Pretty Odd: An Interview with Panic! at the Disco
Frontman Brendon Urie demonstrates that maturing can be a good thing for a band, but don't think that no one's having fun.
From the moment that Panic at the Disco stepped onto the music scene, panic ensued with captivated audiences everywhere. The band continues to entrance their audiences with their talent, charisma, and a sound all their own. With their second studio release, the band has redefined what a rock band can sound like and the result is Pretty. Odd., a project that was partly recorded at the historic Abbey Road Studios under the direction of famed producer Rob Mathes. The music is an amalgamation of many genres, a departure from their debut that demonstrates the inexorable evolution of their. The band headlined at this year's Bamboozle and shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. Although busy on tour and making TV appearances, frontman Brendon Urie talks to PopMatters about this and beyond.
With Pretty. Odd. the band was not concerned with succumbing to the pressures of living up to the success of their debut, A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, as Urie discussed. "I guess people would expect from the first album's success, that we would have some pressure, or whatnot, or more of an expectation. But, I guess we just kind of threw that out the window and really focused on what made us happy -- writing and the songs that interested us at that time. That's always been the goal of this band. We want to do something that we're happy with and as long as that happens, we're ok."
While there may not have been a clear vision behind Pretty. Odd., the band knew that they "wanted to write songs differently in the sense that not all the songs sounded the same or were part of one set genre, you know, just doing something different. With this record, we listened to a bunch of different stuff, too, so that kind of helped broaden our musical taste."
This time around the band spent much time, as per usual, with the songwriting. So much so that Urie admitted that the writing is "a huge thing with us. We spend a lot of time on our songs; sometimes a little too much time, so we need producers to tell us when to stop. So that was a huge help, too. But yeah, we just focus on writing a lot and focus on songwriting and really just improving in that aspect. And that, to us, is what makes a band really successful."
The band's songwriting skills, various influences of multiple genres, and their need for musical exploration are attributable to their vast level of success. Urie confirms, "I think that a band that cannot limit themselves to one genre and can kind of do a lot of different things. That's respectable. I think that's what makes it fun, there's really nothing we love doing more than hanging out with each other and just writing songs and playing music. So, it only seems fitting that we do stuff that we like to write and we like to play, keeping ourselves occupied with different stuff so we don't get bored with one type of music."
Pretty. Odd. has a distinctive sound that differs not only in terms of lyrics but also, the overall sound has changed. "I'd say it's a little more mature this time around in the sense that we were 17 when we did the first record and this time, we're three to four years older now. We just want to get that across, that we're having a good time, we're in a band and we couldn't be happier."
With this new mature perspective firmly in place, the latest album came together quickly and every song made the cut. "When we started writing for this record, it was pretty much every song. From the time we wrote 'Nine in the Afternoon' until 'Mad as Rabbits', yeah, pretty much every song went into the album and we focused on those songs, really just the songwriting and the recording aspect."
This new perspective entailed employing famed producer, Rob Mathes; an immense talent that is a fixture in the music world. Mathes has worked with everyone from Luciano Pavarotti to Sting. "Rob, the first time we worked with him was for the Nightmare Before Christmas cover, for the reissue of the 3-D movie, and so that was the first time we met with him, and he was a lot of fun. He let us be in the studio with the strings with us playing and it was just neat to see him work. I think we connected with him. And then again, when he revisited with us this year to start the record, we just kind of clicked. He seemed like a great guy and he's such a talented musician that it just made sense to go with him."
With a new vision and a renewed collaborative relationship, the roles within the band have blurred a bit since the first album. "On the first record, it was mostly Ryan [Ross] writing all the lyrics and this time around, everyone had a hand in it. There were some songs with all Ryan or all Jon [Walker] lyrics, and there were some I wrote by myself. There were also songs that all of us wrote all the lyrics to, and that helped us in writing as well just because it broadened the range of what kind of songs to write and it was just a lot more fun and personally, it was the first time that the guys said, 'You write all these little ditties, why don't you put some on the record?' That was really neat just to have a hand in that."
The band has become seasoned with their instruments. "It's been a huge difference," Urie says. "We were still learning our instruments when we were 17 and this time around, we went though two years of touring and playing shows, so we really got to know our instruments. I think we just got a little bit better as musicians, and that definitely helps when you're writing. I think that being with each other and being friends for so long has helped realize where we're at as a band. Time will tell, I guess that's what it really boils down to."
Panic at the Disco continues to inspire their fans with their videos. "That Green Gentleman" is a dazzling example of this creativity in which they veer into new methods. Urie says, "Well that was partly our idea and mostly Alan Ferguson, who directed it, a lot of his concepts. One of the ideas we had were the Russian dolls. Ryan actually owns a couple of those, so that just came from one of his dolls sitting on the self. This is the first time we had children and older people playing us, we definitely got to do some stuff in this video that we don't normally do."
The band's current tour demonstrates their inclination toward a new simplistic approach of performing. "It is a lot different from where we left off because we had finished touring in the States in arenas. We had performers, not a script, but we had set things we knew we wanted to say every night and this time around, it's not like that at all. We don't really know what we're going to say every night. We were kind of getting fed up with doing that thing, so we just wanted to change. During this production, we wanted to be more honest. It's more about music, but we still bring out stuff that we like to have fun with on-stage, like bubble machines, video and stage props and designs. We play the songs, not the tracks. We don't have a lot of the horns and strings on any of them, so we're pretty much duplicating it on pianos and guitars. It is us playing each musical part that you hear. It's all about us playing more music live and trying to improve on that."
The new material on this tour has been very well received, "Just because it's the newer songs and people don't know them as well; it's going to be a different reaction. But surprisingly, on this tour, it's been great because the fans know all the new songs every night and it's getting better each week. We're about a month and a half into the tour and we've got about two weeks left so you know, its just shocking the demographic of younger to older people attending the show. Playing in arenas, that's very non-personal with the crowd. It's more just people coming to see that show. We're playing a lot more smaller places than arenas so its definitely a lot more intimate which is great, we're getting a lot more intimate with the fans, you can get a lot more personal interaction with the crowd, its great."
The band is pleased to be touring again with many of the same bands. "It's been great. We've actually toured with Motion City Soundtrack, Fall Out Boy, and the Hush Sound. We are old friends. The newest band that we had met on this tour was Phantom Planet and we all got along really well, they're great guys and a really good live band. So, it's been great every night to watch three bands live that you can enjoy." The band recently played Bamboozle again. Urie exclaims, "It was great! That's the first time that we headlined a festival, so that was huge to us. That was the first time we were able to play to that many people, especially at night, so that was fun. We were able to do stuff that we wouldn't normally because we were at a point where we were comfortable on stage and in the middle of the tour. We're definitely going over to Europe for the summer and were doing a bunch of tours up until the fall. I don't know, we're really pretty busy for the next year, just touring."