August 02, 2006 11:21 AM
by Christina Fuoco
Panic! At the Disco frontman/guitarist Brendon Urie admits the vast desert soundscape of Las Vegas is not the most ideal scene from which to arise.
"It sucks," Urie said during an interview on his tour bus parked behind Tempe, AZ's Marquee Theatre. "It's horrible. There's no places to play. There's no real support for bands. No one really cares. Everyone plays death metal or post-hardcore screamo, and that's pretty much it. Everyone sounds the same."
Newer bands, like Panic!, basically have two choices for venues in which to showcase their material: "backyards, or you play The Joint or House of Blues in front of 2,000 people," he said. "It's ridiculous."
So, with no live shows under its belt, Panic! took an alternate route to discovery. The band posted its music on a website devoted to Decaydance, a label founded by Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz.
"There was no way we could have played a show in Las Vegas, so the only way we could be discovered was through the Internet, which was the way it worked," Urie said.
Wentz heard Panic!, and traveled to Las Vegas to watch the fledgling, high school-bred band--which also included drummer Spencer Smith, then-bassist Brent Wilson and guitarist Ryan Ross-- practice. Jon Walker replaced Wilson on bass earlier this year, after an acrimonious split.
"We didn't really know [Wentz] until we were signed," Urie recalled. "I never saw Fall Out Boy live. ... Ryan posted our stuff, and [Wentz] visited us in Vegas and watched us practice a little bit. He told us they were going to sign us,"
"[Wentz is] the reason we were discovered," Urie added. "We were kind of reaching out to him. Just the fact that he took a chance on coming out and seeing a band who had never played a show is cool. He does a really good job. He's put in a really good word for us during interviews. A lot of the hype we can owe to him. We toured with [Fall Out Boy], too. That was a lot of fun."
LiveDaily: What do you think about all the hype surrounding your band? You're selling out theaters, on the covers of magazines ...
Brendon Urie: The hype is pretty good. So it's a good sign. There's different kinds of hype for different reasons. Hype is good. The crowd just has more expectations from us when we're on stage. That's cool, too. I hope we haven't been too disappointing. We try. [laughs]
Speaking of "expectations," that's been a word that has followed Panic! At the Disco around since its formation.
When we first started off, we made our record and then we played our first show. There was a bit of an expectation, you know, "Fall Out Boy signed them. They never played a show. They better be, like, real good." In the beginning, we sucked, too. We were horrible. We're still not too good, but we've gotten better. I'll just say that much.
With your breathlessly long song titles, you seem to come from the Pete Wentz school of writing.
[Laughs] Ryan writes all the lyrics, and me and him will have a music idea, and we'll sit down together and kind of work it out. And then when we have the basic idea, me and him sit down, we'll present it to Spencer and [now ex-bassist Brent Wilson], and we'll all collaborate, with whatever ideas we have. For the first half, we wrote the music first and then [Ryan] wrote lyrics to sort of fit the feel. For the second half, the songs, Ryan would write lyrics like this storytelling kind of picture. We would write music based around that--like, the feel, the theme of what he was talking about. If he was talking about a whore, it would have a sleazy feel to it. We're weird guys. I don't know if a lot of people get our humor. A lot of people probably think we're jerks. We're real sarcastic. Really ironic and stuff. We mean well, but we joke around probably a lot more than we should.
What was it like to work with producer Matt Squire?
It was awesome. I love that guy. Pretty much all the songs we ever wrote were on the album. So it was kind of hard pulling stuff together. Some of the song ideas we didn't use because we didn't have the time. We're kind of perfectionists. We like to sit down with one song and really work it to our liking. He had so many good ideas that fit perfectly. I should say we had pieces of songs and put them together. We had seven or eight full songs, and then he edited every single one of them. He really helped us out with some ideas.
We were really uptight when we were writing. We were like, "Man this sucks. We have to work on this chorus." He was like, "No, man, the chorus is good. Leave it alone." He helped us pick the priorities for songs. He was pretty much on the same wavelength as us. He got the idea that we wanted. That's the first time we ever worked with anyone else. There's a lot you can learn from Matt Squire. He's quite the mentor.
From what I understand, singing is something relatively new to you..
I had only been in the band for four months, [and] I had been the singer for, like, two weeks when we were signed. So it was, like, weird. I was the lead guitarist/backup singer. I wasn't the singer. Ryan was. Then, like two weeks before we got signed, they were like, "OK, sing." I was like, "OK, whatever." We had, like, four or five months to write the record. At that point, we only had, like, three demos. It was the most stressful time for us. We were so under pressure. We would practice all day. I got out of class at 10 a.m. I had a nap, go to practice at 2 and stay there until like 1 in the morning. We had 11- to 12-hour days. I would have to wake up again in an hour and go to school. That was my last year in high school. I was a junior when I joined the band, and my senior year I spent writing and recording.
Barely out of high school when signed as the first act for Powered By Ramen's new Decaydance imprint, guitarist Ryan Ross and drummer Spencer Smith of Panic! at the Disco had previously cut their musical teeth in a local Las Vegas Blink 182 cover band. It's that familiar, contempo-punk-pop sensibility, bolstered by the amped-up emo-core ambitions of singer Brendan Urie (typified by the snarky gem "The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage") that dominates the opening tracks of the album. It's a shrewd hook, one the band steadily expands -- sonically and lyrically -- thereafter. The nervous energy of "London Beckoned Songs About Money Written By Machines" is set off by sonic embroidery that's sounds as intriguing as the vocoder shtick of "Nails For Breakfast..." does dated. Yet "Camisado" quickly shakes up Supertramp's prog-pomp with a double-shot of modern punk-pop smarts, an alchemy the band and producer Mint Squire performs with similarly inventive, genre-blurring ambition (complete with a quasi-Grand Guignol "Intermission" nearly worthy of Queen) on "Lying is the Most Fun..." and such standouts as "But Its Better If You Do" and the arch delight "Build God, Then We'll Talk." Too many young bands are content slaves to fashion; this one has forged a promising debut by shrewdly taking fashion hostage, then standing it firmly on its head.