Vices & Virtues is the new album from Panic! At The Disco, and the first since the departure of two of the original members. Now spearheaded by lead vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Brendan Urie and drummer/percussionist Spencer Smith, the effort has garnered positive reviews and landed in the top 10 on the charts.
The departure of guitarist Ryan Ross left a hole in the normal structure of the band, as he was the primary lyricist, but Urie dived in and found his own voice, exploring themes that included the split, as well as other personal issues. The group is about to embark on a lengthy tour, and I caught up with Urie as they were preparing for the trek.
How do you think the sound of the band, and the songwriting, differs from prior albums, especially with the change in the band line-up?
I definitely think it’s a progression for Spencer and I. We definitely pushed ourselves to write the best we could. We always jump around to find this great sound and work from that. We’ve definitely progressed and improved as musicians, and this was a chance for us to see what we could do with just the two of us.
Did the departure of the two members affect how you worked on putting the album together?
The change from working with four people down to two people, we knew going into it that it would be different. We don’t have to work around four opinions, so in that sense we had to know what we wanted. We had to be more definitive with our ideas, mostly lyrically. It was a big step for me in that direction. I had written lyrics before, but only casually. I had to take responsibility for the lyrics, and I had to think about it differently, but it was still very important for us to work on melodies that we love.
How does the writing process work for you? What comes first, the lyrics, the melody or the music?
It’s different every time I’d say. Sometimes we‘d be playing around with these new synthesizers we got, Spencer and I both, and we’d say, ‘Oh, that’s a cool sound.’ But it was never fully realized until we added chords and melody to it. And sometimes we had these melodies that would hang around for a week, so we knew we had to get them out. Sometimes we had a song hanging around for a few years.
Where did the inspiration for the lyrics come from?
All of it is very personal. Spencer and I are both huge fans of movies, so that’s always kind of made its way in there; they can be an inspiration to write. But there are so many things we wanted to talk about, especially the split. We wanted to talk about it, since it’s like this elephant in the room that would be weird to not talk about.
Panic! At The Disco has been described many different ways, due to the wide range of sounds and styles on your albums. How do you describe the band?
We usually just say rock, because it’s just a general term that can be used for a number of different artists. We’ve been called emo, pop, punk, electro, baroque and many other things. Hopefully people keep coming up with the labels. We love it!
You’ve also been described as a throwback to ‘80s synth pop bands. What artists have influenced you?
That’s always a hard question. There’s so many. We would listen to the Beatles, and the Smiths, Simon and Garfunkel, all those great songwriters. With this record we started getting into some new artists, like Arcade Fire. All this new stuff we’re finally excited by, when in the past we always had to revert to classic rock. But when Arcade Fire’s Suburbs came out, we were really excited by it. The ‘80s pop thing, we kind of hear that, but not intentionally. We recently discovered XTC and Peter Gabriel.
How did you hook up with Ian Crawford and Dallon Weekes, your new touring band members?
We met those guys separately. Ian we met three and a half years ago years ago through our buddy Shane Valdez, who we’ve known longer than that. We knew a new band that was looking for a guitar player, and he came down and we got to hang out. He played with that band, and then we stole him. We knew of Dallon from his band The Brobecks on iTunes. He had some cool stuff, and we were kind of interested in meeting him from his esthetics and his website. Upon meeting him we knew right away. We want to create a band feel on stage, not just hire musicians. We wanted people that we got along with. We’re going to live with these people months at a time.
Has the reaction to any of the new songs surprised you?
Yeah. It’s always awesome being able to play our new stuff because you get to gauge it in this totally bizarre medium, being on stage. Recently we’ve been playing a few new songs, and people are picking up on songs like “Ready To Go” and “Kill Tonight” by the second chorus. It’s an indescribable felling. It’s awesome.
This tour marks a return to a theatricality that you utilized on your early tours. Does that come from the influence of growing up near Las Vegas?
I guess there’s the inevitable influence of Las Vegas. Mostly Cirque de Soleil, always over the top, which is Las Vegas. We’re not actors, we’re musicians, but we still love acting it out. We’re planning it right now for our tour coming up. We had stopped doing it, but we’re going to get back to it this time around.
What are your upcoming tour plans?
We’ll stay out for a while. We have a few things booked up to September, and then see how much further we can go. In the studio you go crazy, and you want to be on the road. On the road, you get really tired and you want to just stay in bed. I love it all. It’s give and take. We’ve been on tour for so long. I love it!
Panic! At The Disco will be playing at Terminal 5 on May 24. Their new album, Vices And Virtues, is available now. For more information, go to panicatthedisco.com.