Call it Shock! at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards: Less than two years after forming in the suburbs of Las Vegas — as a Blink-182 cover band, no less — Panic! at the Disco are the biggest surprise so far of the 2006 VMAs, scoring an eye-opening five nominations ... the same number as Madonna and more than Kanye West, Fall Out Boy and Beyoncé. Combined.
In fact, Panic's five nominations are more than pretty much everyone else (only Shakira and the Red Hot Chili Peppers — seven each — can claim to have more), capping off a mind-bending year in which they've sold nearly 1 million copies of their debut album, A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, dominated the "TRL" countdown and launched their own sold-out (and thoroughly over-the-top) headlining tour (see "Panic! At The Disco May Have Written Next Stripper Anthem").
And while it hasn't always been smooth sailing — early on they found themselves unwittingly embroiled in a war of words with fellow Vegas synth-sters the Killers, then in June they split with founding bassist Brent Wilson under less-than-friendly circumstances (see "Panic! At The Disco Split Gets Nasty: Band Alleges Wilson Did Not Play On LP") — Panic's meteoric rise from pop-punk garage band to platinum-plus pinup stars has certainly been serendipitous, the kind of music-industry fairy tale that's equal parts persistence, patience and, well, Pete Wentz.
It all started in late 2004, when Panic's Ryan Ross and Brendon Urie began to commit to their laptops the demos they had been developing. On a whim, they sent them to Fall Out Boy bassist Wentz via a LiveJournal account. As luck would have it, Wentz and the rest of FOB were in Los Angeles working on From Under the Cork Tree. And the rest, as they say, is history (or, more specifically, the stuff of MySpace lore).
"[Wentz] listened to the stuff and got in touch with us ... [and] drove down to Vegas and heard the rest of our songs at band practice," Ross explained to MTV News back in February. "And right there, he said he wanted to sign us. And that was it. It happened really fast [and] there was a lot of pressure, because Pete had only heard, like, two to three songs, and all of a sudden we were expected to go and write a whole record, and no one was really certain how it was going to turn out."
Emphasis on "no one." At that moment people, people didn't know much of anything about Panic!, except that they had been signed to Wentz's Decaydance Records without ever playing a show, which almost instantly brought the band waves of Internet hateration.
"Almost right away we knew what was going to happen," Ross sighed. "We had two songs online and people were already making assumptions on what kind of band we were and what we were going to sound like."
"We never played shows in Vegas before we got signed, because the music scene there is, um, well, there's not a lot going on," drummer Spencer Smith added. "When we were writing all these songs, we'd sit around and talk about how nothing that was happening in Vegas was influencing us positively. All the bands there were so monotonous, and so it influenced us to be different."
And the songs they began working on with producer Matt Squire were most definitely "different," a whirly mix of circus calliopes and keyboards and horns that showed off the band's less-than-current influences (which, notably, included zero so-called "emo" acts).
"Some of our favorite bands are, like, Third Eye Blind and Counting Crows, and stuff like Danny Elfman and Jon Brion movie scores," Ross said, adding that the bandmembers also have a soft spot for the Decemberists and the Arcade Fire.
All the while, Wentz was hyping Panic! at every chance he got, dropping their name in interviews, wearing "Pete! At the Disco" T-shirts onstage and including the band on the 2005 Nintendo Fusion tour. On September 27 — one day before the Fusion tour kicked off in Detroit — Panic's debut, A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, hit stores. By December it had cracked the Billboard albums chart top 200.
And then things started to get crazy.
Within a span of four months, Panic! would see the video for their first single, "I Write Sins Not Tragedies," rocket up the "TRL" countdown as sales of Fever passed the 500,000 mark. At the end of March, they announced their very own headlining tour (see "Panic! At The Disco Announce First Headlining North American Tour"), and by June, the video for single #2, "But It's Better if You Do," was premiering on "TRL."
"Some aspects of the fame are annoying, but at the end of the day it's something we're most grateful for. It's certainly opened the door to a whole new batch of opportunities," Ross said. "I mean, we're already beginning to think about album number two, and we want to work with Jon Brion, or Kanye West or Danny Elfman, and they all are possibilities."
And now, with a load of nominations in tow, Panic! head into the Video Music Awards as both the outsiders and the carriers of the emo-punk banner. And for all that's been said (and blogged, posted and podcasted) about them, perhaps the best statement about the band's huge year is actually from last year. From the 2005 VMAs, nonetheless.
It was a quick shout-out Wentz gave to the band during a press junket on the day before the Awards, and, upon reading it now, it's prescient.
"I've got a couple of bands coming out soon on Decaydance, one being this band called Panic! at the Disco," Wentz said. "Their record is going to be your next favorite record. It's called A Fever You Can't Sweat Out — get it before your little brother does."
Safe to say he was right.