Q&A: Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco
Growing up within eyeshot of the Las Vegas Strip, Panic! At the Disco singer Brendon Urie lived a fairly normal childhood. He hung out with friends, played sports on the weekends and attended school.
But there was something about the Las Vegas Strip that always had a hold on him. Those influences helped shape his band's latest album, "Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!"
"As I got older, I realized a deeper appreciation I had for the town I grew up in," said Urie via telephone from a tour stop in Silver Springs, MD.
"As a kid, I always had this fantasy when I was watching this movie like 'Casino' and I loved Sinatra, the Rat Pack, I loved that era of Vegas. I wanted to bring it back for this record. I wanted to just kind of make a fantastical version of my take on that era. I love the debauchery. I love the seediness. I love the glamour. There's something about it. Every song was based on something I went through growing up there. It all kind of worked out that way."
Urie and the rest of his band have embarked on a sold-out U.S. tour, playing a good chunk of "Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!" as well as hits like "Lying is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off," "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" and "Nine in the Afternoon."
Urie spoke with SoundSpike about his deeply personal album, singing "Big Shot" in front of the influential Billy Joel and why he honors Janet Jackson in his latest hit, "Miss Jackson."
"Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!" is a deeply personal album. Was it tough to write?
Brendon Urie: Yeah some of the stuff I wasn't sure how to word it. I try to keep a lot of the messages simple. A couple of the songs were fairly easy to get out. But showing them to people, initially, I was a little nervous. I was apprehensive to show some people. I wrote a song called "This is Gospel" about Spencer, our drummer's, addiction and how it has affected me, how it's affected him, how I felt, how I pictured him feeling. It was very, very personal. I didn't know how to show him. So I just did one day. I just emailed to him. I didn't say anything like, "You know this is about you, right?" I just waited for a response. He seemed to enjoy the song. We never fully got into a discussion about it. It never got weird. There's this underlying tone. Some of that stuff is pretty difficult. To be honest can seem like some of the hardest things to do. It gets easier and easier the more you do it. I love that. It's just so much less stress when you're honest. You leave everything on the table. When you're that confessional you just wreak rewards.
One thing I like about Panic! At the Disco is that you seem to reinvent yourself with every album. Does that come about organically, or is it more of a conscious effort?
I think some of it is a conscious effort. A lot of it is intuitive. I don't think about it too much when I'm writing. I do like to do something different. I hate repeating myself. Sometimes it's fun to throw back to a joke. But I don't like to copy a sound. I think it's more interesting for me as a writer. It's more exciting during the process if you're doing something that you haven't done before. On this album, for sure, I wanted to approach it from a new point of view. A new approach to writing was kind of the goal. Writing something that I wanted to celebrate; growing up in Vegas -- I just wanted to just celebrate life or where I was at. I felt like a different man. There's something to the writing that I knew had to be different because I wasn't the same person. So I knew it was going to have a different outcome and different sound all together.
What was it like to work with Butch Walker on the album?
Oh, he's great. We did our last record with him. Since working on him on the last album, I had more of a feel of what I wanted to do -- not just in terms of the vision I had for this album, but especially how I wanted to present it. This time around, I was a little more involved in the production. I came with most of the production done and I just wanted his take on how to approach some stuff. We wrote a couple songs together. I don't know, something about working with Butch I just love it. He's one of the most creative dudes I've ever met -- and one of the most positive guys I've ever met. Positivity and creativity together is my favorite mix. I just have the best time working on albums with him. Sometimes you get stuck on something. He helps built you back up. You realize it's supposed to be fun. He says, "Don't stress yourself out. It's all about you." You can't be stressed. He definitely keeps it in the right mindset. I love that guy.
I interviewed him once and he was so nice and so inspirational.
He totally is. He's such a Southern gentleman, too. When we started having a few drinks- - we'd have whiskey -- that Southern drawl starts to come out. He starts calling everyone "Darling." He's, like, the nicest dude ever.
You recently performed "Big Shot" in front of Billy Joel during the Kennedy Center Honors. That must have been nerve wracking. (See the video here.
Oh my God. Oh my God. Billy Joel is one of my favorite songwriters of all time. I was raised on Billy Joel. One of the first songs I ever heard was "Lullaby." My mom used to play that for me when I was going to bed sometimes. My mom would play piano and she would sing to me. Whenever I'd wake up with a nightmare, she would sing to me [sings] "Goodnight, my angel/Time to close your eyes." It just made me cry. It was such a huge moment. It was such a huge moment for me. Even what he said about the performance. He told me he was "verklempt." I was thinking, "You just spoke Yiddish to me, homie. That's so crazy. Dude, you're Billy Joel and you were saying you were 'verklempt' about my performance." That blew me away. It was a huge moment for me. Yeah. I was totally nervous. The president and the first lady were next to Billy Joel. I'm like, "Holy shit. Three of the most influential people for me right now." Personally, honestly, I just got up there and I kind of forgot "Don't fuck up, don't fuck up." I just kind of got up there and just wanted to have fun. "You know what you're doing. You know how to sing. You know the song. Just go up there and have fun." I just lost myself for a good three minutes and it worked out. It was amazing. I'll never forget that.
I love the nod to Janet Jackson in "Miss Jackson," considering I grew up listening to Janet.
I love it. I love that you love that. That's great. I totally am. It's funny to write that song. It was about a girl where I didn't want to use her name, obviously. It had been someone I really knew that I was involved with. The idea was I wanted to throw back a famous celebrity in the past. I tried a couple different names. Marilyn Monroe, that didn't even sound good singing. Yeah she's beautiful but it didn't sound right with the melodies we had. I tried Audrey Hepburn. I tried Ingrid Bergman. Nothing really worked. I said, "I want to figure this out." I stopped thinking about it for a little bit. I was watching old videos on YouTube, old '70s through '90s videos. "Nasty" came up. As a joke, I said, "I think I'll say 'Miss Jackson.'" I started singing that. It just kind of worked out. I started laughing. I probably had the same reaction you did. I just started laughing immediately. I loved it. The more I sang it, the more I actually loved it -- not even as a joke. I was super excited about it. It worked out.
11 - Houston, TX - House of Blues
12 - Austin, TX - Emo's
14 - Tempe, AZ - The Marquee
15 - Oakland, CA - Fox Theater
16 - Los Angeles, CA - The Wiltern
22 - Brisbane, Australia - R.N.A. Showgrounds (Soundwave Festival)
23 - Sydney, Australia - Olympic Park Showcase (Soundwave Festival)
28 - Melbourne, Australia - Flemington Racecourse (Soundwave Festival)
1 - Adelaide, Australia - Bonython Park (Soundwave Festival)
3 - Perth, Australia - Claremont Showgrounds (Soundwave Festival)