For a band with a penchant for all things theatrical, Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! seems like an apt album title. Since rising from the steamy Vegas desert in 2005, Panic! At The Disco have been any number of things: a steampunk-inspired emo outfit, a floral-clad band of neo-hippies and, after a radical lineup change, a pair of musical mad scientists content on cramming as many offbeat instruments as possible into a three-minute pop song. The one thing Panic! have never been? Complacent. Employing yet another substantial style shift, the group celebrated the announcement of their fourth album last week with “Miss Jackson,” a seductively dark hip-hop-heavy track flecked with just the right amount of hair-metal heft. Fresh off an outing to Disneyland with his wife and friends, frontman Brendon Urie spoke with AP about the song’s inspiration, where you’re likely to find him hanging out in Sin City and his relationship with former bandmate Ryan Ross.
INTERVIEW: Evan Lucy
“Miss Jackson” has an obvious nod to Janet Jackson’s “Nasty,” then she ends up tweeting about your song. How surreal is that?
Yeah, it was amazing. I had to retweet it. Definitely a pleasant surprise.
Panic! At The Disco – Miss Jackson http://t.co/VUuN1N0IfP -Janet's Team
— Janet Jackson (@JanetJackson) July 20, 2013
It's surprising no one pitched the idea of her singing the hook on the track.
[Laughs.] I don’t know if she would have gone for that. Honestly, I was just watching the video on YouTube one day and that line came up and I thought, “Oh, my God. I have to sing this. It’s so much fun.”
Why release “Miss Jackson” first? What about it makes it the best representation of the album?
Every song on the album is pretty different from one another, but there are a lot of the sounds of the other songs are kind of mixed together in this one. There are songs that range from something personal to something fictitious to a song about where I grew up in Vegas. This really sums up the vibe of the record, of this party record that we’re excited about.
Everything released about the album so far just oozes Vegas, from the album title to some of the items in the pre-order packages like dice and an old-school motel room key. But even though you came up in Vegas, you’ve refrained from using it so prominently throughout your career. What changed?
When we did our first record, we were really bitter toward the whole Vegas scene. We weren’t old enough to experience all of what Vegas is really known for. Even the shows, most of them were 21 and over. There was a lot of hostility, but over the past couple years, I’ve started to get rid of that cynicism and see it in a new light. My family still lives in Vegas, so now I’m able to go to these places and see people letting loose and dancing like crazy in clubs. All that stuff I wasn’t allowed to experience before. It’s a town where you can lose all inhibition, and I wanted to celebrate it.
What’s your spot in Vegas? Are you a Strip guy, or are you down at Fremont Street playing $1 roulette?
I’m not a huge gambler, but I do like the odds of roulette. If I play anything, it’s that; just drop it on a color. Black, black is my color. If I win, I might let it roll, but if I lose once, I’m out. [Laughs.] I don’t know, I like to go to restaurants. There are a lot of amazing restaurants, but it’s a lot of clubs I was never allowed to visit. Going into nightclubs and being inspired by not only the music but also the sea of people, the ocean of bodies moving together –it’s chaotic but beautiful.
Can you hear that musically on Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!?
Yeah, maybe a little. I think it’s more the feeling of the music in those places. It was really inspiring. I’ve been to a few concerts over the past few years that really felt that way, too. One in particular was M83; it was phenomenal. The music just kept going, and by the end you didn’t realize how tired you were. It’s like “Oh, my God; look at my shirt! I have to go to bed. I don’t know what just happened, but it was amazing.”
The last time we talked (AP 274), we discussed you building up the confidence to take over this new role as primary lyricist after Ryan Ross left the band. How did making Vices & Virtues play a role in how you approached this album?
I think overall, it was the songwriting and producing. With the last record, I was still trying to figure out who I was as a songwriter and how to do different things; I ended up surprising myself during that writing process. I definitely felt a little more confident this time around. I learned a lot from Butch [Walker] and from our friend Jake Sinclair, who co-produced the album. Both of them were very influential in really showing me how to produce so I could focus more on the songwriting and also learn the gist of how to make these demos sound really good. I hit my stride this time around. It became more of a challenge, which was really helpful to the process.
There’s often been a seediness and tinge of darkness to Panic, whether musically or lyrically. Now that you’re happily married, where do you pull that inspiration from? Is it past experience, fictional characters or something else?
Yeah, it’s a little of both. The thing about memories is you only remember so much. You can sit there and go, “Oh, I thinkthis is how it happened,” but someone will always have a different take on it. So a lot of times a song will be based off a true event, but it gets twisted and molded into this elaborate story which makes it more fun for the songwriting and lyrically.
Was there pressure with this album, or did the process of getting over that hump and making a record without Ryan and Jon Walker in turn make things a little looser this time around?
I think there’s definitely a little bit of pressure with every record. For me personally, it was dealing with deadlines. I’m awful with deadlines. It’s like, “When’s it’s due? Okay, add on two weeks or two months and you’ll have it.” It’s good to have people forcing you to have things done; we can’t just keep working and working forever. At some point, you have to walk away and say it’s done. Luckily, we wrote “Miss Jackson” and a couple other songs and stepped back and said, “Yep, that’s it. This is the record I wanted to make.”
What’s your relationship like with Ryan these days?
I talked with him in the last couple months. We’ve all been pretty busy with our own projects and gearing up for our tour and stuff. I know he and Jon are both hard at work with their music. It’s hard to connect a lot of time, even with people like Pete and Patrick from Fall Out Boy. It’s like, “Hey, we should get dinner,” and then everyone has their own things that need attention instead.
How much did you know about the Fall Out Boy reunion?
Honestly, people kept talking about it around me, but I was like, “I don’t want to know! I don’t want to know!” I kind of wanted to be surprised as well. I was so stoked when they announced it. I’ve only been to a couple live shows, but they’ve been killing it.
When “Miss Jackson” was released, people were quick to draw comparisons to Fall Out Boy’s “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark.” Had you heard that song at the time you were writing “Miss Jackson”?
No, I actually hadn’t heard anything. Obviously we worked with the same producer, so some of that is going to seep in. But they had taken a break on their album around the time I wrote “Miss Jackson” and went in to finish our record with Butch. So no, but that’s kind of nice for people to say. Obviously it’s not the first time we’ve been compared to them. [Laughs.]
There’s a big fall tour with Fall Out Boy on the books, and it’s the first time you’ve played arenas and the like since the Blink-182 reunion tour in 2009 with, coincidentally, Fall Out Boy.
Yeah, it’s gonna be awesome. We’re also doing a bunch of intimate rooms just to get back into it and get all sweaty again. That’s something I miss. And then getting back into arenas is going to be phenomenal; it’s been a while since we’ve done that, like you said. And to do it with Fall Out Boy is going to be even better. They’re really great friends and so great to tour with—plus they’re a lot of fun to watch live.
All of the small club shows obviously sold out quickly, but from the band’s Facebook posts, you guys seemed surprised. You’re too modest.
Yeah, I mean it’s always shocking when something like that happens. I guess we never really think about it that much. I like keeping that surprise. We’re just excited to see our fans again. ALT