Proudly Panic! Brendon Urie reflects back as he keeps pushing forward

Panic! At the Disco’s fifth album is essentially a solo project for Urie.
Photo: Robert Altman/AP
Annie Zaleski

Thanks to the meteoric rise of his band, Panic! At the Disco, Brendon Urie left Las Vegas several years before he was legally allowed to be on the Strip. But growing up, the fantasy of the city loomed large in his life—in the form of stories about the Rat Pack, the movie Ocean’s Eleven, the live album Sinatra at the Sands, even the Luxor light, which he could see from his backyard.

“I would dream of what’s out there,” Urie recalls. “I remember looking down, even on the Strip, and trying to figure out how that tied into me.”

Panic! At the Disco’s 2013 record, Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!, grappled with a lot of those Vegas-centric thoughts and ideas. But on the band’s new fifth studio album, Death of a Bachelor, Urie aimed to tackle stories of the present day, as a happily married, LA-residing, successful headlining artist. “[With this] album, I’m talking about who I’ve become now, in terms of starting this new era of Panic! [with] me at the helm,” he says. “It was really me trying to discover who I was as a songwriter and producer.”

Urie had help, of course, from co-producer Jake Sinclair, along with co-writers like Semisonic’s Dan Wilson and Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo. (“It was a huge honor to work with them,” Urie enthuses about the latter pair.) But with the 2015 departure of drummer Spencer Smith, and bassist Dallon Weekes transitioning back into a touring-member role, Panic! At the Disco is now essentially a Urie solo project.

There had been talk of a potential solo album pre-Bachelor, but as it turns out, Urie’s quite attached to the Panic! name. “Honestly, [that’s] always symbolized for me what I’ve always wanted out of the band,” Urie says. “I’ve always loved the name. Coming up with that was the funniest thing to me at the time.

“From the first album, I felt I never had any rules,” he continues. “No one could tell me what to do. I didn’t want people to tell me what to do. I love being able to use it as this catalyst for carte blanche, for whatever I want. There’s no rules at all, and that’s mostly the reason I kept it.”

On Bachelor, that anything-goes strategy includes sampling two intriguing tunes: The B-52s’ “Rock Lobster” and “Questions 67 and 68” by Chicago—a group he’s been a fan of since his dad played him “25 or 6 to 4” during a father-son camping trip. “Chicago, B-52s, they’re all bands I was raised on,” Urie says. “I mean, that was just going to creep in there whether it was a sample or whether I tipped my hat to a lyric. I like using nostalgia to get a modern, more contemporary point across.”

His family still lives in Vegas, and Urie sees them when his schedule permits. While visiting, he keeps things low-key and nostalgic; go-to joints include Hash House A Go Go and Port of Subs. Urie still sounds fond of his hometown, describing his earliest musical encounters with affection. “The first hardcore show I went to, I snuck out of my house and went out with friends for this band called Curl Up and Die. I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m such a badass,’” he laughs.

Urie has never really lost that outsider-peeking-in mentality, which emerges when he attempts to define what the spirit of Panic! At the Disco means to him now, a decade-plus after the band’s breakthrough.

“I wanted this thing to be able to travel the world, to meet people that share the same passion that I have, and that’s what it’s done,” he says. “It’s gotten me there and even further. It’s crazy to even be talking to you right now about this. The fact that we’re talking about something I created blows my mind. It makes me [feel] a little weird, I’m not going to lie.”

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