Even on a music scene full of ever more subdivided genres, Panic! At
the Disco stands out: Just try to name another pop-punk/emo/electronica
As unlikely as this combination sounds, it's made the Las Vegas
quartet one of the hottest groups on the touring circuit -- after a
high-profile slot at Lollapalooza last summer, it's returning to
Chicago to headline the UIC Pavilion Wednesday -- and it has fueled
sales of more than a million copies of "A Fever You Can't Sweat Out"
since its release in September 2005.
"It was just really surreal," guitarist Ryan Ross says of the day
the band learned that its debut went platinum. "When we were in the
studio, none of us thought we would sell even 10,000 records. I
don't know if there are any statistics that could prove this, but
our record was probably one of the five cheapest records that have
ever gone platinum! Nobody was really expecting anything from it,
and it was our first try, so we were still trying to figure out what
kind of band we wanted to be."
Nevertheless, a few influential fans heard the band's potential
-- most notably Pete Wentz, the bassist and vocalist of Chicago's
platinum-selling pop-punk heroes Fall Out Boy. He signed Panic! At
the Disco to Decaydance, the imprint he started through Fueled by
Ramen Records, based on the strength of a three-song demo.
"Pete was just really excited about what we were doing from the
first time he heard us, and he invited us out on tour with them,"
Ross recalls. "That was a huge tour for us to do, and we were such a
new band that I think we learned a lot just being forced to toughen
up and play in front of that many people every night. It's also been
really helpful for us to have Pete and the other guys to talk with
about this business, because they've learned a lot of things the
Taking its name from a song by the Smiths, Ross formed Panic! in
the Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin with his childhood friend, drummer
Spencer Smith. The group, which is completed guitarist-vocalist
Brendon Urie and bassist Jon Walker, started by playing covers by
Blink-182, but it soon developed a much more complicated and nuanced
"We've always listened to pretty much everything, from German
Cabaret songs to thrash metal," Ross says. "There is a band that I
was really into called East Side, and they did a bunch of old German
Cabaret standards. From that, I started listening to more movie
scores and stuff like the 'Chicago' soundtrack. Then, we got
interested into doing something that was a bit techno-based, and we
decided to start writing with things like drum machines. It all kind
of evolved from there. The record really was kind of chronological
in showing all these different things we were discovering.
"Making the album was a really stressful time for us, because we
had never been in astudio before. It's a lot different from when
you're at home and writing when you can -- you're in the studio for
five weeks, 12 hours a day, seeing the same four people every day.
We had never been around each other for that long, and then there
was the added stress of trying to deliver something worth listening
The musicians weren't sure they'd succeeded, but after the
album's release, the buzz began to build on the strength of tracks
streaming from the band's MySpace site and the video for "I Write
Sins Not Tragedies," which racked up more than 5 million views on
YouTube. Befitting the circus-like music and the costume-crazed
video, the group soon developed a theatrical and ever-expanding
stage show; the current tour includes a ballerina, a juggler and "a
girl who does this metal-grinding thing, where she has a saw blade
she grinds against metal and sparks fly everywhere," Ross says. "We
also wanted to have fire -- flame throwers and fire-breathers and
stuff -- but it turns out you can't have any of that these days,
since Great White."
Now, Panic! is gearing up for its encore: The plan calls for work
on the next album to begin after this tour, with a likely release
next spring. Once again, the band will be starting from scratch.
"I have never really read anything about another band that writes
this way," Ross says. "It seems like most bands go into the studio
and they have 20 or 25 songs they're working on, and they cut that
down for what winds up on the album. We didn't cut any songs that
we'd worked on: There are 13 on the first record, and that's how
many we recorded. It takes us a lot of time to write songs, and we
just end up using whatever we come up with! So we'll be starting all
over again, but I think it will be really different this time,
because now we know what we can accomplish."