with a melody, and he’d be like, “Fit as many words in there as you can.” That’s why a lot of the songs would end up just a mouthful of words. It was crazy. But we all worked on the music. That has always been the case. So, in that respect, it was different for Spence and I not working with four people, saying, okay, we have to be definitive and know what we wanna do. Because we don’t have four ideas to bounce off each other.

Are you enjoying singing your own words?

Definitely. Writing the lyrics and baring my soul is a bit different, but I love it. I love ’em both, but this time I’m extra excited because they are my words.

Do you think losing Ryan and [bassist] Jon [Walker] has forced you to become a better songwriter?

Early on I was kinda second guessing, like, “Is that a cool lyric? I don’t know.” Later on it got better, with Spence and everybody me telling me, yeah dude, it’s totally cool, let’s keep going. For the first month that we were writing I thought, I’m gonna be compared to whatever we’ve done in the past, and my lyrics are totally different. We still love doing fantastical stories and using weird words, but a lot of the stuff is more straightforward. I like being honest in that regard and being able to have this emotion.

This time around, too, we’d been listening to a few newer bands. We were really listening a lot to Arcade Fire’s music, and overall I think was inspirational. And frustrating at the same time. We’d listen to that stuff and be like, oh my God, that’s so good, I wanna write something like that.

After Ryan and Jon left, a lot of people probably wrote off Panic! At the Disco. Did you feel extra pressure as you were making this album?

It wasn’t necessarily any pressure thinking about what other people would think, it was mostly for us, Spence and I. We were working so hard on this record that we didn’t wanna let ourselves down. Working with John Feldman and Butch Walker was awesome—they’re amazing producers. John Feldman got us out of being lazy. He’s such a workaholic and so intense. We’d show up casually around noon, and he’d be like, “You guys should probably start showing up earlier and then we can go until 2 in the morning.” And we got on board, got in the habit of constantly writing and thinking and analyzing what we were doing.

How do you feel about the album?

It’s definitely different. Spencer and I spent a lot of time just making sure we were happy with the record. We thought we had it at one point, and we said, no, no, let’s keep writing, it’s not done yet. And then finally, we said, okay, we’re happy with the record and we have to stop now because it’s been going on too long, let’s call it done. I’m very proud of the record, and I hope we get it out to as many people as we can.

Is it the best record you’ve made?

It’s kind of a habit for musicians, where the newest stuff you’ve written [seems] way better than any old stuff you’ve done. At the same time, though, we’re still very proud of the records we’ve done in the past. So I don’t know … I’m the most excited about it right now.

How do you expect longtime fans will react to it?

I think fans of both our records will find something similar this time. I think there are songs on this record that might not necessarily fit on previous records but I think have a linear vein of musicality that could be recognized easily by our fans. And I think they’ll go, oh, yeah, that is kinda cool. And if not, that’s cool, too.

You mentioned that you briefly considered a name a change. Why did you decide to stick with Panic?

When Ryan and Jon left, Spence and I had talked very briefly about doing something with another name. The attraction of coming up with a new name was, it’s a completely fresh start and there’s no stigma behind it; we could start anew. But it just seemed weird. It doesn’t make sense, because what we want to do with this record is definitely in line with what we’ve done in the past. So it was a quick decision, and I’m glad that we did [stick with it], because I’m still very proud of our name, and I hope that our fans will feel the same when they hear the record.

And Ryan and Jon weren’t upset that you remained Panic?

No, it was never a weird thing, luckily. I know that happens to some bands—no, you can’t keep the name, ya jerks (laughs). There was, like, a month or two where we didn’t talk to each other. We were just being immature. We take the music very personally, and it was a totally musical decision that they wanted to go do something different with their band. And then we said, this is stupid, we’re all friends, we still get along, we just wanna play different music. And then we hung out and it was totally fine. So I’m glad that it was an amicable thing.

Did their decision to leave surprise you?

It was kind of a long time coming. We had realized, even towards the end of touring off of Pretty. Odd., when writing we were on the bus and stuff, we weren’t seeing eye to eye on how we wanted to go musically. That was carrying on for a while, and we saw these little signs. And then Ryan and Jon said they wanted to start this new thing, and we said, okay, that totally makes sense. It was for the best in the long run.

How many musicians will you have in your touring band for this record?

For the past couple of years we’ve been playing with our friends Dallon [Weekes] and Ian [Crawford]. And so far, they are the most talented musicians I have ever known, so we have no reason to get rid of them. And we are really good friends with them. It’s easy to find musicians that can play your stuff—especially our songs; it’s not like they’re that difficult—but it’s definitely hard to find people you can live with, and when you’re on the road that’s what you’re doing. You’re with these people every day, you’re sweating next to these people onstage, it’s very personal. So you have to be able to get along with them. Dallon and Ian are awesome, so I don’t see any changes coming up soon at all.

Have you considered making them full-fledged members of Panic! At the Disco?

We’ve kind of thrown it out there, but nothing’s been talked about seriously. We knew that, for this record, we could play everything in the studio, and we wanted to do that. We wanted to work on this just the two of us, mostly to prove to ourselves that we could do this and build our own confidence as songwriters. But for the live show, we’re such sticklers, we want it to sound as good as it can, and we want it to be as cohesive as possible with the people onstage. So it was important for them also to have input on the live show. So it does feel like a real band, like a four-piece.

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is the Editor of Las Vegas Weekly, having previously served as Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment Editor and ...

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