In part, all that upheaval was to be expected: More often than not, it’s what happens when a band experiences such overwhelming success at such a young age. And yet, the continued change has put Panic! in a rather unique space … to date, they’ve recorded four albums — their newest, Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! is in stores Tuesday (October 8) — and each time, they’ve done so as an entirely different band.
After their A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out debut, they made the underrated Pretty. Odd. with new bassist Jon Walker (and an increased focus on pastorals and psychedelics). By the time they hit the studio to make Vices & Virtues, Walker and founding guitarist Ryan Ross had split, leaving Panic! with just two members: dramatic frontman Brendon Urie and steady drummer Spencer Smith, who did their best to make a symphonic Steampunk album.
Now, with Too Rare, Panic! is primarily Urie’s project. Smith battled substance-abuse issues throughout the recording, and, by his own admission, he didn’t contribute much when he was present (in August, Smith announced he was leaving the band to focus on his recovery). Newish member Dallon Weekes — who actually joined before Vices & Virtues — also wrote and played on the album, but for all intents and purposes, it was Urie who shouldered the load.
And he’s more than up to the task … because if anything, the new Panic! at the Disco is a showcase for his growing songwriting and production prowess.
“The music, for me as a songwriter, has changed immensely. This time around it was me trying to figure out how to produce records, and how to record songs,” he said. “So when I came to Butch Walker to produce it, he was telling me ‘You know, you did most of the work for me,’ but I learned a lot from him and Jake Sinclair, and I’m still learning, but a lot of the songs on the record are pretty close to the demo versions.
“There are quite a few songs that are very personal, about things I’ve been through with different people in my life,” he continued. “There’s a lot that people don’t know about. When you’re growing up in Vegas, you don’t go to the Strip all that often; a lot of times you go to Downtown Vegas, which is old Vegas, and a lot of people don’t visit, and I felt like that was kind of missed. It was a big part of my life growing up, and I wanted to showcase that.”
If there is a similarity between the new Panic! and their previous efforts, it’s that Too Rare is definitely an eclectic listen: Urie counts everyone from Depeche Mode to A$AP Rocky as inspirations. He wrote the majority of the album in his home studio, and detailed personal shortcomings on new tracks like “Miss Jackson” and “This Is Gospel.” And while he stopped short of calling Panic! a solo project, he did admit that now, he’s not only the driving force, but the focal point. But if you think he’s shying away from the spotlight, think again.
“Well, I can say I truly enjoy acting, I love being the center of attention, I’m shameless about it,” he laughed. “This is the beginning of something, I’m not sure what … we’ve been working on the songs, writing for a year and a half, and this is the exciting part, when you get out of the studio and get ready to show everything to people.”