Q&A: Spencer Smith of Panic! At the Disco
Cinema has played a key role in the pop band Panic! At the Disco, as seen in the videos for songs such as "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" and "Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off."
Drummer Spencer Smith said fans can expect nothing less when the retooled Panic! At the Disco hits stages this spring.
"I think we're such big fans of film, and it's something that we have always loved and sometimes used as inspiration for the music," Smith told SoundSpike. "Doing the stage shows and doing the videos, obviously the music it comes first and the music has to be there. Once you're done with the record and you move on to the really fun stuff that we love to do, we're always referencing different film and different movies for our videos or for our stage set."
That theme is followed on its latest collection "Vices and Virtues," which debuted recently at No. 7 on The Billboard 200 album chart. The first single, "The Ballad of Mona Lisa," picks up where "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" and "Nine in the Afternoon" left off. It is the first album for Smith and lead singer Brendon Urie since the departure of fellow original members Ryan Ross (guitar) and Jon Walker (bass).
Smith spoke to SoundSpike about the departures, "Vices and Virtues," working with producers John Feldmann and Butch Walker, and hearing Panic! At the Disco's most well-known song on ABC-TV's "Dancing With the Stars."
SoundSpike: Are you getting ready for the tour?
Spencer Smith: We are. We're in the process of rehearsing as well as coming up with production ideas and how we want to set up the stage. It's fun to get back into it. We've only been doing festivals and one-off shows and stuff. It's fun to get ready for a full tour.
What can we expect from the tour?
I think it'll be a good mix. It's going to be interesting putting a setlist together. There are a couple songs on the new record that we definitely want to play that are pretty different than some of the older stuff. I think we'll have a pretty good mix of all three records. We're in the process of setting up the stage production, getting the light show together and different moments throughout the show to make it memorable. We're always trying to one-up ourselves from the last tour we've done. It's fun.
So, now that Ryan Ross and Jon Walker have departed, do we call Panic! At the Disco a duo?
It's kind of up in the air. We've been playing with the same two friends of ours since the split. For the most part, it was initially stated as they were going to play with us live. We knew that we were going to write this record by ourselves. We always wanted to leave the possibility open to work with other people. Now, as we go on tour, I think we're going to start writing demos. We're fans of a lot of what they've done in the past.
Who are the band members?
For bass, we've got Dallon Weekes. He used to be in a band for four or five years called The Brobecks. He was the singer and main songwriter for that band. He's amazing. He came from a unique situation, just wanting to be in a band that can perform and do that for a living -- where you don't have to have another job. The thing is, he's such a great songwriter and such a great singer on his own, that's something I can see turning into a more songwriting thing. Then Ian Crawford [formerly of The Cab], who's our friend, he's playing guitar for us.
That's great that you have two friends playing with you.
The idea for hired musician guys, it seemed weird.
What was the goal or direction of "Vices and Virtues" when you were writing it?
Coming from going through a change in the lineup, we knew we had the opportunity to do anything we wanted. Even though it was still Panic, it felt like a fresh start. We knew the fans would sort of see it that way as well. We initially spent a couple months just writing and figuring out the best way for us to work, and figuring out what we wanted the record to be. We stayed as Panic because we knew what we wanted to do was somewhat more in line with what we had done before. There were still two years since we had written new music. There were a lot of new influences and new bands we had gotten into that made their way onto the record. I think the direction was to take some of the more vintage recording methods we had used on our last record, "Pretty. Odd.;" use our favorite parts as well as take advantage of some of the newer technologies. We wanted to get into some of the electronic music that we got away from on the second record. It was a good mixture of what we had done before, as well as some of the new influences that had made their way on to the record.
Tell me about the songwriting process.
There were a lot of ideas that were maybe 30-second ideas: just a verse and a chorus on an acoustic guitar that we had had from when we were on tour from previous records. We didn't get into demoing full songs or trying to put songs together with a full band until we started writing for the album. It was kind of different for every song. Sometimes it would just start with a musical idea, write a melody on top of that and lyrics would come last. Sometimes lyrics would come along with the initial musical idea. Then there were a couple songs that Brendon wrote from start to finish for the most part himself, and we just had to work on it full band in the studio. There was a big mix.
It sounds like it was mostly spontaneous.
Yeah, I think that we're always trying to figure out the best way that we work. But it never ends up working out that way. I think it's actually better for the record. It ends up giving each song its own sound or style somewhat just because it was written a little differently. I think it helps the record be individual songs and not just one sound all together.
But the records sound cohesive.
For us, sometimes we don't know if certain songs are going to be able to get put next to each other because we think they sound really different because we know what we were going for is so different musically. But I think there's certain through lines like Brendon's voice and being the same people writing it all, there's a sort of cohesive theme there.
What was your favorite part about recording "Vices and Virtues?"
A couple drum tracks that I recorded in our friend John Feldmann -- he recorded some of the songs on the album -- his studio in his house. For a couple of songs, we set up the drums in his living room, which has vaulted ceilings. So you get this really big room vibe. There's a lot of reverb going on. It was a lot of fun to record that way; not in a small, live room. Also, we worked with Butch Walker and his studios in Venice, CA. It's amazing. It's got some amazing history. Bob Dylan recorded some stuff there in the '70s. The gear in there has so many little toys. For us, you don't initially think of putting certain things on a song, but when you're there in the studio and there's some old keyboard or some old toy bell set, things just start making their way onto the song. All the fun we had working with both John and Butch were great.
You mentioned that once you get on the road, you're going to start demoing songs. Have you started writing yet?
There have been some initial sort ideas. We had to just cut ourselves off with writing "Vices and Virtues" because we kept kicking off old songs because we heard them so much more. You think the newest idea is the best and you think the oldest thing isn't. Sometimes that's not the case. We had to say, "We have to be done or we're never going to be done." We never stopped writing. Now that we're going to go on tour, we're going to take a little homemade demo studio on the road and hopefully start writing some music. We want to release another record as soon as possible. We don't want there to be another two years before we release new music.
Did you happen to see "Dancing with the Stars" when Mark Ballas and Chelsea Kane danced to "I Write Sins, Not Tragedies"?
Yeah I saw it afterward -- like, a clip of it online. That was pretty awesome. We got texts from friends who were watching it live, and it's pretty funny to see something like that. You never feel that people from that big of a production thing even know who the band is. To have them play the song is pretty funny. It was a fun thing to watch.
28 - Portsmouth, England - Pyramid Centre
29 - Norwich, England - Waterfront
30 - Manchester, England - Academy 2
2 - Glasgow, Scotland - Garage
3 - Birmingham, England - Library Theatre
4 - London, England - O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
6 - Cologne, Germany - Luxor
7 - Hamburg, Germany - Grunspan
10 - Amsterdam, Netherlands - Melkweg
11 - Antwerp, Belgium - Trix
12 - Paris, France - La Cigale
14 - Carlisle, England - Best Weekend Festival Grounds
20 - Philadelphia, PA - Festival Pier ("Radio 104.5 Birthday" with Weezer)
22 - Boston, MA - House of Blues Boston Presented by Foxwoods Resort Casino
24 - New York City, NY - Terminal 5
25 - Hartford, CT - Webster Theater
27 - Atlanta, GA - The Tabernacle
29 - Pompano Beach, FL - Pompano Beach Amphitheatre
31 - Charlotte, NC - Fillmore Charlotte
2 - Norfolk, VA - NorVa
3 - Pittsburgh, PA - Stage AE
4 - Detroit, MI - The Fillmore Detroit
5 - Toronto, Ontario - Sound Academy
7 - Cleveland, OH - House of Blues
8 - Chicago, IL - Riviera Theatre
9 - Columbus, OH - Lifestyle Communities Pavilion
10 - Indianapolis, IN - Egyptian Room
11 - Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue
12 - Kansas City, MO - Beaumont Club
15 - Houston, TX - House of Blues
17 - Tempe, AZ - Marquee Theatre
18 - Las Vegas, NV - House of Blues
19 - San Diego, CA - House of Blues
21 - Los Angeles, CA - The Wiltern
22 - San Francisco, CA - Warfield Theaetre
24 - Seattle, WA - Showbox SoDo
25 - Portland, OR - Roseland Theater
26 - Boise, ID - Knitting Factory Concert House
28 - Denver, CO - Ogden Theatre
29 - Omaha, NE - Sokol Auditorium/Underground
25 - Leeds, England - Bramham Park (Leeds Festival)
28 - Reading, England - Richfield Avenue (Reading Festival)