Last week, Panic! at the Disco drummer Spencer Smith came clean about his battles with addiction and his struggle to stay clean … and now, he’s talking about when those issues began: during the recording of the band’s 2008 album Pretty. Odd.
In an exclusive interview with MTV News, Smith admitted that he started mixing alcohol and drugs partially in an attempt to channel his creativity … but also to cope with the pressures of following up the Panic’s massive A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out debut. But, as he’d learn, what he thought was a quick fix was actually the beginning of a long fall.
“We weren’t completely confident in what we were doing, and the reality set in of ‘Oh God, we could just be this one-hit wonder, that could be the one record people remember us for.’ It’s more common than not; and I remember just being so stressed out,” he said. “And then there’s the whole idea of ‘Oh, this makes you more creative.‘ It allows you to forget of their stresses outside of what they’re focusing on, and they’re able to [focus] for a brief period of time … but then, 8 hours later, when everything wears off, you’re almost in a worse place.”
He’d continue to spiral for more than two years, becoming hooked on prescription medication after his father was diagnosed with ALS, before bottoming out with a pair of hospitalizations. During that time, he also managed to hide his addictions from his bandmates, and perfected the art of maintaining a very shaky equilibrium.
“Those drugs affect people very differently; some people that I’ve talked to say when they take a painkiller, they just want to lay on the couch and fall asleep. And it was weird because it had the total opposite effect with me. I felt euphoric. I had energy. I was excited,” he said. “But it was getting to the point where I would wake up, and would feel withdrawal symptoms; so I’d be like ‘I have to take something just to get out the door.’
“And it was limited when the band had to do things, when we had to play shows and do interviews,” he continued. “But then, in our off time, and after the show, it’s not good when you can say ‘Yeah, I can go to sleep for 15 hours tonight, so I can push this as far as I want.’ ”
But he continued to push, and as Panic! began recording 2010′s Vices & Virtues (a title that seems eerily prophetic now) Smith admits that he was rarely sober — “I remember showing up for work and … I would look at myself in the mirror and being like ‘There’s no way they don’t know,” he sighed — and his contributions to the band began to diminish.
And though his friend (and frontman) Brendon Urie never confronted him about his behavior, it’s only now that Smith has gotten sober that he realizes just how bad things were … and how close he came to being fired from the band he helped form.
“I didn’t know how many times I could show up and try to pretend [I was alright] and continually be asked back. I remember once I got clean, telling Brendon ‘Thanks for the fact that I’m still in the band,’” he said. “Because there were a lot of things I did in the state I was in that would have warranted a decision like that.”
But now, with a new album — Too Weird To Live, To Rare To Die! due October — on the horizon, and a new outlook on life, Smith is finally ready to return to his first love: playing live with Panic! And though he knows remaining sober will be a daily struggle, for the first time he feels he’s equipped to handle anything that comes his way.
“I am nervous, to be honest. Coming into it I feel really positive about where I’m at, but I can’t know every situation I’m going to be in on tour. I’m going to be in hotel rooms where there’s alcohol readily available,” he said. “But I’m lucky to be in a band that isn’t Guns N’ Roses or something; it’s a great thing to not have to feel like I’m having to alter everybody else’s life so that I can fit in. That’s something I didn’t want to do.
“And after playing our first show last night, it was great I was conscious and in the moment and clear, and wasn’t just thinking about ‘Oh, awesome, when I get off stage, I can drink however much I want,’” he continued. “It feels like what I’m doing is right, and what we’re doing is right … it hasn’t been that way since the first album, and I can’t wait to keep going from here.”