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An Interview With Panic! At The Disco’s Spencer Smith

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Hi there and welcome back. A very special (and, because of that, a rather late) edition this week as, instead of discussing some reported news over the last week, we’re going to make a little this time.

Panic! At The Disco have made what may be considered somewhat of a comeback. It’s tough to tell if the term applies, because they have been going strong since 2005. That year’s A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out came out of the gate strong and established the band’s name, but the subsequent Pretty. Odd. seemed to have the opposite effect as a result of an opposite sound.

The right cross of a sophomore jinx hit hard enough, but then the left hook followed: Panic! At The Disco lost half of its members when guitarist Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker left. Now a duo, frontman Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith were left with the unenviable task of carrying on at half-strength.

With the debut of the band’s new record, Vices & Virtues at #7 on the Billboard charts this week, their regrouping efforts seem to have paid off. Panic! is also heading back on the road where they can re-fortify their position in today’s music world.

On March 25, immediately after giving a preview of things to come on MTV’s “The Seven”, I got to chat with Panic!’s Spencer Smith via telephone. Smith was in New York and was gracious in chatting about the regrouping of the band, the fears they had coming off the last few year’s worth of ordeals, and where they stand now as a rejuvenated unit.

So how are you doing up there today?

Good, good. We’re doing some promo stuff here in New York. Some interviews and stuff like that. We just finished shooting a show for MTV where we did a song live on the air.

Very cool. Getting ready for the tour coming up, then? Are you in the midst of rehearsing for that?

We’re getting ready to do some of that stuff in the next couple weeks. We go over to the UK and Europe for a couple weeks starting May 1 and then we come back to the US starting May 20, and that goes through June. We’re planning some of the tour production and getting ready for the Europe and US tours.

Yeah, I saw on the website that the US run starts in Philadelphia on May 20 with fun., Foxy Shazam and Funeral Party.

Yeah, I think Funeral Party is on the tour when Foxy Shazam is not. Foxy is on the first three weeks, and then they drop off and Funeral Party is going to pick up where they drop off. I think this is the first time we know every band on the tour. I think it will be a cool way to go out because everybody on the tour is already good friends, so we’re looking forward to it.

Excellent. Now, I wanted to clarify something, if I could – of course, Ryan Ross and Jon Walker have left the band. Is Panic! At The Disco officially just a duo right now with just yourself and Brendon? And are there any other plans to expand the lineup again?

Yes, it is. We knew at the time we were doing [Vices & Virtues] that it was going to be just us. I think that relationship you have with other people, especially if you’re going to be writing, is a unique thing. You’ve got to make sure you have the right guys to go in and write a record with. We knew it would be just me and Brendon, but we have also left the option open to work with other people. We’ve been playing live with two friends of ours, Ian [Crawford, formerly of The Cab] and Dallon [Weekes, of The Brobecks] on guitar and bass, and both of those guys are coming from bands we love. So, as we continue to write now and on tour, I think we’re going to try that out and see how that goes, and potentially see how that goes when we get off the tour.

Oh, cool. That’s something else I was going to touch on was the writing of Vices & Virtues. It sounds to me like – and maybe this is because it was just the two of you – it sounds like there’s more focus to this one and that there’s more cohesion than the last one, Pretty. Odd. It has a flow that can really be appreciated in one good listen to the album. How was the writing dynamic with just yourself and Brendon having to put that together?

Thank you for checking that out! I think when we first started to write, we had an opportunity of a fresh start. A fresh take on how we were going to work. We wanted to spend a little bit of time trying out the way the dynamic would work, because we weren’t sure. Musically and melody-wise we’d always been a big part of the writing but lyrically, that was something that Brendon had to step up on and he wanted to make sure he was confident with his voice and what he wanted to say lyrically. There’s obviously a lot of stuff that has happened in the past few years that we wanted to touch on. We spent a couple months on that before we even considered recording anything, just recording demos, writing new stuff and working on demos we’d had for the past year or two. Once we got comfortable and excited about some of the new songs, we started to get to the studio and record some stuff, and it snowballed from there. We kept writing and writing and we wrote more songs for this record than we ever have for either of the other two. It’s nice because we have more for b-sides and bonus and stuff like that, but at the same time it was difficult for us to pick out our favorites to use for the record. At some point, we just had to say we were really happy with what we’ve got for the record and cut the ones we didn’t want, and we’re at this point now. It’s really exciting and we’re really glad to have it out.

With two albums under your belt and the way they were each received, were there any particular goals you two had set in making the new record? Did you feel as if there was something to prove just being a duo now, or was any of that even a factor in making Vices & Virtues?

Even though we were still Panic! At The Disco, we’ve also been fans of bands that had lineup changes or different things happen. As a fan, you’re looking at that knowing what occurred and you’re not 100% sure what’s going to come out since it’s not all the same people. We knew our fans would be looking at this as somewhat of a new beginning, so we wanted to show that we were capable of putting a record together that we were really excited about and that fans of the band previously would at least be interested in checking out. It’s nice to see a lot of those fans – even after being gone for a couple of years – are excited about the new album. That’s something that, even though we were excited about the new songs we were doing, we didn’t know if anyone would still be there and be interested in hearing them a couple of years later. It’s been really nice to see the reaction now and to get out on the road and play them.

Nice. Now, we touched on the tour a little bit already and the plans you have through summer. Is that part of a bigger tour cycle in the works, or is it a matter of taking it a step at a time?

As far as beyond the US tour, we’re figuring that out now. We have been talking about wanting to go to Australia in September and doing some festivals in Japan and Europe in August. We have breaks in-between them – July looks like we’ll be taking a nit of a break – but August and September are the big festival times. It’s cool to play those because you’re playing in front of people who may not have necessarily come to see you. You can play for fans that might not normally hear your music or see you perform.

Right, trying it out on a new set of eyes and ears and seeing how well it gets over.

Totally.

So, to wrap up here, what would you say is your favorite part of the whole process? Do you prefer writing the material, putting it down on record, or playing it on the road?

I have to say that, when you go on tour, it’s definitely the most stress-free. That’s where you have the surreal moments where you think you can’t believe you’re getting paid to do this. [Laughs.] You’re out there with your friends and you have to work for an hour or two a night if you don’t have interviews or any press to do that day. You get to just go on stage and play music. That’s definitely the most fun aspect, but you can’t get there without the work in the studio. I think it’s necessary to work just as hard or harder in the studio and really be passionate about that because that’s what you have to do to get to the fun part of it. At the same time, we do have a lot of fun in the studio. It’s just that, when you have a song you’ve been working on for three days and can’t finish a particular section you’ve been working on, it can get frustrating. But it’s all part of the job and it’s all pretty fun.

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