A conversation with Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie

August 10, 2009
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In July, Panic! At The Disco guitarist Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker announced they were parting ways with vocalist Brendon Urie and drummer Spencer Smith to form the Young Veins. Urie and Smith are soldiering on as P!ATD, but we still had plenty of questions. Namely, are band splits ever really amicable? What’s the real deal with the exclamation point? And is a Journey cover band actually a good idea? BRENDON URIE checked in from Boston during his band’s current stint opening for Blink-182 to answer these questions and more, exclusively for AltPress.com.

Tuesday was not only your first show on the Blink-182 tour, but the first without Ryan Ross and Jon Walker. How was it?
It was awesome. It’s crazy. We’ve been looking forward to this tour, just being huge fans of Blink, and we got here and they were all super welcoming. And it’s good that we knew the guys in Fall Out Boy, so they’ve been hanging out and reminiscing about the good ol’ tours we’ve done in the past–it’s been a lot of fun. The show was great. It’s awesome because we haven’t actually been support for a tour for a while, and it’s a lot of fun. We have our two friends, Ian [Crawford, ex-the Cab] and Dallon [Weekes, the Brobecks] out with us, and they’re just killing it, so it’s been cool.

How’s the dynamic with Ian and Dallon?
We had been rehearsing at my house in California for about three days, and the first day we were like, “Okay, we haven’t rehearsed, so we’ll see how it goes and everything will work out.” And Dallon and Ian showed up and were great. They learned the songs before they showed up, and they really proved themselves. [Laughs.] So yeah, it’s been great. I haven’t had this much fun playing live in a long time–as [long as] I can remember, so I’m personally stoked.

Were you concerned about how your fans would react to the loss of Ross and Walker?
Actually, we’ve done a meet and greet, and the fans seems to be really understanding–it’s sweet. It gives a positive vibe for us, so it doesn’t make it awkward at all. They seem to be cool with it, so that really helps us out a lot, too. We want everybody to know that it isn’t awkward and it’s totally a positive thing, so they seem to be taking that information pretty well.

From the statements both camps have made, it sounds like the relationship between the four original members is staying positive and you’re hoping Panic! fans will give both new groups a chance. You can hope that your fans won’t take sides, but so many fans today almost seem to feel like they have a little piece of ownership over their favorite bands…
Totally. And that’s what we didn’t want to lose with anyone. We can understand if they wanted to choose a side, but we didn’t want them to feel alienated in any way. We wanted to make sure that they were all cool, and it wasn’t a VH1 Behind The Music special. But that comes with the territory, I guess. Fans are going to make their decision, and we’re just glad that the fans that have stuck with us are staying positive, so it’s been a good experience for us, at least.

Do you and Smith think Weekes and Crawford will become permanent members, or are they strictly out for this tour?
Right now, we’re just touring. But, you know, something could come up. We haven’t really talked about it, to be honest. Maybe we’ll think about it a little more after we finish this tour. We had a very short amount of time to get ready for this tour, and luckily it’s all been working out great. So we’re holding on to that. It’s like, “Okay, we’re not going to ask for anything more.” It’s cool for right now. We’re stoked about how our demos are going, so we’ll keep it that way for now.

Had the band split been in the works for a while, or was it a shock?
It wasn’t like a sudden thing. Through the course of a year or two–we all stayed really good friends, which was important–but the musical directions that we wanted to go kind of changed and everybody had different opinions about what the music should sound like. Then we just kind of agreed to disagree. And agreed on one thing: It’s like, “Hey, we want to do this, and you guys want to do this,” so that totally made sense and we all came to a mutual agreement. We kind of lucked out in that sense, I guess. [Laughs.] It totally worked out and no hard feelings.

Did some of those creative difference start manifesting even before Pretty. Odd. came out? Panic! have talked about scrapping an album’s worth of material before that release.
Yeah, definitely. I guess it was a couple years, and we’d all been listening to [different] stuff. Me and Spencer have grown up with the Beatles and all these older bands just because of our parents. And we’re totally appreciative of that. And Ryan didn’t so much, so he had this awesome view of it where he could actually look at [the Beatles] as a new band. That’s totally a rare thing for someone, so it’s awesome. So he was really into that. And we fucking love the Beatles. We love the Kinks, the Who–we love all those classic rock bands. We just also love Peter Gabriel and Journey. [Laughs.] We just all had a few different musical ideas that we wanted to pursue in the future, so we kept that in the back of our minds, and I guess that helped us make the decision.

Based on Panic!’s past successes, are you worried about expectations from the industry or from fans or even from one another for the next album?
I guess in that sense you kind of have to not even think about it–to an extent. If we kept worrying about what other people expected, it wouldn’t be genuine. We honestly just love playing music and we love just trying different stuff, and we wanted to keep doing that. We wanted to keep just doing random songs. Like a song that sounded like a Spanish song, or a song that sounded jazzy, or a song that sounded like Frank Sinatra. We all have that ADHD in us, so that helps with the music. But on a bigger scale with the music, I guess we all just wanted to ultimately do something different.

We’ve heard “New Perspective,” the song from the Jennifer’s Body soundtrack. It seems to be a fitting title for the time.
Actually, that song was written maybe two-and-a-half years ago. I didn’t really know what to do with it. JD, our manager, called and said, “Hey, they have this movie coming out, and they’re looking for a song.” I actually gave them a different song. I’m like, “Actually, I don’t know if it even fits, but you can show them this one. But I have another one if they don’t want to do that one.” I sent him both at the same time, and he’s like, “You know, I think maybe we should try the other one.” I was willing to do whatever because I hadn’t really made up my mind about either one. And they were like, “Yeah, this one is awesome, we’d love to use if for the movie.” And I was completely excited. That’s something that we’ve never really done before. We’ve had a remix on Snakes On A Plane–it wasn’t in the movie, though. [Laughs.] It was kind of cool seeing the movie and hearing it in the scene. It blew my mind.

If you wrote it that long ago, was it one that all four of you had worked on or one you had in your back pocket?
Yeah, that was one I had written on my own. I woke up from a dream I had had, and I was like, “Oh, I kinda want to write about this dream that I had.” It’s kinda weird. I’d love to just get it down. So I spent all day–it was actually when I was still living in Vegas, and I hung out all day with my my puppy–and just kind of wrote the song. [Laughs.]

As you work on new material, do you see your songwriting role changing, so people aren’t looking at you as just “Brendon, the singer”?
I don’t know. I’m kind of the worst at that. I never know what people actually think about me–I just kind of take whatever they say to me at face value. Like, okay, yeah, I believe you. Yeah sure, you tell me, I’ll believe you. So I’m not really sure. Whether or not they look at me as just the singer, that’s cool–I just really, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do was write music, and that’s all I spend my time on. I almost didn’t pass high school because I was just spending so much time writing music and not paying attention to school. [Laughs.] But yeah, I can’t really say what I know of people’s expectations or their view of who I am. But it could change. And I hope it does change–in a positive way, and in the sense that they don’t really know what to classify me as. That would be cool. [Laughs.] That would be kind of neat to be unclassifiable–like an X-File.

People in the past have maybe said, “Oh, well, Ryan was the brains behind the operation,” so now they may be wondering what’s going to happen. Are you looking forward to being able to step forward and be like, “No, man, I write songs too.”
[Laughs.] Yeah, you know, it’s different. It’s different writing with four people and you have four different opinions that are thrown into one big bowl, and you’re like, “Okay, let’s mix ’em all together and pull whatever comes out and try to make it all work.” And that’s one thing, and we definitely did that for a little bit. It’s another thing to just be like, “Okay, well, I just kind of had this idea. What do you think of this full thing?” It’s like, “Cool.” Also, me and Spencer have been working on stuff, too, so going from four to two people, it’s a totally different process. It’s all relevant I think, I dunno.

You already named some of the bands you were into…
Well, personally me. I like, love Journey…

So maybe you could just do a Journey cover band and call it a day.
That is not a bad idea at all, actually. [Laughs.] I just feel like I could never be up to par with Steve Perry’s vocals, to be honest. That’s the only thing holding me back right now. [Laughs.] I would have no trouble being in a Journey cover band. Shit, I’d be down to just play some Journey.

So when you do start focusing on new material after this tour, do you think it will have more elements of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out than Pretty. Odd.?
We didn’t want to purposely replicate anything we’d ever done in the past. I think the one thing that we missed from the first record was how a lot of the songs sounded different, just in the sense that we had a song that was just totally heavy and had electronics. Then we had a song that was totally backed by strings and accordions. They each had their own respective vibe to them, and we kind of missed out on that a lot on the second record. Even though it was so much fun, we just wanted to do something different this time. Me and Spencer just kind of miss throwing in whatever idea came in. Like, “Okay, start with a weird jazz arc, then we’d go into a chorus that sounds like ‘In Your Eyes’ or something.” It was just cool to throw out ideas regardless of genre or taste–as long as we thought it was cool or good. That’s something that we want to get back.

I feel more confident with that because that’s totally my MO, I think. I jump from one thing, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that’s cool. Oh, but that’s cool, too. Oh, shit, that’s cool, too.” So I’m just kind of jumping all over the place.

And of course there’s the whole punctuation controversy now that you’ve re-added the exclamation point to the band name. Are you sick of hearing about that yet?
[Laughs.] It’s pretty funny. We were just like, “Yeah, that’d be pretty funny.” People put so much thought into us dropping it. So it was like, “Yeah, we’ll bring it back and see what they say now.” When we had it before, people didn’t say anything, so let’s see if we stop getting asked. [Laughs.] By the time we got to the second record, we realized we were going to get asked about it all the time. But it’s totally cool. We back it.

But it’s not any grand symbolization of anything else?
Yeah, just having fun with people’s opinions and stuff. [Laughs.]

So what’s up next after the Blink tour?
We definitely want to finish recording. We’ve been demoing now for a few months, and we definitely have a few songs that we want to record. We’re still writing on tour. I’m writing personally, as well. Just trying to get more ideas out. Our good friend Rob used to say, “Hey, all you have to do is really show up. If you keep going, you’ll get happier with the stuff that you write.” So I’m taking his advice and just starting to do that. We really feel that after this tour, we could go into the studio and hopefully get some songs out, and hopefully have something out by next year.

Do you think you will look for other members to round out the lineup?
Yeah. I mean, honestly, it’s the one thing we really haven’t considered as much. Right now, we’re just really focused on the two [of us], and we feel maybe bringing in outsiders, or an outside presence, might add a little more complication–I’m not sure really how to say it. But we feel good about just the two of us working on stuff together. It seems to be going well so far. There’s definitely a possibility. I’d love to bring in more opinions and more ideas from other people. Maybe I need more practice on writing so I can actually throw in more ideas, I don’t know. [Laughs.] But it’s definitely a cool possibility. I’d love to think about that in the near future. —Rachel Lux

Written by Rachel Lux