A few years ago, Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco became so isolated that he refused to leave his house. “It wasn’t necessarily depression,” the 29-year-old singer says. “I was just kind of feeling down and out. I didn’t want to go out. It was more wanting to trap myself in comforts at home. I didn’t feel I needed to go out and explore.”
A friend, producer Robert Mathes, finally pulled Urie out of his reclusion: “Just show up, get out of bed,” Mathes told him. “What that meant was, ‘Dude, you’ve got to leave the house. You’re not going to have any melodies, any lyrics. You’re going to have the dumbest experiences ever — who wants that?’” Urie recalls. “I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t want that. I want to go out there and see what kind of trouble I can get in.’”
Urie, who founded Panic! with three high school classmates from the Las Vegas suburbs in 2005 but has recently found himself the band’s only member, continues the story. Pulling out of his isolation, he and a few friends gathered at his rented Malibu, Calif., home, to consume psychedelic mushrooms and spend seven hours at the beach with a cooler full of beer and sandwiches. “I felt great. I felt alive again,” he says. “Thirty minutes of a bad trip kicked back into an amazing time — I really liked that I liked feeling uneasy again, like anything is possible. It wasn’t even taking the mushrooms — it was seeing what was out there.
“I like keeping that curiosity alive,” he continues. “It goes in waves but it’s nice to keep that. It helps everything. It helps my anxiety, too. I love it.”
Panic! At the Disco, best known for upbeat rock songs like the early “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” began as kids covering songs by radio-friendly punk band Blink-182. Although Urie had virtually no singing experience, he had a high, smooth voice and an ability to emote in a Broadway style, which meshed with the rest of the band’s rock-solid rhythms and synthesizer melodies. They posted online demos, drawing attention from a like-minded band, Fall Out Boy. Both had a knack for funny, elaborate song titles: Panic!’s debut album, 2005’s “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out,” includes “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage.” Fall Out Boy’s bassist, Pete Wentz, signed Panic! to his record label and they still share a management company.
Through a series of popular tours and albums, including 2008’s “Pretty. Odd.,” Panic! grew into one of the world’s biggest rock bands — until its members began to bail out. Founding guitarist Ryan Ross, as well as bassist Jon Walker, left in 2009, and founding drummer Spencer Smith followed, citing his intent to remain sober after many years of alcohol and substance addiction. That left Urie, who, over time, had grown into his frontman role, strengthening his voice and performing in shiny jackets and a pompadour.
Panic!’s 2016 album “Death of a Bachelor” is basically Urie and a couple of collaborators, including writer Sam Hollander, who came up with the line about “you’re just like Mike Love but you want to be Brian Wilson” on the swinging “CrazyGenius.” He played most of the instruments on the album himself, co-writing the songs and producing with Jake Sinclair, who has worked with Pink and Taylor Swift. (Urie had written roughly 15 songs for the album, then worked in an “organic process” with Sinclair and others to narrow down to 11 tracks.) The album opens on a familiar note, with the fast-paced, sing-songy rocker “Victorious,” but detours unexpectedly into loungey ballads such as the title track and “Impossible Year.” (It lost to Cage the Elephant’s “Tell Me I’m Pretty” for best rock album at this year’s Grammy Awards.)
“I’ve always started songs the same way, even when it was a band of four guys. We would all write separately and come together at the rehearsal,” Urie says. “I didn’t really have to do that anymore. I would finish them out on my own, in the leisurely way I chose, which was great. There were no wrong answers.”
Urie grew up in a Mormon family. His parents were musicians — his mother played piano and his dad played guitar — who didn’t see his rock star ambitions as rebellious. When Urie wanted to buy his first “real” guitar, a $650 Fender Telecaster, his father agreed to kick in $300 if Urie raised the rest. Through contacts in the family’s church, the young guitarist-to-be painted houses and mowed lawns. “I think I was also selling pills at that time,” he recalls. “(My parents) didn’t know about the pills! They do now.”
Urie, who took Panic! At the Disco on tour with Weezer last year, has been writing new songs ever since he finished “Death of a Bachelor.”
“It’s cool to be at dinner with a friend, he makes a funny joke, I write it down, it might be a lyric,” he says. “I’ll just sit down and make a beat or listen to music. It’s like a sneeze. Sometimes songs will just sneeze out.”
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