Panic! At The Disco: Brendon & The Chocolate Factory (Part 1 of 2)
The past decade has been one hell of a ride for Panic! At The Disco, and album #5, Death Of A Bachelor, certainly isn’t slowing that down. It does, however, bring the outfit to a crossroad – Brendon Urie is the last man standing, and with no-one to tell him otherwise, he’s using Panic! to let his imagination run wild. Matt Doria chats with the king of baroque pop to learn why 2016 Panic! At The Disco is the ultimate Panic! At The Disco.
“STILL SO YOUNG AND DESPERATE FOR ATTENTION”
Every time a Hollywood director makes a film about the music industry, it would seem as though they follow a predetermined formula: an unlikely group of kids with nonsensical ambitions are picked up by a major label shrouded in secretive disreputability. They’re an immediate success, hitting it with the young and old alike as international luminaries that still don’t know quite how to tune their own guitars. Then, it hits them. All of the sex, the drugs and the drama start to chew away at their lives. A member leaves because the rest of the band hates him. They massively shift their tone in a bout of stubborn angst, and then two more leave because the fights become unbearable. There are love interests; tracking shots of studio executives reaming their hands through their hair in stress; at one point, there’s a murder involved. Shit continues to hit the fan for about 33 minutes, then the credits roll, and the viewer steps out from their questionably-sticky cinema seat desperate to start a band of their own.
Sounds like a great movie, right? It is – you’ve seen it a dozen times before, and when the inevitable Panic! At The Disco biopic comes out, you’ll see it again. The notable difference, however, is that Panic!’s hour ‘n’ forty will be an accurate representation of what actually went down, because while Fueled By Ramen are far from disreputable (we hope) and there haven’t been any murders studding the timeline (we hope), that’s how much of the past decade has played out for Brendon Urie‘s labour of love.
“IF CRAZY EQUALS GENIUS, I’M A FUCKIN’ ARSONIST”
In the early months of 2004, Panic! At The Disco was a Blink-182 cover band, consisting of Ryan Ross on vocals, Spencer Smith on drums, Brent Wilson on bass, and Trevor (surname unknown) on guitars. Urie joined later as Trevor’s replacement, and as the story goes, was bumped to frontman immediately after the trio heard his tenor roar. Today, Urie is the last man standing. Death Of A Bachelor is his notion to the world that Panic! At The Disco has been reborn, and not a single fuck is given about what people have to say about that. Because at the end of the day, Urie is a madman. That much is true. But rather than use his musical insanity for evil, he’s kept himself rooted in the reality his fans want him to; from the ground up, he’s self-aware of the risks that come with steering such a ship without a co-captain – or at least, a singular one.
“It is dangerous when you have no limitations, because you can step into a world where, carte blanche, you can do whatever,” Urie opens. “For each song on this record, I had a vision of where I wanted it to go; if it didn’t feel right, I would stop, and I’d move on to another idea. So I’d never let it get stale, and I’d never let it go where I didn’t see it progressing further or moving forward – which was awesome, that was a very lucky thing! But even though I wrote all of this stuff, I was still able to delegate to friends, producer friends and other writer friends. I never had to sit down as a ‘co-write’, so it didn’t ever feel like ‘work’. It was just me hanging out at dinner, or at a pub with a friend and just saying, ‘Hey man, what do you think about this? Getting their opinion honestly, instead of going, ‘Hey, we need to sit down and write a hit!’”
Although the record comes entirely from the viewpoint of Urie’s personified storytelling, Death Of A Bachelor features more names in its writing credits than all of Panic!’s earlier records combined. None of those collective 22 come from Urie’s touring squad, though – something that’s seen many an internet shitstorm break out over. It’s a bit of a convoluted scenario; Urie wrote 2013’s Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! with then-official bassist Dallon Weekes, but when founding drummer Spencer Smith left to battle a drug addiction after its release (initially a hiatus, but eventually for good), Weekes was bumped down to ‘touring member’ status (as he had been from ’09 to ’13), and Urie took the reins once and for all. Likely not wanting to further contort the situation, that meant handing creative duties to his peers was totally off the cards this time around.
“It definitely happened naturally, but it was so different because I was in such a different place when I was writing this album,” Urie says of the band’s evolution between Too Weird To Live… and Death Of A Bachelor. “Y’know, I was still somewhat working with other band members on the last record – I wrote the majority of it, and then I asked for opinions and kind of worked things around to compromise with them, because that’s how you work in a band. But I don’t know, something about this one had me way more excited! It’s all me; I’m able to sit down, write the idea, and then decide who I want to be involved in it. That’s so exciting, that’s so fresh and new to me that I just picked it up and ran with it.”
“I WASN’T BORN TO BE A SKELETON”
“Working on stuff myself – it just feels better,” Urie confesses. At some point in time, it’s probable that Death Of A Bachelor would have seen Weekes remain a creative force, and touring members Kenneth Harris (guitar) and Dan Pawlovich (drums) thrown into the mix as well. But somewhere along the line, Urie cut the strings that tied him down to the notion that Panic! At The Disco needed to be a ‘band’ in nature as it is in name. Riding solo, he’s free to let his imagination soar unrestricted – like a musical Willy Wonka, dancing maniacally around his chocolate factory as he throws flavours at the wall to his heart’s desire.
“I’ve tried working with other people in the past,” he continues. “And y’know, it was good for that time. But the way I am now, it’s moved so much further ahead, and it’s too exciting for me to ever go back and repeat something I did. So now that I’m doing this new thing, I can’t wait to see where I go in the future! That’s really exciting to me, and I want to keep that excitement going, keep up the momentum.”
So now that Panic! At The Disco is effectively the Nine Inch Nails of baroque pop (of which Urie is going a bang up job Trent Reznor-ing, if we do say so ourselves), there’s the question of where our hero will steer his project in the future. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see the day where NIN drop the banner to show Reznor vibing out with a DJ, but as Urie taps further into the electro-based pop sensibilities that have shun through on the last couple of Panic! records, it’s possible he may adapt that model for himself. There’s also the possibility that Urie will split Panic! into a separate entity, performing under that moniker with a full band – as he does currently – and then performing pop tunes solo as simply ‘Brendon Urie’. But as the genre-gentrifying mercenary himself enthuses, that’s probably never going to happen.
“I mean, to be honest with you… Panic! At The Disco already is the solo thing,” Urie asserts. “It’s like, I hire my friends to tour with me, and that’s about it. I’ll be able to write all the stuff I’ve wanted to, and – it was never a question in my mind, in the past, to ever change the name. I always kept the name, and the only reason I did, other than respect, is because they didn’t want to be a part of the name. And I have to respect that; I understand it – they wanted to try something new – but Panic! At The Disco is everything for me. It’s given me the opportunity to travel around the world, meet the fans, play shows, and also with the creative process – I’m able to have no rules! No limitations! I’m able to do whatever I want: every song is different from each other, every album is different from each other, and that’s so exciting to me!”
Losing as many fans because of it as they pick up for the same reason, Panic! At The Disco are quite possibly the most annoying band to describe when it comes to genre. From lace choker cabaret-core (A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out), to post-tropical fair trade weed-rock (Pretty. Odd.), to vintage xylophone-punk (Vices & Virtues), to ’80s sleaze-pop (Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!), and now emo trumpet solo choir-core with Death Of A Bachelor, Urie has had a fair go at pretty much every ride in the park. But as the project continues to evolve, it’s inevitable that he’ll find himself another niche to take a swing at.
“I tried my hand at jazz this time, and if I could perfect that–I just want to get better at that kind of stuff,” Urie says. “But still, there are other things I haven’t done. I was actually talking to my friend last night about Mike Patton from Faith No More, just how versatile he is with his voice and his diverse choices in music. The fact that he did Mondo Cane was just, like – he’s singing in Italian! With an orchestra backing him! That’s the coolest idea. So if that’s the bar, I think it’s set very high, and I see myself doing stuff that I’ve never done in my life before.”
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PART 1 | PART 2