A few years ago I heard about this band with an exclamation point in their name who were recording with Matt Squire. I downloaded some demos off their PureVolume, begged a promo copy of five tracks from their debut off their publicist and proclaimed them the next big thing to anyone who would listen. Suddenly, they were and my musical extrasensory perception was validated; and then it came time for them to make a follow-up record to an album that had made them one of the biggest (if even only for the moment) bands around. No one envies them the act of doing so, but from the way bassist Jon Walker (who was succeeded former bassist Brent Wilson) describes it, the writing and recording of Pretty. Odd wasn’t the trial by fire you might assume it to be.
What was it like this time to be part of the entire record-making process?
It was great. It was a whole new aspect of being in this band that I had never really experienced before. It was just a new experience for me and it was really refreshing to be on that side of the spectrum.
Was the rest of the band open to any ideas you had during the songwriting?
Yeah. Me and Ryan actually spent a lot of time writing. I lived with him while we were writing and we ended up writing a lot of stuff together. That was a lot of fun. Brendan did some stuff by himself and Ryan did some stuff by himself, but pretty much everything was just a collaboration of all four of us.
When did you actually start writing?
We were off all of 2007. Basically New Year’s Eve was our last actual performance and then we took a month off where we didn’t do anything except try to relax and get our heads clear. And then we spent about three months writing some stuff that didn’t end up making the record. We wrote ‘Nine in the Afternoon,” which was the first song we wrote for the record, maybe in late July. It hasn’t been too long. We played ‘Nine in the Afternoon” a few times live in 2007, just trying to test it out live, and it’s changed a little bit now that it’s on the record.
Why didn’t the original songs make the record?
There were ideas for songs and a few things were demoed. We had a lot of freedom writing and it was basically within a week’s period after moving back to Vegas, we had been in a cabin up in the mountains, that we went to LA to demo stuff. We just needed to take some more time to write. It wasn’t until we got home to Vegas that we started realizing that maybe we should just forget about what we’d been doing and try to write another song. That’s the night we wrote ‘Nine in the Afternoon’ and pretty much from there we decided to keep writing. Those older songs just got fazed out as ideas we weren’t really that interested in.
Was there any kind of goal or vision for the record when you started writing?
No. I think the overall goal was to make something a little more uplifting and positive than the last record. That’s one thing we realized: We were all in a pretty good place coming off of tour and we didn’t want to write more songs about dwelling on your girlfriend cheating on you. We didn’t have to worry about paying the bills anymore and were having a good time and just wanted to write a little bit more of a positive record. We just hope it triggers people emotionally the way music we like does, whether it’s a good or a bad emotion or whatever.
How does playing the new stuff live compare to playing the old stuff live?
We’ve actually kinda changed it up. We’re not using any synthesizers or electronic drums on the songs from the new album and we decided to make a conscious decision not to use them on the old songs live either. It’s pretty much just us four up there with our keyboard player playing the songs. That’s all we’ve got. We had to restructure some of the songs just to make them work, but I think we’re all a lot happier with it just being able to play as a group of guys.
So no big circusy performance on the Honda Civic Tour or at Bamboozle?
Probably not. We’ve already done that. Not to say that it’s just going to be us and our guitar amps and a blank wall. We probably won’t do something like that again, at least for a while. It was more of a thing where we just had one album to play and we were trying to have a good time and trying to put on as good of a show as possible. I think this time around we’re playing at some smaller theaters than the arenas and just the intimacy of that is gonna be pretty special. And we have some stuff planned as far as visualization.
Would it be fair to say that the emphasis has switched from the performance to the actual music?
Yeah I absolutely agree to that. We toured for two- and-half years off that album the guys wrote when they were 17. We’ve been through a lot since then and a lot of things have changed and we’re definitely a lot more conscious of just trying to write the best songs we can.
Are you at all concerned about the fan reaction to the new songs?
We’re not really worried about any kind of alienating anybody. We’re really proud of the record. We pretty much just wrote the best songs we could. We never changed the objective of the band. I’m just a little more confident because it was really something that came from our hearts and to do anything that wasn’t that I think people would have been able to see through it. The only pressure was pressure from ourselves to do something we were really going to be happy with.
And are you ultimately happy with the way it turned out?
We really are. A lot of people have been saying that it’s a really big change but then the next thing they say is that they like it a lot better. I don’t really know how to take that, but we’re all really happy with the way it turned out.
Panic! At The Disco will be playing on May 4 at the Bamboozle Festival in East Rutherford, NJ, and at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC on May 8. Their new album, Pretty.Odd, is available now. For more visit panicatthedisco.com