Panic! At the Disco went from being a bunch of random kids with truly amazing haircuts to chart-climbing heirs-apparent to the Killers' throne all within the span of roughly five months.
Not surprisingly, this is generally not the way things happen in the record industry.
And as such, Panic! now find themselves in a position that is both incredibly awesome yet strangely unenviable: Their debut album, the dancey A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, entered the Billboard albums chart at #182 in December, and has steadily climbed into the top 40, selling more than 185,000 copies in the process. Yet because of the way they burst onto the scene — from a Las Vegas practice space to a contract with Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz's DecayDance Records in the blink of an eye — Panic! At the Disco are taken seriously by almost no one.
"We knew what was going to happen when we made this record. Either people were going to love us or they were going to hate us because of the way we got signed," guitarist Ryan Ross sighed. "We had recorded a couple of demos on my laptop, put them online and sent a link to Pete through his LiveJournal. He listened to the stuff and he drove down from Los Angeles [where FOB were recording From Under the Cork Tree] to listen to us at band practice. So he heard us and he signed us. And that was pretty much it. So instantly, we entered this high-pressure zone."
And it shows. Fever is probably one of the most self-aware (and self-referential) debuts in recent memory. Panic! go to great lengths to head their detractors off at the pass on the album, whether by calling out judgmental journalists and referring to themselves as "a wet dream for the webzines" (on "London Beckoned Songs About Money Written by Machines") or promising to shut the mouths of their many naysayers ("Nails for Breakfast, Tacks for Snacks"). It's a "meta" album in every sense of the word. That you can dance to.
"There's a lot on the record about proving our detractors wrong," Ross said, "because we had two songs online and people were already making assumptions about what kind of band we were and what our album was going to sound like. And that's what a lot of the album is about. It's directed at all those kids that talk on message boards."
As if the online haters weren't enough, there's also the whole issue of the Killers. Of course, there's bound to be comparisons between the two acts: Both are from Las Vegas, both have a penchant for snazzy suits and both have been known to rock a synthesizer or two. And all that would be fine, except for the fact that — apparently — the bands have beef with each other, a rumor that got started back in September when Wentz managed to include Panic! in a rant he was aiming at the Killers' Brandon Flowers (see "Killers Get More Beef — This Time With Fall Out Boy").
The whole thing just made the entire rise to fame that much more bumpy for Panic!, who not only claim to have no problem whatsoever with the Killers, but also see a kind of affinity between the two bands.
"Pete kind of threw us into the middle of that one. It really didn't have anything to do with us, because we don't hate the Killers or anything like that," Ross laughed. "I mean, the same thing sort of happened to them, only faster and on a bigger level. And both of us wanted to get out of Vegas."
Panic! have managed to escape Las Vegas, heading out on the road with Fall Out Boy on the Nintendo Fusion Tour, then joining up with labelmates the Academy Is ... for a U.K. tour and a full-scale U.S. jaunt, which kicked off on Wednesday. And with a proper headlining tour of their own scheduled to begin in June, it'll be a while before Panic! set foot in Vegas again. Which, according to the band, is a good thing.
"We never went out and played shows before we got signed because the music scene in Las Vegas is so bad. There's not a lot going on," drummer Spencer Smith said. "In our practice space, there were something like 30 bands, and every day we'd walk into that room and hear the exact same death-metal bands. So it kind of influenced us to be different. And to get out of Las Vegas."