More about: Panic At The Disco
"In my idea of the Panic! canon, it’s number one just because I’m so excited about it," bristles Panic! At The Disco frontman Brendon Urie, backstage from London's Brixton Academy as fans line up outside for the launch gig of their huge new album, Death Of A Bachelor. "Not just because it’s new, but because I did it. Me. Left alone – here I am."
Now, the original member of Panic!, Urie is very much the last man standing - and as such, doing things on his own terms, with a newfound rush of creative freedom. There's effervesence to the new album, and a renewed spirit to the live experience of P!ATD. It seems that Urie feels like he's truly entering his prime.
"I got to write and record everything myself – that was a huge moment," he admits. " I’ve always wanted to do that – it’s how I started as a kid. I’d just play every instrument on my own because I didn't know anyone that could jam with me. So I went back to my roots in that regard – back to how I taught myself and pushed myself to do what I hadn’t yet.
As he prepares to pen the next chapter of his life, we sitt down with Panic! At The Disco’s sole survivor Brendon Urie to discuss Death of a Bachelor, his newfound creative freedom and the impact of the late, great David Bowie.
Gigwise: The creative process must have changed quite significantly; [bassist] Ryan Ross used to write all the songs while you composed.
Urie: "We had different strengths. He was writing lyrics and reading a lot more than I was and I had jazz band experience so I knew the chords and was telling the band their names. So we were each able to bring something new to the table.
"I’ve always had that instrumentality and musicality, but being able to take over lyrically is really exciting because I’ve never considered myself a lyricist. But I’ve figured out new ways of doing it – ways that I enjoy and that I don't think are very conventional. I don't necessarily sit down to write and it just pours out. A lot of times I’ll just use inside jokes from hanging out with friends. I like hanging out with people a lot, so if something funny happens I use that as fuel."
Gigwise: Panic! have been criticised in the past for the perceived lack of sincerity of their lyrics. Is it a necessary element of “good music”?
Urie: "I don’t think it’s necessary. Some of the coolest songs are made-up stories – Elvis Costello has got plenty of those, it’s like he’s writing a novel. I think it adds something more. It’s cool to exaggerate. This album is very honest, but for instance there’s a track called ‘Don't Threaten Me With A Good Time’ and it’s about actual stuff I’ve done at parties – but half of it’s embellished. There are things I wish I’d done at parties like have a fucking goat run around – crazy stuff. Not every song needs to be totally non-fiction or fiction."
Gigwise: How will Death of a Bachelor surprise fans?
Urie: "There are songs on it that I’ve never done before. There are ones that felt as exciting as the first album, which I love. The title track is very Sinatra – unashamedly! But it uses modern production, like a beat that I created. I love that juxtaposition – it keeps it exciting. Hopefully fans will be surprised by the instrumentation and vocals – I spent a lot of time learning new tricks from playing shows over the years. And I sing way out of my range – I hope they’re pleasantly surprised by that!"
Photo: Gigwise/Justine Trickett
Gigwise: Who are your musical influences now compared to when you recorded A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out?
Urie: "Queen has always been a big one for me – even on the first album. I’m just blown away by their talent – Freddie Mercury as a front man is my favourite. This time around though… I’ve always liked Sinatra, but I’ve found a new appreciation this last year. I fell into this super-obsessive love for him. I just wanted to read everything about him and get to know this guy long after he’s gone. I wanted to use these guys as sonic inspiration for what I was doing."
Gigwise: Videos have always been an important part of your package – how important fun are they to shoot?
Urie: "Very. Music videos are another way for me to vent creatively. I love visuals for music, so when I get a chance to record a video, it’s another chance for me to act out because I’m already trying to be the centre of attention in everybody’s world! It gives me another chance to expel that energy and it’s another way for me to collaborate creatively. I only knew music collaboration, but to talk with directors about visuals and learning about that world helped me gain way more respect and admiration for what they do."
Gigwise: What can we expect from the live show these days?
Urie: "I’m always trying to change it. I like keeping that high energy and playing all the songs that have that feeling behind them, where you’re drenched in sweat at the end of the set – it’s like a workout video! This time around, I’ve had a couple of outlandish ideas and the label’s been like: “we’re not going to sign an insurance policy for this”!"
Gigwise: Now you’re the only member left, what made you keep the name Panic! At The Disco?
Urie: "I never considered dropping it. The reason members left in the past was because they didn't want to be associated with Panic! At The Disco. That was never a question for me – I was always behind it. To me, Panic! symbolises something exciting I’ve never seen before and it gives me a world where I have no rules – I can do whatever I want and no one can tell me what to do.
"And it’s already a well-known band at this point – why would I change it? I get to tour, meet fans, keep it together and that’s something I’m so passionate about. I had a couple of fans tweet me saying “you should just go solo as Brendon At the Disco!” but I never really considered it. It’s basically a solo project now, but the name has always represented something more distant and exciting for me – something that I’m still reaching toward."
Gigwise: Panic! arrived at a hot point for melodic pop rock and the rise of the modern wave of emo. Is it hard to remain relevant while appeasing old and new fans?
Urie: "I never focused too much on that. I think it’d be a detriment to the music if I thought “I have to write a song that pleases the people” – it wouldn’t be from my heart. I never write that way, but once the album’s done and there’s months before it comes out, I do get anxious. I think: “I should just leak it ‘cause I’m curious to see what people think of it”! But I’m never chasing anything from the past or compare myself to any other act we’ve been associated with. But I do like being competitive; I talk to Pete from Fall Out Boy about it and I say: “I love you guys – but I’m fucking coming for you!”"
Photo: Gigwise/Chris Chadwick
Gigwise: How would you sum up the last decade, and what’s been a highlight for you?
Urie: "It’s been a fucking crazy ride and I haven’t let a lot of stuff settle. Even from the get-go, from the first album, when out of nowhere we just had success, from that moment it was just a whirlwind of chaos. But I like it; I like the touring and the hectic nature of everything. It’s almost calming, I don't know why.
"Highlights? There’s been a bunch. The first time we played Brixton with four sold out shows – that was unreal to me. There’s something special about being a band from the states. You play there all the time – everybody gets spoiled. But you come over here and get a sense of a deeper appreciation. Not only does rock music have a different kind of respect in the UK, there’s more of an energy with fans abroad. I was always told that London was too cool for school – but I never had that.
"A big highlight for me personally was meeting the President and Billy Joel. I performed a Billy Joel song in front of Billy Joel! I thought: “what the fuck am I doing here? I don’t deserve this!”"
Gigwise: Much was made about Pete Wentz championing Panic! at the beginning. Would you use your profile to launch any new artists?
Urie: "Pete’s a great business guy. He always had that mindset and business mentality. I like a lot of young artists, but I’m not really good at that A&R thing. I don’t really go to a lot of shows when I’m home, I’m usually working on other stuff so I’d probably be terrible at that! But if a label-mate gave me an artist and thought I’d be really great at producing them, then of course I’d love to. I’d really like to pursue producing."
Gigwise: It’s been a sad week for music with the death of David Bowie. How influential has he been to you as a person and an artist?
Urie: "Massive. If I’d known him as a person I’m sure it would’ve been overwhelmingly pleasant. Anyone who knew him has only said the most remarkable things about him. He’s like a demi-God. And as an artist, the hardest thing to do is to not only stay relevant, but to change your sound and stay successful. What he did was incredible.
"I was introduced to David Bowie at the age of six by Labyrinth. I wanted to be Jareth the Goblin King. And one of the first songs I heard was ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ – I wish I had written that song! The first time I heard Hunky Dory I fell in love with it. His look was always so cool and that had a huge influence on Panic! At The Disco visually. I took a lot of that – just how elegant he always looked, whether he was in a dress or in make-up – he could pull off everything. I was heavily influenced by everything he did – he was an artist in its purist form."
- Death Of A Bachelor by Panic! At The Disco is out now
More about: Panic At The Disco