Panic At The Disco are one of the biggest pop-rock bands in the world right now, with a two million-selling debut album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out (review), beneath their belts and a new, ambitiously and boldly different follow-up on the horizon.
The band formed in Las Vegas back in 2005, when guitarist and lyricist Ryan Ross and close friend Spencer Smith - the band’s drummer - got together with vocalist Brendon Urie and then bassist Brent Wilson, another of Ross’s childhood friends. Taking their name from The Smiths’ ‘Panic’ and/or a track of the same name by Orange County indie-rockers Name Taken, featuring the lyrics “Panic at the disco, Sat back and took it so slow”, the group that would make one of the decade’s most successful debuts was born.
A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out was released Stateside in late 2005, and officially in the UK in February 2006, earning decent reviews and pigeonholing its makers as creative sorts. The band’s faces have been in the music press ever since, especially so in May 2006 when Wilson left the group under acrimonious circumstances, replaced by Jon Walker. There can be no doubt that Wilson remains bitter – he’s often mentioned money being a factor in his forced departure – but Urie has countered by suggesting their former bassist wasn’t especially happy with Panic’s direction on album two. A sign, for sure, that things are very different second time around.
Which brings us to Pretty. Odd., heard for the first time by DiS last week and previewed here. It’s an album more indebted to the influence of The Band and The Beach Boys than, say, Fall Out Boy, whose mainman Pete Wentz first recognised the potential in Panic by signing them to his Decaydance Records imprint (a Fueled By Ramen offshoot). It’s going to get emo kids’ heads spinning; chances are their parents will get as much, if not more, out of it than their offspring. At times it’s even reminiscent of The Beatles, and lead single ‘Nine In The Afternoon’ is something of a ringer for ELO.
Pretty. Odd. is out on Monday, March 24. Ahead of its release, DiS breezed into Panic’s label HQ to chat to Ryan Ross and Spencer Smith about the last two years, and the future beyond their sophomore long-player.
Video: 'Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have'
- - -
Do you feel like you’ve had to grow up at an accelerated rate, what with the success of your debut? After all, you were only 18 or 19 when it came out.
Ryan Ross: I think we were trying to be a bit more mature than we actually were around the release of the first album, but now we’re not doing that – we’re really just being 21, you know? We’re not trying to be anything better or smarter than that.
Spencer Smith: We didn’t really know what to do with the first album – we were straight out of school, and then writing and touring. We didn’t know how to act, and how to act in interviews for example. You don’t have enough time to know fully who you are. A lot of people, they go to college at that time of their life – that’s where they’re figuring out what they want to do. Music never stopped being our main focus, but now we are who we are, all the time.
What was it like, that make-or-break decision? To either stay in school and play the weekends, or quit and make a go of this full time?
RR: I think we really just didn’t like school, so leaving was easy. The idea was to give this a shot and if it didn’t work out after a few years, just go back to school. But even if we were still in school we’d still be playing music, on the weekends.
You two – as founder members – have quite the history of playing together though. You were in two bands prior to Panic, right?
RR: Yeah, we always wanted to figure a way to just play music together, and luckily we found some other people who wanted to do that too.
Panic At The Disco (l-r): Brendon, Spencer, Ryan, Jon
- - -
RR: There used to be a formula in place where I’d write the lyrics, and then we’d work on some music or Brendon would come up with a melody or whatever. This time we were more about full ideas, or even half ideas, which came from everyone, and then it tended to sound a lot different. If one person is doing everything, that music is bound to sound the same. We did that differently, and we definitely recorded it differently. We had a few more instruments lying around this time.
Pretty. Odd. also sounds like it spent a fair while in post-production, to balance everything in the mix. Did you learn much about the more technical side of the recording process that you missed on the debut?
RR: I think we’ve realised a tonne about that side of things. I certainly had never really thought about it before, on the last record.
SS: I think, making our first album, we only knew the very current recording style, and that’s how that album sounds. What with using new instruments, it was quite important to approach the recording a little differently this time. You can only do so much with two guitars, a bass and drums, and it’s the same thing with how we were recording – we’ve become aware of the possibilities, and can be a little more creative and different by just using different microphones. Simple things like that, really. So hopefully that shows through on the new album.
Video: 'But It's Better If You Do'
- - -
Reckon you might be able to produce your own records someday?
RR: Hopefully. I know relatively nothing about the technical side of it yet, but I know what I like, and I know what sounds good to me. But I need to start paying more attention, as I don’t know how to always get that sound. Until I do we’re going to need help.
I guess that third record’s a while off yet, so no need to worry about recording techniques just yet.
SS: Well, maybe… We think there was way too long between the first and second albums. A Fever… came out in the US in September 2005, and then the following February in the UK. It took a little while to pick up, too. So it’s funny when people ask us about our overnight success, because we’d toured for seven months in a van before the first album. Although, actually, that’s still pretty fast. But it’s hardly overnight.
Seven months in a van seems long enough for me. It’s not nice. But essential, I’d have thought, in your development?
SS: Oh yeah – we’ve played in front of fifty people night after night, on our first tour, before the album was even out in the US. Nobody knew who we were, but we needed that. We weren’t playing as tight as we should’ve been, and we weren’t good enough, basically. So touring was good to build the musicianship.
And nowadays bands can make an absolute killing from touring, more money than from CD sales for sure.
SS: It’s awkward to be at our record label right now, because it is something that labels are wising up to – bands can tour and sell t-shirts on tour and make money without selling CDs. So now bands that are getting signed are having that worked into their contracts. We got signed right before all that, so it’s good to know that when we’re out there, playing live and selling merchandise, that our record label isn’t taking loads of the money from us.
Speaking of commercial success, what do the sales figures of the debut mean to you? Does it mount the pressure on, to sell a similar amount with the second album, or is it simply too hard to tell who’s actually buying albums these days?
SS: It’s too hard, like you’ve said, to tell how people actually buy albums. You can never tell how many people actually like our band by sales anyway, and likewise you can’t tell by how many plays we’ve had on some website – how many times has one person come back to play a song again, y’know. It’s kinda tough.
RR: The only way we can really tell how many people are into our band is by the venues we play. And I hope this album does at least as good as the debut, if not better, because I believe the songs are so much better. I’d rather people hear that.
- - -
RR: We’d love that, if they did approach the second album without the first one in mind, but we understand that people won’t. I don’t even do that.
It is a very different record to the debut though. I’d go so far as saying it’s the ‘Parents’ Record Collection’ album, what with the classic pop and rock influences shining through. Is it the right record for 21-year-olds enthralled by these older albums to be making?
RR: Yeah, I think that’s all that we are to be honest. We’re not trying to be more mature than that; honestly, we just like this sort of music more right now, so we wrote songs that were more in that kind of groove. I think it’s gonna be interesting to see what happens. When we do our third album… well, maybe then you can say what sort of a band we are, but for people to have already decided after we’ve written eleven songs… That’s kind of crazy.
Does any of that frustration come through, lyrically, on the new LP? Frustration at being pigeonholed after one album, that’s that?
SS: I don’t think so.
RR: We realise people do say those things about us, but all we do is write songs that we like. Trying to impress someone else always has you sounding like you’re trying too hard.
SS: I don’t think it really affects us. As we’ve changed over the past two years, we’ve loved and fallen out of love with lots of music. There’s no way that we can sit down in a room and tell if people are going to give this album a chance, so we might as well write the songs we love, y’know.
So, say the debut wasn’t a success – what was the Plan B?
RR: Plan B was college. I was already in college, so I’d probably still be there. I don’t really have any friends there, though.
SS: The funny thing is that we didn’t have that many close friends growing up – nobody was interested in the same things as us.
RR: I think all the friends I had in high school ended up going to out-of-state colleges, so I’ve not spoken to any of them in years.
Video: 'Nine In The Afternoon'
- - -
But no doubt those old friends are searching for Ryan and Spencer on one of many social networking sites right now, telling their mates they were bessie mates with one or two of Panic At The Disco, back in the day. As DiS is shown the door, Spencer and Ryan ready themselves for a stack of signing and an acoustic session at a popular record store. More screaming, more adulation, more fans to reassure with Urie’s line on Pretty. Odd.’s opener, ‘We’re So Starving’: “You don’t have to worry / We’re the same band”. Only they’re not, exactly. Prepare to be surprised.
Pretty. Odd. is released on March 24. The single ‘Nine In The Afternoon’ is out now. The band can be found on MySpace HERE