Where are Panic! at the Disco now? An interview with Brendon Urie

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Panic! at the Disco are not the band you’d expect. Back with a fourth album, they stray from previous ’emo’ efforts in favour of pop electronics. Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die is a record infused with the optimism of band emerging from a time of upheaval, not least due to Spencer Smith’s recent battle with drug and alcohol addiction. As a founding member and key aspect of the group’s sound, Smith’s temporary departure to deal with his addiction demons created a void in a band so reliant on close friendships. Frontman Brendon Urie, despite the turmoil, is in a happy place with where Panic! are as a band right now. 

The latest record demonstrates a development that has impressed both new and old fans. ‘The band have progressed in a way I never thought possible’, explains Urie. Surprisingly, Panic! are heavily influenced by hip-hop and the genre’s modern heavyweights: ‘I was listening to a lot of A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar, and Drake, and Danny Brown, new hip hop is really great, J-Cole’s another one, Frank Ocean too. A lot of artists today, especially hip hop and R’n’B, are breaking rules and breaking boundaries. I think it’s a really exciting time for music in general right now, and that was kind of a push to do something different.’ Despite their wish to break new ground, the band haven’t forgotten the rock roots that made their debut album so exciting. The eclectic merge of genres on TWTL, TRTD blends ‘hip hop and 80’s synth pop with some specific influences from rock bands of the past’.

The new record has gained some critical acclaim, but it’s harder for the men at the centre of its creation to pick moments they are proud of: ‘It’s hard to pick out of all of the new songs. It’s like picking your favourite kid! Surprisingly for a lot of people my favourite one is the last on the record, for a lot of reasons. Firstly, it’s one of the more ‘different’ songs, way more different than anything that we’ve done, it’s just three piano chords – very sad and sombre with this very beautiful message behind it. ‘The End Of All Things’; it’s a play on the end of the record, the end of a lot of things dynamically.’

As with past efforts, personal emotion is central to the band’s songs. For Urie his marriage to Sarah Orzechowski this year was a big inspiration for the fabric of this album. ‘It was cool to be able to open up that much about something so personal to me’, he explains in reference to the writing process. Urie has always been known for pouring his heart and soul into his lyrics, stating that, ‘I always start to tear up a little bit even thinking about it but every time I listen to it, it makes me feel such a strong emotion and I think that’s a really important thing for a great song.”

Most recent single ‘This is Gospel’ tells of the band’s struggle with Smith’s battle with addiction. ‘I wanted to tell someone a story, it doesn’t have to go beginning, middle, end, but it should tell of a struggle, battling something, this thing you can’t get away from –  you’re trying to push through and it’s dragging you down. I thought that was really important because it went along with what was going on at the time, about Spencer battling with his addiction. At the time I was fearful, I was angry, I was mad about a lot of what was going on, I was not myself, I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t help him. I was mad at him for not being able to help himself, I was angry and scared, so I wanted to get that across; I wanted to show how I couldn’t break free.’

The video is a highly-choreographed, syncopated, movement-heavy affair. New video for ‘Girls/Girls/Boys’ is more ‘stripped-down’ which Urie likes for a sensational – well for all the ladies watching – reason: ‘I enjoy being naked most of the time, so it worked out. I’ve always wanted to kind of spoof the D’Angelo video that he is so well known for’.

Heading back to the early days of Panic! at the Disco, way before the removal and re-addition of the famous exclamation point, back to the A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out days, Urie reveals how the band struggled to portray their talent in the live setting. ‘When we started out we weren’t really great live, we didn’t really know how to write, we were just kind of fucking around, trying to write the best songs we could. To be that successful that early on in our career, it was daunting; but I think ultimately, just a blessing. We were very fortunate to be able to do that.’

Fall Out Boy played a big part in this process by acknowledging the band’s immediate talent and signing them up to Pete Wentz’s record label Decaydance. The band’s thought process has never really changed over the years, despite the up and downs of success. ‘We’ll always do what excites us, what we love, we’re not letting anyone change that. You can kind of control a dynamic musically whereas you might not be able to control the dynamic of a band’s relationship on the whole. This band has had a very interesting history and I hope that the history grows. It’s going to be an exciting story to tell my grand kids’.

With a band that have been going for almost ten years, it’s easy to make the assumption that the older tracks are more tedious to play than the newer ones. However, with Panic!, the older songs allow for an intensified crowd reaction, one that allows the fans to shape the feeling of playing old tracks.

‘I know the songs so well that I’m more focused on getting into the crowd’s energy, feeding off that. I don’t really get tired of playing the old songs, they kind of recreate themselves in a way, fans are singing the words back to you and it changes the whole dynamic in general. Still one of my favourites, always, to play is ‘I Write Sins, Not Tragedies’. We usually end the set with it because it is such a fun moment, to kind of remember that this is what brought us all together! This took us to where we are! It’s really cool to reminisce and get nostalgic about it. You’re playing a live show not for you, for the band – you could just do that at home – you don’t want to just go see a band stand there and play the record, you could just go and listen to the fucking record!”

Feature originally published on The National Student.

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I’m Megan Downing, an English Literature graduate from University of Southampton. I am the Music, Arts and Culture Editor for The National Student. I am the Membership and Communications Officer for the Student Publication Association, I write about music for 7BitArcade, and contribute regularly to The Culture Trip. I have a passion for live music and this is where I began in student journalism. Reviewing a gig or festival is still where my heart lies four years on. I will be starting at MTV as a News Intern in June 2015. One thing you should know about me is that I have an unhealthy obsession with Kevin Spacey.

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