PANIC! AT THE DISCO
Named after a Smiths or Name Taken song depending on your musical preferences, Panic! At The Disco have become the overnight sensations of 2006. Far from having the years slogging away on the toilet scene ala My Chemical Romance, the band recorded 2 songs, put them online, played their first ever gig to 300 people and promptly got snapped up by Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy to his Fuelled By Ramen label. Unbelievably this band that have sold out European tours prior to releasing a record, had upgrades on every single tour they've done and are followed by rabid obsessed fans everywhere they go, started off humbly covering Blink 182 songs as they struggled to learn their instruments. Alex McCann met up with Panic's songwriter Ryan Ross and bassist Brent Wilson to discuss how "A Fever You Can't Sweat Out" came together
Q: Not only is this Panic! At The Disco's first tour outside the States it must be your first actual trip outside the States as well?
Brent: Yeah. I've been out of the States before to Canada, but its pretty mad to come out here and do shows and stuff. And to come out here to these sold out shows, our 2nd ever show out here has been to like 900 or something. It's crazy. The records not even out here yet either so it's all through the internet and it's been the same for the Academy as well cos their records not out here either.
Q: I guess that's the age were in - previously bands would have had to released 3 or 4 singles and an album before they got to the size you guys are at now
Brent: Exactly. Things are going really well and especially how we started. Before we'd even done our first show we recorded some tracks and put them online so people could hear about us that way.
Ryan: Our first show sold out. It was a smaller venue but it was still to 350 people which is still pretty good.
Q: Is Panic! your first band?
Brent: Me and him have been playing together since we first started playing our instruments. We've been messing around in bands since we were about 13. Nothing was ever that serious, yer know, we were young and at high school.
Ryan: We started off learning to play our instruments by doing Blink 182 covers. It was right at the height of their success and their songs weren't that difficult to learn. We knew how to play 6 or 7 of their songs. They were one of the first bands we got into.
Brent: We didn't really do garage parties. We just used to play in our friends house for his brothers friends party. It was just like band practice for us, but there would be people watching....and the people there had no idea we were going to play so they just had to deal with it (laughs)
Q: So how did you break out of doing Blink covers to something new? How did you avoid that trap of being under the weight of your influences? What else were you listening to?
Brent: It was just kinda now we've learnt to play we better start writing our own stuff. It wasn't that hard to break away from the Blink stuff because it was natural we'd want to do something ourselves.
Third Eye Blind was definitely one of our favourite bands. And Saves The Day. They were definitely our biggest influences as a band
Q: The name Panic! At The Disco came from a Name Taken song...but we'd prefer to think it came from the Smiths to be honest
Brent: Honesty it was a little bit of both because at the time we were trying to think of a name it was between Panic! At The Disco and Burn Down The Disco. It's a weird co-incidence that both the songs were called "Panic".
Q: It's a band name that stands out immediately when you see it and the songtitles are no different. Whereas most bands try to simply everything as much as possible Panic! seem to be on a mission to make the longest titles ever?
Ryan: We all like to watch a lot of movies and read a lot of books so we take the titles from those. The lyrics are just stuff that happens to me, things that have happened to me in my life. By the time it's come to the last track on the album it's more a story than real life and i've been getting into that a little bit more. Most of the second half of the album is just half of my life and by the end of the record its complete fiction. It wasn't planned that way, this was just the natural way it came out. The tracks were written chronologically so we wanted the last track we wrote to be the last track on the album.
A lot of the lyrics on the first half are extremely auto-biographical then I started to get self-conscious and realized a lot of people would be reading the lyrics like a book. I didn't feel I wanted that much of my life out there so on the second half I wanted them to be more open, more dramatic. I like to go into really small details but at the same time keep it open as a wider message
I think we do attract some obsessive fans. When we first started out each gig we were playing we'd see the same faces at the front singing along to each lyrics. It wasn't bad, but it was strange for us because I remember writing the stuff on a scrap of paper.
Q: When you realized the songtitles were all going to be long, did it become a mental competition to make the titles more and more elongated?
Ryan: I don't know. A lot of our favourite quotes are just really long I guess. Some were that hard to say that we had to cut them down a little bit. Two songs are a quote by Natalie Portman in Closer, "Lying Is The Most Fun You Can Have Without Taking Your Clothes Off, But It's Better When You Do". "The Only Difference Between Martydom And Suicide Is Press Coverage" is from a Chuck Palahniuk book called "Survivor"
Q: How does everything come together from these elongated titles to your lyrics and the bands instrumentation?
Ryan: On the first part of the record we did a lot of the music first and then put the lyrics to it. On the second half we did it differently. I wrote a lot of the lyrics first and create the music around it because it seemed to work better. We knew what the lyrics were about so they suited the music more than trying to fit the lyrics around a piece of music
Q: As we said before there's two halves to the album. The electronica and then the second half which is more organic?
Brent: I think when we were thinking of the tracklisting we could have just put one track here and one track there, but by making it into a concept it allowed us to go further with the electronic stuff on this side and further with the classical instruments on the other. Our influences are quite disparate so when people ask us what we listen to and we say Counting Crows and Third Eye Blind it's like what?
Ryan: We try to take what we like best from everything.
Brent: Third Eye Blind are more just a band I like. I wouldn't say they are necessary an influence to this band. Vocally and melodically the influences are usually a little bit harder to pick up upon.
Q: When you started Panic! did you have a pre-conceived idea of what you wanted to be?
Brent: We had a different idea for the band when we first started. We wanted to do a real electronic rock thing and we played around with that for a while but it felt like a dead end for us. When we started all these dance rock bands weren't around so that wasn't why we wanted to do the more electronic stuff. We also had to think of the restraints live as well of the keyboards, drum machines and the cello so we started to move away from that really.
Q: I get the sense that in five years time Panic! At The Disco will sound nothing like the PATD we know now?
Brent: I hope so. That is the way that a lot of the bands that last a decade, the U2's of the world, each of their albums don't sound that similar. I hope you're right. I think because we're so young, we're all 17 apart from Ryan who's 19, everything changes so fast and we're able to adapt and our favourite bands change each year.
When you're 8th or 9th grade every kid is into what's popular, you know what I mean, it would be stupid to say that you weren't. It's weird though, for example about 3 or 4 years ago I was into Starting Line when they were first came out and at that time that was a newer kind of music and now although I still like the music, but I wouldn't want our band to play that kinda music just because they're doing that.
On tour we've all been listening to the Strokes album alot and also Mew, who everyone in Europe knows about but no-one in the US. I've been playing their new album on my IPOD constantly. We've got some ideas for some bigger productions like them, but we wouldn't dare to pull them off until we've established ourselves a little more.
Q: You had some problems earlier on with your parents accepting your choice to drop out of college for the band. Do your parents see it as a proper job now?
Brent: Now they do. At the time we knew we had an opportunity for us and that's why we did drop out after school and Ryan didn't go college. I think it took for the first time my dad saw us on TV for him to realize and go ok then...
Ryan: Pete does just have that instinct with certain bands. He's a great A&R man and just lets the bands do what they want really.
Brent: Our local scene's not that good really. There's no where really good to play and the bands aren't that good. Of about 150 bands playing regularly in Las Vegas about three quarters of them all sound the same.
Ryan: What happens is when one style of music starts to get popular the local bands go Oh My God it's f**king great, lets go and write songs exactly the same. So these bands go away and write these songs and by the time they've started gigging 3 months later its not the cool thing anymore. Our best advice for bands is to sound weird because it's only weird because it's new and different...in 6 months time that thing that you're doing that sounds weird right now, could be the new cool thing.
Brent: All the songs at the end of the record, we didn't put them there because we didn't think they were good. We thought people will love the first half of the record and if they are into that they'll get to the second half and thinks wow what's this. But it's been the other way round, a lot of people's favourite tracks are the last two on the record.
Q: And the next album is going to be a progression from the end of the debut?
Brent: As far as we know now. Who knows when we get into the studio because that's simply where we were at when we stopped writing. The last album was really rushed - from writing it, recording it and getting it out it all took 8 months. Its weird because we finished the album in June last year and I can still remember when we recorded "that" guitar part or wrote this chorus and a year later we're out in these huge venues playing them each night. So if you can imagine we started recording the album in January and by the end of 2005 we'd sold over 100,000 records - it feels like we've done more in one year than we have in the last 17 years of our lives.
I think this time we have a better grasp of what we wanna do. From the time that we were talking about getting signed to the time we started writing the record we had a month and a half to think about what we wanted to do. The thing is too many bands if they do well on their first record they draw it out to long, and I know both us and The Academy Is are planning to get another record out each this year. We could keep touring off this album for another year and a half, but I think it would be a big mistake.
Words: Alex McCann
Photos: Kirsty Umback www.kirstyumback.com
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