Today marks the one-year anniversary of Panic! At The Disco’s fourth studio album, Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!. Right about now, it must feel pretty good to be Brendon Urie. In the past year, the singer/songwriter won Best Vocalist at the AP Music Awards, his band released a hugely successful album and completed multiple headlining tours. What could stop the guy? Member changes to the band didn’t. The Westboro Baptist Church tried and failed. One year later, we caught up with Urie to reflect on Too Weird To Live and the journey that’s brought him to where he is today.
It’s been about a month since the Gospel Tour ended. Have you finally had some downtime?
BRENDON URIE: Actually, last night was the first time I had downtime, and I used it all up. I went out with some friends to this haunted house/interactive play thing. It was insane. On the last day of tour, we actually flew to South Africa for a show. Since then, I’ve just been working, writing and doing collaborations.
You guys were covering Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” toward the end of the tour. It kind of became a viral hit. How did that come about?
That was so weird, too. Once we put it up, I did not at all expect the attention that it got. It kind of blew my mind. Dude, Brian May tweeted it—and that blew my mind. The Queen Twitter [account] tweeted it. It was so weird. Like, “This is the coolest thing ever!” I was freaking out, man.
It’s been a year since you guys put out Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!, and it’s been kind of a crazy ride, hasn’t it?
To say the least, it’s been amazing. It just gets better and better, to be honest. Being in this band, I love it.
When you put out Vices & Virtues, it felt like a big return to form, and people liked that. But on Too Weird To Live, you sound so much more comfortable, even with your lyrics. Looking back at the album, now that you’ve had some time to reflect, how do you feel about it?
For me, I definitely felt more comfortable this time around. I knew what I wanted from myself in terms of writing and working and trying to get certain messages across. I was talking about things on Too Weird To Live that were just real; they were just honest. I started to notice that all these things were about my time growing up in Vegas, and I was like, “Man, this is really cool. I’ve never talked about that before. I just want to be as candid as possible.” For me, that just seems like the best approach. I like to be real, and I like to have fun with lyrics. This last record is my favorite by far, and I hope that continues. I’m still waiting to write my opus, but we’ll see what happens.
Too Weird To Live sold really well in the first week. It did a lot better than Vices. [Too Weird sold 84,000 copies in its first week compared to Vices’ 56,000] That’s interesting, because in today’s music industry, it’s more about big bands selling less and less with each release. You usually don’t see upticks like that anymore. Did this surprise you?
It’s always unreal. It’s a very surreal thing, because I never think about that before, or even after, the record comes out. “Sales” [are] such a weird thing to concentrate on. I usually just try to focus on putting on a really great show, hoping that we’re happy with how the record sounds and, first and foremost, putting out something that I totally, truly believe in. But the fact that it happens is really miraculous. It’s a testament to fans of our band. People seem to still enjoy what we do, and the fact I can continue to do this is pretty amazing. I can’t help but be grateful. It’s insane.
I would like to think that it’s because this album felt very honest, and it was a lot of fun. At a certain point, people can sense a false attitude or repetition. If it’s coming from a real place where you’re actually excited about what you’re doing, people can sense that. I think that’s a really uncontrollable feeling that can circulate and become viral. At least, I’m hoping that that’s the case, but I’m not really sure. [Laughs.]
Around the time the album came out, you toured with Fall Out Boy. It was a big time for both bands. Was that nostalgic at all?
Oddly enough, it wasn’t that nostalgic. We would tell stories afterward, like, “Hey, man, remember this? That was funny.” Fall Out Boy, to me, are really good friends, but they also feel like a new band. When we toured with them, it was like, “Oh my god.” I was really fucking impressed just watching them live. Holy shit, how much better are they gonna get live? That tour we did with them was unreal. I feel like we were both trying to push each other to get better every night. We’d watch each other like, “Oh, you’re gonna do that? Well, I’m gonna do this.” It was a competitive rivalry, but it was very healthy.
One of the things I liked was that both Panic! and Fall Out Boy came out of the gates with a strong hip-hop-inspired song [“Miss Jackson” and “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark,” respectively]. Is the hip-hop element something you think you’re gonna keep around?
I truly want to do something that just excites me, something brand new. I’m still figuring out different ways of writing, and it’s hard, but it’s also very rewarding. It’s a challenge that I truly love. I’m just a huge fan of hip-hop in general, and I think it’s gonna stick around anyway, just because I love it as a true fan. Anything I listen to usually makes it [on the album] somehow, either subliminally or very openly.
Since we’re on the subject, it’s been a good couple of years for hip-hop. What have been some of your favorite, recent hip-hop records?
Oh, it’s been great. I still listen to A$AP Rocky. His last album was insane. I still listen to that thing pretty consistently. Danny Brown’s Old is amazing. The new Kendrick [Lamar] song that just came out, like, I fucking love it. It’s so cool. His lyrics are so smart. He’s just such a talented dude. There are way too many artists. I actually had a chance to hang out with Action Bronson. That was the coolest thing ever. He is the nicest, most genuine, real dude.
How does the success you’ve been having with Too Weird compare to the A Fever You can’t Sweat Out days? Do they both seem different?
It’s definitely different. When the first record came out, we thought we had at least 10 years to perfect our craft, because we’d only been playing live shows for a matter of months. We were just like, “Fuck, man, we get to play arenas, but we don’t know what the fuck we’re doing.” We really just wanted to give it our all, so we built up a huge show, and that’s been a part of the band since the beginning. Now, it’s been a little bit of time, and I feel more comfortable with approaching things and not second-guessing certain things that I may have in the past. It’s completely different. There was such a weird thing going on when Fever came out. The things that we did and the places we performed went way above and beyond what we thought was possible. It’s just insane.
You brought up second-guessing yourself. It’s now legend to fans, but there’s that one full Panic! record that had been scrapped before you wrote Pretty. Odd.
Yeah, before we wrote the songs for Pretty. Odd., we were kind of going crazy. Everything was getting better and better and better and better. We were going to write the second record, and I think we just got so fucking ambitious and overly confident about creating things. Like, “Oh, yeah, we can totally write a Broadway musical.” What the fuck were we thinking? I’m not a string composer. I can’t fucking write that shit. I think we started to forget who got us there. Like, push yourself to do something great, but some of it was a little pretentious. But I think that was a healthy thing that needed to happen, because we hadn’t had something fail like that. Everything was going so fucking well. Then to show the label and management, “Hey, listen to the shit we’re writing.” And they’re like, “What the fuck? This is godawful.” I think we needed to hear that, because everybody’s doing the whole circle jerk, like, “Oh my god. We’re so good. It’s so amazing. It’s only gonna get better.” I think we needed a little speed bump. We needed someone telling us, “Eh, not everything you do is gold. Maybe work a little bit more.” [Laughs.]
That’s a pretty grown-up thing to admit. That’s an interesting way to look at it.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I can say that now, but back then, I’d probably be like, “Fuck you, man. It’s great.” [Laughs.] Not today.
During this journey since the album came out, you performed at the AP Music Awards and won Best Vocalist. Now that you’ve had some time to let that sink in, how did it feel?
Even then it was insane. I can’t thank AP enough, and I can’t thank our fans enough. It’s so crazy. The fact that I got to perform Sinatra songs in front of a crowd that maybe doesn’t listen to Sinatra was the coolest thing. I looked out and almost everyone in the crowd was singing the words—it was the coolest marriage of two different worlds. But winning that award was not expected at all. They were like, “Yeah, stick around just in case.” I was like, “Yeah, I know the drill. I’ll hang out, but I’m not gonna be bummed if I lose. I totally understand: All these vocalists are fucking phenomenal.” I was so glad I won, like, “Fuck yeah!” It was so validating. I know it’s kind of petty, but it was so validating.
Obviously, the band are doing great, and you’re at a place where you’re comfortable. But during all the member changes Panic! had, was there ever a point where you thought, “Maybe this isn’t for me anymore?”
Oh, no, no, no. Not for me, personally. I always wanted to continue doing it. But it was up in the air. I didn’t know who wanted to be involved with me anymore. I didn’t know who wanted to stay in the band and who wanted to go do their own thing. It was like an uneasy feeling. Like, “What are we doing? Do you guys still wanna be in a band or do we just wanna call it quits?” I never did; I always wanted to continue. This band means way too much to me. I couldn’t have done it on my own, obviously, and I’m glad we had people around to help support that. The fact that the fans stuck around is insane, because we put them through so fucking much.
It’s been over a year since drummer Spencer Smith left the band to seek treatment for addiction. How is he doing? What’s his status in the band?
I talk to him periodically, but, honestly, I haven’t talked to him in a little bit. The last time I talked to him, he told me he was doing good. I guess the most you can do is take someone’s word for it. I think it’s going okay. I know when [he entered rehab] it was really tough for me even to have to admit, “Hey, this is crazy.” The fact that he took that step to do that is pretty amazing. Not a lot of people would do that; they would just give up at a certain point. But he was like, “No, no, no. I understand. I need to go. I need to get some help. I need to work on myself.” He’s continuing to do that.
Have there been any talks about brining him back yet?
Not yet. We haven’t talked about that yet. It had to be a separation. You need to focus on you. Don’t worry about anything else that may be jumping into your mind. Just focus on you. I think it’s such a key thing to remember when you’re trying to help yourself. You just gotta focus on yourself and the steps of doing that. He’s got his own program that he’s doing. I think that’s really important. No talks yet of him coming back. But he’s still working on stuff, and the band will definitely continue.