What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas – occasionally it seeps out in the form of a surprisingly persistent rock band. Panic! At The Disco frontman Brendon Urie has forged ahead with his group despite an onslaught of adversity.
Musically they’ve ticked all the boxes; their audience has grown in a steady, exponential direction, but behind the scenes things have seemed in a constant state of flux. Members have come and gone, release dates have often done the same, and on one occasion an entire album was simply shelved. Urie’s one constant was best mate and fellow founding member, drummer Spencer Smith, who has sadly been forced into hiatus while he tackles health issues and a struggle with addiction. Still, Urie and the entity that is Panic! At The Disco are tirelessly soldiering on with last year’s release Too Weird To Live, To Rare To Die! giving them the momentum they needed to circle the world on yet another tour.
Fresh from a Christmas break, Urie is just as excited to resume touring the album as he was after its release last year. “There is an energy change between Christmas and now,” he says. “Once the record’s out I get so excited to play the shows because the songs have been inside my head for so long and trapped in this personal space. To actually share that with people is always an exciting moment. It’s true that the songs really take on a new life when the audience starts singing things back to you; it gives a whole new life to this thing that you’ve created. There’s no hatred or frustration on tour; it’s all love and excitement.”
So does Urie mind seeing the thing he’s worked on for so long suddenly appropriated by a hungry audience? “There’s always that connection you have to the thing you’ve created – but similar to having a kid, you raise this thing and then it’s 18 years old,” he says. “With a song, you put it on an album and then it gets all this experience and grows up. It’s such a validating feeling as well to hear from people who enjoy the music – and people who don’t enjoy the music – and to be able to get some sort of criticism off of something that you’ve done. That’s a special thing.”
Musically, the band’s performances haven’t necessarily been suffering without Smith behind the drum kit – but of course, his absence casts an emotional shadow over the group. Right now, though, the decent thing is simply to ask how he’s going and when he might be back. “He’s still at home but he’s getting really well and doing really good,” says Urie. “At that point when it was decided he’d take time off, it was so tough – when your personal life and business collide and you make these weird decisions that don’t feel like they’re the best thing but really they are. It has ended up being the best thing … It’s a different dynamic but the shows have still been awesome, and the absolute best part of all this is that the fans have been especially supportive of the whole situation. I really love seeing that; that’s made it all so much easier.”
Urie is excited for his band’s Australian dates – he seems relentlessly enthusiastic about his band’s future work, and yet you can’t help but wonder: is Panic! At The Disco now just a one-man band? Is Urie forever dragging this sled up a long hill on his own while everyone else just comes and goes? “Honestly, I haven’t felt that way,” he says. “I have a great support group of friends – Spencer definitely included – and they’ve always believed in my vision for this band and my musical direction and they’ve helped me make this happen.
“You can get down and it is really hard, but for the most part I really enjoy being able to take a creative lead. This is something I have so much love and adoration for, and yet, despite all the times we’ve nearly split up or I haven’t wanted to go on or things have looked too hard, we’ve all been there for each other. In the short ten years we’ve been together we’ve been through a lot and we have a lot more to give. I just feel so lucky to have people who stick by me as we take these risks, even when I’m like, ‘I know this is gonna be scary and I don’t know how this is gonna go, but let’s jump down the rabbit hole together.’”
The hardest thing for any band is maintaining those successes – when you’re just starting out everything’s an achievement, but ten years into your career the bar begins to be raised to heady heights. Urie steers things with his head and his heart. “It’s partly intuitive and partly conscious. I guess though the feeling is really important – if it feels right then I think it must be right. The problem with that is that is an easy measure with the art of music but when it comes to music as a business, that’s when it gets convoluted. It’s so hard to tell where the lines are drawn.”
Panic! At The Disco support Jimmy Eat World with Alkaline Trio at The Hi-Fi on Monday February 24. They also appear alongside Green Day, Placebo, Biffy Clyro and more at Soundwave Festival on Sydney Olympic Park on Sunday February 23.
Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! is out now through Fueled By Ramen/Warner